No way around it, Jennie Garth will always be remembered as teen icon Kelly Taylor on the ‘80s primetime soap “Beverly Hills, 90210.” But in recent years she’s also become known as one of Hollywood’s most successful moms – balancing a career on shows like “What I Like About You” and the new “90210,” with a nine-year marriage to “Twilight” series actor Peter Facinelli, and raising three daughters.
Now Jennie has teamed with NBC Universal Digital Studio and Hidden Valley Ranch on the original web series “Garden Party.” The show highlights a different vegetable every month with trips to local farms, recipes, and tips for moms on how to get their kids to eat their veggies.
We spoke to Jennie about “Garden Party,” which premiered last week at www.iVillage.com/gardenparty about her new show, how she gets her family to eat healthy, and what’s next in her career.
Q: So it looks like you’re having a really good time selling the series and interacting with the kids. How did this project come about? How did you get involved with it?
JENNIE: I did have such a great time doing “Garden Party.” I didn't know that I would get to interact so much with the kids but we ended up in the middle of a field in LA and we were totally gardening and eating vegetables all day. We had so much fun.
How I got involved was a lot of people my age are moms. And so I'm a pretty recognizable face for a certain age woman and people that grew up watching “Beverly Hills, 90210,” the original show. And so now a lot of us women have kids.
And one of the big issues is how to make sure our kids are eating healthy. And I know I struggle with it with my own kids. And I love to talk to other women about relevant issues and this is definitely a relevant issue so they came to me and asked me to do this Web series and ended up being a really fun time.
Q: You seem very comfortable talking about the foods and talking about different serving options that exist and making them more appealing to kids. Did you have this knowledge ahead of time or did you find that you learned a lot yourself in doing this series?
JENNIE: I thought I knew everything there was to know about a vegetable but after I did this I learned so much everyday just shooting this. I think that anybody that watches it will be kind of surprised too. And I got some really great tips. Everyday I would come home from shooting this Web thing and I would try a new vegetable at home.
And the kids were into [it] and so it did actually end up teaching me about new vegetables, new little tricks I could try to get my kids to eat them. And so it was a learning experience. But I am kind of a foodie, I like food and I love to cook.
Q: What was your favorite part of filming the show?
JENNIE: Just being out in the fields, we were out at a local farm here and being out there with the real farmers and with the kid KIDS? and we got to spray off all the fruits and pick them and chop them and eat them right out there on the farm. It was a lot of fun.
And just hearing everybody’s stories and how they like to eat their vegetables and what it means to them to feed their kids and their families fresh healthy foods.
Q: What are your thoughts on doing a Web series versus being involved in a TV series?
JENNIE: I did one other Web series. It was for entertainment. But this was more of an educational angle. I thought it was a great way to partner NBC up with Hidden Valley Ranch and not only advertise the product but at the same time teach people some valuable information.
So I was excited to jump on board and be the vegetable spokes-lady. And I learned a lot along the way. And it was very easy filming it. It was something that wasn't a huge time commitment for me. And it was quick and voila, now it’s on the Web and it’s going to be reaching just thousands of people and it’s going to be teaching so many people about vegetables… and different ways for moms to get their kids to eat veggies.
Q: Do you feel that alternative venues like the Internet will help bring this information and show like “Garden Party” out to more consumers?
JENNIE: Definitely, I mean when I have a problem I search the Internet now. And I can pretty much do anything. I had a girlfriend that she had chickens and she was raising her own fresh eggs at her farm and she was so excited but the chickens were doing something weird so she Googled it and figured out a way to make the chickens lay the eggs the right way. I mean, you can be a farmer now because of the Internet. So there’s so much available to you on the Internet and it can be such a great educational tool. That was my sole reason for jumping on board with this and NBC and Hidden Valley Ranch putting this project together that it’s bringing information to people that they wouldn't know about.
Q: This month’s vegetable is broccoli. So what’s your favorite way to prepare broccoli?
JENNIE: I have recently stopped using my microwave for health purposes. Like I was just realizing, “Oh my gosh I'm microwaving everything.” So one day I literally put tape across the microwave saying, “Don't use me.” And so I used to just nuke it and put some cheese on it.
I haven't done it yet since then but I think I will just put it in the toaster oven in some water. I just cook it a little bit because the kids like to have that crunch instead of all soggy and mushy and disgusting. So don't overcook it. And then I like to… lay some… cheese slices over it and just put the lid back on it and let the cheese sort of melt onto the broccoli. My kids love it.
Q: Could you tell us a little bit more about the “Cook and Tell” cookbook and the “What’s for Dinner” meal planner that are elements along with your veggie stories?
JENNIE: Right well they go along with the Web series. And they’re just really chocked full of helpful information that you can take from the Website. And it’s just lots of great tips for moms, ideas I'm always running out of ideas what to cook for dinner and how to make a vegetable or how to get a balanced meal in my kids. So these are just really helpful tools that parents can sort of have in their toolkit.
Q: Other than a particular vegetable type that you were introduced to, was there something about vegetables in particular you learned from doing this?
JENNIE: I learned about going straight to the fields. If you can, in your neighborhood, going to local farmer’s markets to get fresh produce and try to buy local which was something that I learned about that I didn't really think of before.
But when you think about all the shipping and how far the vegetables are traveling when they’re coming from Chile and all these places. It’s best to get the freshest, quickest, closest to you grown vegetable you can.
I always thought maybe putting dressing or dip or whatever was not so good for kids but this is actually a great alternative, a way to get your kids introduced to vegetables and get them to like them.
And I think a great tip is to when they’re hungry and they come home from school they want a snack and just put out some vegetables that you've cut up and a little bit of Hidden Valley Ranch dressing and they dip it in there, they eat it up because they’re hungry and all the sudden they’re craving vegetables and dip.
Q: And then what about for you and your relationship with vegetables growing up? You grew up on a ranch. So was that kind of the start of you really liking fresh foods?
JENNIE: Yeah we had a big garden since I can remember growing up… and we lived way out in the country and we didn't have a lot of money so… we always had our vegetables grown in our garden and we would be out there taking care of them and growing them and gardening. So doing this Web series really sort of brought me back to my roots I guess - excuse the pun.
And I can remember when I was little walking in the cornfields in Illinois and just having fresh corn whenever you wanted it right outside your door. So it was quite a luxury. I didn't know it then but I appreciate it now.
Q: Do you ever miss farm life enough that you would want to move back to your ranch permanently and get out of the city?
JENNIE: That’s something that Peter and I talk about a lot. And it’s actually where my interest lies. I just have to get my city boy on board with that.
Q: Was there ever a vegetable for you growing up that you really dreaded that you did the old hide in the napkin trick at dinner?
JENNIE: I wasn't very fond of zucchini when you cook it, it gets a little slimy.
Q: Has having children changed the way you look at nutrition or were you always a sensible eater?
JENNIE: I took the best care of myself when I was pregnant and when I was thinking about feeding someone else. So now I know it’s my sole responsibility to feed these kids balanced food because if I just let them eat what they want they wouldn't be very healthy let’s put it that way.
And I take it really seriously because I want them to have the best performance at school that they can. I want them to be able to run and do whatever they want to do. And I know what a direct impact foods and sugars and all the simple carbs out there and things that are available to them. I know how bad that stuff is for them.
Q: Can you talk about the bigger picture of gardening, which is just kind of a really bonding experience? And if you could just elaborate more on that and what values you hope your own children will take as they grow older.
JENNIE: I haven't had a garden for a while. We have a garden at our ranch but we don't live there. So we live in the city and we didn't have a garden. My husband’s father came in and helped us plant a garden in our front yard. I said. “I don't care. I want a garden. Rip up the grass let’s get it going.” And we made it happen. And over a weekend… we put in this really great little garden. And it’s just fun and I can be cooking and I say, “Oh girls, go get me a cucumber or go get me some tomatoes” and they love going out there and picking it and having that connection with what they’re actually eating.
And as far as what it means to our family I think any tradition you can pass along to your children that you had when you were younger are priceless.
Q: Does Peter enjoys the vegetables as much as you do? And do you have to do any tricks to get him to eat them?
JENNIE: You know, he is a boy. I honestly have to feed him like I would a child because if it were up to him - he’s from New York - he would be eating pizza at every meal and there’s not a vegetable in that pizza. So he thinks that the tomato sauce is his vegetable. So I consider him just like one of the kids when I'm feeding him. I make a balanced meal and they eat it. When I serve a protein and a vegetable and a carbohydrate they eat it. They eat what I've prepared for them because I think that they love sitting down to dinners as a family. So he’s just like another little boy though.
Q: Do any of the recipes in the “Cook and Tell” cookbook or “What’s for Dinner” meal planner hide the vegetables?
JENNIE: I'm not 100% familiar with what the content is… but I definitely do that with my girls. Their favorite is spaghetti and I can't even tell you how many zucchinis, yellow and green, big giant onions, bags full of carrots, and fresh garlic that they’re eating and they have no idea.
You have to puree it really fine then they don't know anything. And also you have to think about the color like red - if you can mix a red sauce with it you can totally hide it and they'll never know. You can also put green - this is crazy - you can put tons of spinach and broccoli - if you steam it and puree it - into meatloaf or turkey meatloaf.
You have to take like a day to prepare all this stuff and throw it in your freezer and then you use it and it becomes like habit and it really makes you feel good as a mom because you know they’re getting a bunch of vegetables that they wouldn't be getting.
Q: What do you think has caused our kids these days to have a problem with their diets and do you think it’s just the fast food?
JENNIE: Oh my gosh, because we’re so busy. Everybody’s running a million miles an hour. And I get it, but it just takes a little bit of thinking ahead as a parent. As a mom you've got to think ahead to stock your cabinets with things that you know that they’re going to want and they’re going to eat.
And preparing foods… You walk through the store and it’s just all prepackaged convenience foods now. And you think, “Oh I could just buy this and be done with it.” But if you think about it, it’s so much better for you to go home and cook it from scratch. Actually make that meal instead of just open a package. And they get so many more nutrients. So I understand moms are busy, moms work, moms have a lot going on but you just have to sort of plan it into your day how you’re going to better feed your kids.
And you just start feeding them a more balanced healthy diet when I make a meal for my family I set it down and we eat it. There’s no griping about it. And I teach them to be thankful for the food that they have and it’s just about taking that time and that sort of persistence as a parent.
Q: Do you buy organic vegetables?
JENNIE: I used to go to Costco and buy the fruits and vegetables there and then I realized these are not organic in any way shape or form and why are they so perfect looking like they’re all like giant and perfect.
And it really started me thinking about the organic choices that I needed to start making. And I do make every effort to buy organic now. It costs more but sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and do it… there are lots of studies out there… I just read an article [and] it was talking about there’s like major offenders of fruits and vegetables that really cling onto the preservatives and that stuff that they spray on it.
I try to buy the ones… that are not going to suck up the preservatives as much. You know… I keep that in my mind when I'm shopping. But when I'm buying food like strawberries and stuff I definitely go organic.
Q: Does your youthful appearance have anything to do with your diet with vegetables? And do you think that could possibly be an incentive to children for the future to look to so that they know that eating vegetables can help them do the same thing?
JENNIE: Well they don't even think they’re ever going to age when you’re a kid you’re like, “Oh, I can eat Doritos at every meal and it’s okay.” But as you get older you start to realize that there’s such a direct connection with what you put in your body and on your face and your skin.
I try to keep everything as organic and pure as I can. There’s just so many toxic chemicals out there in our food and in our creams and lotions so I really try to stay organic with my fruits and vegetables and definitely eat like a very color diet, it’s really important to your overall health so your internal organs and your skin your beauty.
But another thing is to try to keep chemicals out of your skincare products and your healthcare products. You should check into the content of your deodorant and your sunscreen and everything that you’re using every day like routine habitual. Think about that because once you start going there you will start buying much cleaner products; you won't be able to go back.
Q: You have a very busy life with your career and your husband three beautiful daughters so how do you keep it all balanced?
JENNIE: I am just like any other person out there. I make lists and I try to accomplish things everyday. I could lay in bed and take the kids to school and then go back to bed but I don't, I go and exercise and I jut try to keep the ball rolling. You've got to keep it going and keep accomplishing things with your time.
And I think also just prioritizing and really sort of planning out work - your work commitments and your family time, carving out dinner for family every night.
And I do spend a lot of time thinking about what I'm going to feed them too as mom I think about that a lot and I prepare their meals everyday. So it’s just it’s about balance and trying to keep it all together.
Q: What other projects do you have going on right now if you’re not doing as much “90210.” Do you have any more educational-type projects or anything else coming up?
JENNIE: I am the spokesperson for the American Heart Association so I'm doing a lot of work with them especially with February coming, which is Heart Awareness Month. And I am working on a children’s book. I love kids and I love to read to my kids so I'm working on a book series for kids. And I have all kinds of irons in the fire. My husband is writing a script that we’re sort of developing for television so we'll see.
Written by Amy & Nancy Harrington