Padma Lakshmi: "I am a single parent. But I don't feel alone"

At 41, with a big career, living in a big city, raising a toddler daughter, and looking stunning while she openly discusses what's not so pretty about parenting and her body, you might think this single mama is the new face of motherhood. But Padma Lakshmi would not agree.

"What are the faces of motherhood? You tell me. There are so many!" Lakshmi, the host of "Top Chef" and spokesperson for Sterling Vineyards Ultimate Host contest, told Shine, saying she couldn't claim that title herself.

As we all await the Wednesday evening premiere of "Top Chef:Texas" and Lakshmi offers advice on how each of us can turn a little dinner into a fabulous entertaining opportunity, the ultimate host herself also shared a bit about what it's like to be a mother to nearly-2-year old Krishna, how she feels about her post-pregnancy body, and how to make a budget get-together feel rich. And while she might not take to being called the new face of motherhood, she did share a few secrets about the upcoming season she promises is bigger than ever.

We hear so much about the tough parts of single parenthood. But what have been some of the joys of parenting this way for you?

I think you're right. One thing I'll say, in truth - I am a single parent. But I don't feel alone at all in parenting my daughter. I have a big family, who I am surrounded by, and friends. Krishna has a whole other side of her family who loves her, too. And so Krishna is parented by me, but also by her grandmother and aunts and cousins and uncles and friends. It's a corny thing, but it does take a village. The more who encompass her, the more different-kinds of people who are in Krishna's life, the better off she is.

Lots of notable women are new to Twitter, but you're active there.

I like the medium of Twitter because it's not a lot of words so you really have to say what you want to say and get it out. It's instant and I like that about it. Whenever someone tries to tell me a long story, I always ask if I can have the haiku version. I am busy and I'd rather be hanging out with my kid at the park!

Your Twitter feed reads like a regular mom's with recipes and friendly responses.

[Except] I never tweet about my daughter. Never. I just want to be respectful of her privacy. My job as a mom is to know when to open my mouth and when not to. It's not my place to make those decisions for other members of my family. I try to be respectful of that.

In that sense, my life isn't much different from other women who work and are moms. I just happen to be on TV. So I have professional hair and makeup…other than that, I am much the same! I still go buy my own groceries. I mean, I do the fun stuff. My housekeeper buys the staples but you know what I mean - normal stuff. I do sometimes struggle with what to make for dinner or I think, "I wish I did that, I should do that." Not very different.

Speaking of family dinners, what is important to you to feed your daughter?

My family has a really good diet. It's mostly plant-based. She eats a lot of vegetables -- kale and cauliflower. Lots of fruits. Lots of beans - every lentil on the planet she can get her hands on. She loves couscous.It's not a lot of meat. I will introduce chicken and after, other meats, just because I want her to have a diverse diet so she can get along wherever she is and whoever she's with.

You've been really frank about the fluctuations in your body over the course of taping "Top Chef" and in having a child. What do you say to other women who are struggling to embrace the changes our bodies go through over time?

It's really hard. I have a really good metabolism, I've always been pretty thin and I'm 5'9". But it was hard. I gained 45 pounds when I was pregnant and I was bedridden for six weeks after she was born. I didn't have the luxury of going to the gym and I had to go right back to work. And my job is about eating every day - way more than you would ever want to. I wasn't like those girls who give birth and are back on the runway. It took me probably six months to gain 45 pounds and I would say it took me double that time to lose it.

Motherhood for me, for many reasons including my weight, was a very humbling experience and continues to be that.

I did learn a new way to dress after I had her. I was on the side of every bus in town. I was on billboards. And I was a size 14. And not that being a size 14 is even that big. But it was big for me. I am normally a size 4, so I went up ten dress sizes in six months. I had no idea how to dress. I'd never worn Spanx before!

It's a memorable experience, that first time you put on Spanx!

It was fine but I think I'd rather just look bulgy because it really sucks! I don't want to knock [the product] but having your circulation cut off while you're trying to do your job is not a good thing.

What's your best advice for entertaining with kids in the house and still making it a pleasurable experience for adults and little ones?

The key to doing anything when you're a mom - entertaining or anything else - is preparation and organization. That's something I'm still learning how to achieve on a day-to-day basis!

I tell people that, when you're entertaining, choose a menu with most items that you can prepare ahead of time and then one or two dishes that you will finish off just before or during the party. Then you can enlist guests to help - and also kids! Kids love to help and they can, as long as it doesn't involve knives or heat. They can toss a salad for you. They can fold the napkins. That makes them feel like it's their party, too.

So should you put kids to work?

I think it makes children in more interested in getting to know their family during a fun experience -- there's an event in the house! I have a friend who is able to get her daughter to vacuum and all kinds of things [to get ready for a party]. She says, "We're having a party! You get to pick up your room!" So it's a nice opportunity to teach your children about entertaining but also get involved in cooking and taking care of their surroundings and learning how to be hospitable people.

And it's a great lesson to teach kids how to open your home to the people you care about.

Often you're making a choice between being with family or at a social engagement and you don't want to put your friends and loved ones in that position. Entertaining and having parties is about getting together, not about what's the most this or the coolest that. It's about being together and coming together and having fun.

I always suggest you make it clear if it's an adult party or is it a child's party. If it's an event with children and you do have wine there, you want to be very responsible. You want to make sure there's a lot of food. You want to be sure they are eating while they're drinking and they're not having more than one glass of wine or cocktail an hour, that they're definitely not driving afterwards. And that there are enough people taking care of and keeping an eye on the children.

Many families don't have a big budget to entertain, how can you have a lavish meal without spending a lot of money?

What's good for the wallet is also usually good for the body. Rather than do a big beef roast, you can make a stew. It has chunks of meat in it but if you slow cook it, you can use cheaper cuts of meat. You can add a lot of root vegetables, which stretch the budget [and portions] a lot farther. You can wind up feeding twelve people instead of six.

If you cook creatively, add beans, which are a part of a nutritious, plant-based regime. Root vegetables also offer an incredible earthy flavor and texture to whatever dish you're adding them to. You can get sweet potatoes or pumpkin and cut them up and drizzle chili powder, salt, maple syrup, and a little bit of olive oil and butter and bake that. It's gorgeous and makes beautiful oranges and yellows and browns and golds of fall. Also, it's delicious.

What about decorating?

When I decorate the table, I use what I have around. Now that it's fall, I take bunches of cinnamon sticks and wrap them with natural twine. I do that as a centerpiece. Or I have a flat vase that's filled to the brim with tangerines or lemons - beautiful!

One way you can decorate the environment that people don't often think of is sound. It's important to make a playlist on your iPod. Curate that playlist to last 2-1/2 to 3 hours and you want to keep in mind who the guests are, who is coming to have this meal. Cater to their tastes. Make the music nice enough to get the party started but not so raucous that it prevents conversation or people getting to know each other, especially if they've never met before.

"Top Chef: Texas"! What can you spill about this season?

I am happy [it's premiering] so I can stop keeping my mouth shut! We are bigger than ever. The chefs are great and for the first time we take the show on the road. Usually, we just go to a city and plant it there, so that it interesting [to change locales]. We have a lot of great guest judges this season. Usually, we have one or two celebrity judges and then some food giants. But this season, man, we had Patti LaBelle and PeeWee Herman and Charlize Theron, and all these great chefs and Nathan Myrhrvold, who has written this beautiful, big book called Modernist Cuisine. It was just amazing.

Do you relate to Padma Lakshmi? Other from the professional hair and makeup, is she any different from typical working moms?

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