Meal Makeover: Top Chef's Padma Lakshmi Has the Answers to Your Coronavirus Cooking Woes

Padma Lakshmi shares her tips and tricks for spicing up food while social distancing.

By Samantha Schnurr Mar 23, 2020 1:00 PMTags
Watch: Padma Lakshmi Gushes Over Yummy "Top Chef" Foods

You have a 7 p.m. reservation...in your kitchen. 

Amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, people around the world are adapting to daily life within the confines of their homes. With eateries of all varieties closed for dining to prevent further spread of the virus, we're all getting even more acquainted with our stoves and ovens and bidding temporary farewell to our favorite restaurants (unless they have takeout!). 

With new challenges arising for sufficient grocery shopping and rising boredom from eating home for most meals, this time is undeniably tough in the food department. However, not to fret, because Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi has the advice you need to get through this culinary rough patch. 

For starters, when you do make it to the grocery store, stock up on the right stuff. "I have been recommending that people stock up on shelf stable items like beans, lentils, rice and pasta, and also frozen vegetables," Lakshmi advised in an interview with E! News. "The dry goods are inexpensive, full of protein and good carbohydrates, and can help stretch out a dish to make a dish last longer. The frozen veggies are often flash-frozen at the peak of freshness and will have the same nutritional content as fresh vegetables."

Stars With Coronavirus

And, to spice up those frozen goods, add texture, color or heat. 

"If I'm serving something that has been frozen, I usually try to also serve something fresh with it, like a big salad with a variety of colors and textures, and perhaps a citrus vinaigrette for some brightness," she explained to E! News. "If I'm reheating something like a soup, I'll try to add some chili flakes for heat or fresh herbs for added flavor."

Plus, mix up the cooking method. "Try changing the way in which you prepare [frozen vegetables]," she suggested. "We've eaten a lot of steamed broccoli over the last few days, so last night I roasted some broccoli, sweet potatoes and carrots in the oven with a little olive oil and salt, and then tossed everything in a mixture of black vinegar, soy sauce and sesame oil right before serving. You could also pan-sear your vegetables in a little hoisin sauce." If you don't have many options for seasoning, Lakshmi said you can use ingredients as simple as lemon juice and a little parmesan to add flavor. 

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With most of us cooped up inside for the immediate future with a virus spreading, eating healthy food is all the more important. 

"My advice is to always go for beans and lentils for protein, citrus fruits for Vitamin C and a variety of greens for their abundance of other vitamins and minerals," Lakshmi suggested.

Of course, wellness extends beyond diet. "I think during a time like this when we're being asked to distance ourselves socially, it's important to establish a routine for yourself and stick to it. Work for set intervals throughout the day, but also stop and take breaks. Get up and stretch. Go outside for a walk to get some fresh air and just get your blood flowing ," she said with a reminder to maintain a safe distance from others.

"Do a workout at home—jumping jacks, push-ups, sit-ups, squats, lunges, etc. don't require any special equipment—just your body weight. If you want to lift weights, get creative with what you have around the kitchen—canned foods, a sack of flour, bottles of wine."


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There's also that To-Do list you've been needing to tackle. "Work on those home improvement projects you've been putting off. Take this time to finally get that junk drawer organized," she suggested. "Read that stack of books accumulating on your nightstand. Just keep your mind active!"

The season premiere of Top Chef aired March 19 on Bravo and Top Chef: Last Chance Kitchen returns March 26 on BravoTV.com, OnDemand or wherever you stream Bravo's Top Chef.  

—Reporting by Leanne Gutierrez

For the latest updates on the coronavirus pandemic and for tips on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19, please visit The Center for Disease Control and Prevention at https://www.cdc.gov. To plan your vaccine, head to NBC's Plan Your Vaccine site at PlanYourVaccine.com.