Jennifer Garner on cooking for kids, her mom’s cooking and diets

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Jennifer Garner says when she was new to acting, she’d practice her cooking skills by making her mom’s recipes for her castmates. (Photo: Getty; designed by Zana Kaba)

Because food connects us all, Yahoo Life is serving up a heaping plateful of table talk with people who are passionate about what’s on their menu in Deglazed, a series about food.

Jennifer Garner is no stranger to the big screen, but the 50-year-old actress has become a bit of a kitchen star as well, sharing “pretend cooking show” posts for her nearly 14 million Instagram followers.

Garner says she’s filmed the videos, in which she makes everything from Cinnamon Sugar Apple Cake to Mini Beef and Cheese Empanadas, at all times of day (and all levels of camera-readiness). Most of the recipes the Juno and Alias actress shares are inspired by her mom, whom she credits with teaching her to make most things from scratch.

“My mom made everything growing up. Everything,” she tells Yahoo Life. “On Sundays the house would smell like fresh bread … my mom would meet me to take me from ballet to rehearsal at a different place and there’d be a hot meal in the car. I still remember — brisket and mashed potatoes and gravy and veggies — so delicious, and I would basically just lick the plate getting to the next location.”

When she first started acting on stage, she’d practice her own versions of her mom’s recipes, cooking meals for her fellow cast members. “I would show up with the strangest things because I was trying to learn how to make my mom’s food,” she recalls. “I wanted to make whole wheat bread. I wanted to make a roast chicken and gravy and rice or potatoes — just good mom food, which is still, I would say, my specialty, and kind of all I can do.”

Today, the mom of three says she finds feeding her kids “incredibly rewarding,” but occasionally a bit frustrating.

“Watching a kid who loved scrambled eggs — couldn’t get enough scrambled eggs — who now cannot eat a scrambled egg to save her life,” she says, “a kid who is so picky about everything else, but is totally happy going anywhere in the world and trying everything. I’m just so surprised.”

Garner says she was a picky eater growing up, but now focuses on filling foods that will keep her fueled all day long. “My food is very predictable,” she says, sharing her favorite way to make a salad. “I have a big salad — not just like a normal salad, but a mongo jongo salad, and I put everything satiating in there — nuts, avocado, cheese, protein. We always have plenty of roast vegetables in the fridge to heat up, so I add those in there, too. That really does keep me full until dinner and it’s so yummy.”

“There’s plenty of fattening stuff in there,” she adds, “but it’s all so whole and good that it helps me not go too bananas or go where I want to go, which is blue corn chips.”

Still, the Hollywood icon says she isn’t fond of diet culture or seeing food as the enemy. “Nothing makes me hungrier than being told I have to watch what I’m eating,” she says. “I just can’t do it. I’m allergic to it. It gives me a feeling of scarcity and it makes me crazy. I will hide in the corner and eat a box of Triscuits.”

Garner spoke with Yahoo Life as part of her work promoting KitchenAid: The brand recently gifted her with its holiday 2022 stand mixer, which she used to make a pretend cooking show for her Mini Pumpkin Loaves recipe. But Garner says her fascination with KitchenAid stand mixers goes back to her childhood.

“We had a KitchenAid hand-mixer but what I coveted was the stand mixer,” she recalls. “My best friend’s mom had one that was a brilliant green on her countertop and I thought it was so great. I dreamed of what that would be like, to have what even Julia Child had on her counter.”

“The stand mixer was the first thing I ever bought myself as a grown-up,” she continues. “It lasted me for a couple decades and it’s such a staple in my kitchen that when I go on vacation, if I take my kids with me, I take the mixer.”

As part of her work with the appliance brand, Garner handed out the festive mixers to four Los Angeles-based home cooks whose stories warmed her heart. On Garner’s list was a special education teacher who bakes cupcakes and sells them to raise money for children’s hospitals and a sister duo who’ve bonded over trying to re-create their mother’s cultural cooking. “It was so incredible to be welcomed into their homes and learn about why they cook and bake and what it means to them,” she says. “It was a really beautiful day.”

But on a different kind of day … a Yes Day … what would be Garner’s ultimate food menu? “I would have huevos rancheros in the morning and I might even also have pancakes and sausage for breakfast,” she says. “There’d be pizza in there — there’s never not pizza — if I see pizza, I’m eating it. And pasta. All the good stuff.”

The 13 Going on 30 star also shares the nostalgic food from her own childhood that she still craves: Little Debbie snack cakes. “Because my mom made everything, she would never buy us anything processed,” she explains. “I dreamed of Little Debbie snack cakes: the Oatmeal Creme Pies, the Swiss Rolls — I had a friend that I would trade my beautiful homemade chocolate chip cookies with for her Little Debbie snack cakes and they felt like I was eating a treasure.”

When it comes to Butter, Garner is nothing if not a rule follower. “I only cook with unsalted,” she says. “I’m very easily confused. I don’t mess with what I know how to do and if a recipe says unsalted and I do salted, I’m totally befuddled.”

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