Sarah Michelle Gellar
The Emmy-winning ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’
actress shares secrets for raising a healthy family.
By Allan Richter
For eight seasons through 2003, Sarah Michelle Gellar kicked, punched and leaped her way through the title role of the television series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” With her strength, determination and moxie, Buffy not only earned Gellar a loyal following of viewers, a Golden Globe nomination and a slew of other awards, she cast upon her audience a role model of feminism and heroism whose strong character traits are deliberated to this day.
Bloggers and other observers noted how Buffy refused to surrender her morals for popularity and accepted her friends for who they were (even if they were vampires and witches). “We are still totally obsessed with her for having…amazing moves and confidence,” the online women’s magazine Pop Sugar declared in August, citing Buffy’s sassy talk and her fancy footwork in battle.
These days, the Emmy-winning actress is trying to set an example in battle not with vampires, but with processed ingredients and additives that she says have no place on the plates of healthy families. Capitalizing on the mail-order health food trend, Gellar, 38, and colleagues Galit Laibow and Gia Russo, the latter formerly of Martha Stewart’s empire, co-founded Foodstirs. The company markets kits of fresh, natural ingredients enabling families to bake together, with all the benefits that implies. There are kits for brownie popsicles, cupcake cones, Halloween ghost cookies and more.
Healthy eating is not the only lesson Gellar and her actor husband, Freddie Prinze Jr., are imparting to their kids, Charlotte, 5, and Rocky, 2½. The Hollywood couple, who met on the set of the 1997 fright thriller “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” has been married for 13 years, considered a good long stretch in their profession.
Network television audiences most recently saw Gellar as Robin Williams’ daughter in the CBS comedy “The Crazy Ones,” about a Chicago ad agency.
On the one-year anniversary of Williams’ death, Gellar posted on Instagram a photo of Williams on the Boston park bench that Williams sat on in an iconic scene from “Good Will Hunting.” She quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson:
“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of the intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the beauty in others; to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know that one life has breathed easier because you lived here. This is to have succeeded.”
“You succeeded RW,” Gellar added.
Gellar will next join the voice cast of Disney XD’s animated series “Star Wars Rebels” in a recurring role for its second season. She spoke with us from Los Angeles about her new food venture and the secrets to raising a healthy family.
Energy Times: Tell me about how your company Foodstirs came about.
Sarah Michelle Gellar: For me it was more a learning process, seeing as my husband went to culinary school and did all the cooking, and once I had the kids, I wanted to be part of that process as well. One of the easiest ways, I think anyone will admit, to getting kids in the kitchen is baking. The smells. The tactile touching and feeling. The kitchen is an educational moment. It’s fine and gross motor skills. It’s vocabulary. It’s mathematics. It’s all of those skills in one. It’s where kids are having an educational moment, and they don’t even realize they’re having it.
And with the rise of [the social media site] Pinterest, all these kids, they don’t want to just eat a baked good anymore; they want a project. They want it to look more interesting. I don’t blame them, because I want my food to look appealing and appetizing as well.
We picked a project off Pinterest that we thought was really interesting. We went to the baking aisle, and I was shocked that when I was looking at the ingredients, it was the one aisle that I felt hadn’t been modernized [to reflect healthier options]. There were ingredients there that I couldn’t pronounce, let alone know what they were. I thought it was very odd.
All the studies are showing that you have to be aware of what’s in your food. It needs to be clean-labeled. It needs to be better for you. It needs to come from a better place. So we were surprised.
ET: In the food you make, how do you combine both health and good taste?
SMG: That’s been the last year of our life. It’s a lot of trial and error with different ingredients. Do you put yogurt in it? Do you use flaxseed oil? How do you substitute? We really spent the time trying to perfect our mixes, where even if you’re not into the kit aspect of it where you do a project, and you just want to make a plate of brownies or a plate of cookies, or a cupcake, you have an option for you that’s better.
ET: So what would you use in place of sugar?
SMG: I don’t have a problem with sugar. Sugar’s in fruit. It’s about how you use the sugar, the amount of sugar you put in something, and where the sugar comes from. That’s the most important thing.
At the end of the day, you have to enjoy your food. I’m a big believer in that. Food should taste great. But it should be the cleanest possible and the right amounts. I think a lot of times when people are baking they just dump sugar in it, and there’s lots of other things you can add for sweetness. There’s vanilla. There’s coconut oil. There’s applesauce. There’s yogurt. There are so many things that flavor.
So we spent the time making sure that our mixes have that taste. Then we take it to the next level by adding the project aspect to it, taking it and making it beautiful to look at, more appealing. With a project that has more labor, you can really spend more time together.
The other thing that happens in the kitchen is confidence. And that comes whether you’re a child or an adult. I didn’t always have confidence in the kitchen, and in the last two years of my life, really spending time on this, I’ve garnered confidence and I feel more comfortable in there and more capable. I can only imagine what a child feels like gaining that.
ET: With your husband’s culinary background, to what degree has he helped in your business project?
SMG: Well, he’s busy. He has a cookbook coming out next year, so he’s certainly been busy on his own stuff. But he definitely likes to taste it all. His book is family recipes. Everything he makes is healthier because at the end of the day anything you make at home is going to be healthier, because you’re going to be aware what you’re putting into it. That really kills me—all the processed, the preserved [additives]. The fresher the ingredient, the better it is for you and the better it’s going to taste. I usually live by [the maxim] if I can’t pronounce it, I don’t want to eat it.
ET: One approach to get kids to eat healthfully that has gained traction in recent years is the idea of hiding things like pureed vegetables in food. Jerry Seinfeld’s wife Jessica promoted this approach with her 2008 book Deceptively Delicious (William Morrow). What do you think of that approach?
SMG: You know, I love Jessica. At the end of the day, you have to get your families to eat, and you know what’s best for your own family. I’ve taken a different route with my kids. I’ve made them part of the process early on, discussed what’s in there. I mean, my kids love Brussels sprouts, my kids love kale. Jessica is a friend and I love the book, and I think she’s really smart, and that’s what some people have to do. In my family we’ve chosen a different route.
We grow a lot of different stuff. From a seed level, kids can grow something and watch it, and they get to eat it right off the vine. We’ve grown kale, tomatoes, spinach, carrots. We don’t have the best weather for it, or the best land for it, but even a small amount of it [is beneficial]. When I was a kid I lived in New York City, and obviously I didn’t have a garden, but I would grow herbs on my windowsill just so I could have and feel a part of the cycle of life and food.
ET: What are meals like on a typical day for your family?
SMG: Breakfast is never on the go. I’m a very big believer that the kids have to have a breakfast. We always sit at the table together and we have breakfast before school, even if it has to be early, even if it has to be prepared the night before. I always tell people that parfaits in mason jars are a great trick the night before if you’re going to be rushed, to at least have a breakfast that’s ready to go. You can make them look so pretty with fruit and granola and yogurt. I want to make sure before I send my family off, whether that’s my husband or my kids, that we have that solid meal to start the day.
My son is young enough so that we still pack his lunch. Of course, my son would like sushi for every lunch, and I explain to him that is not an appropriate lunchbox meal at 2½, but we’re working at it.
And dinner we really try to eat as a family. We try to prepare at home whenever possible, and again we make them part of the process because they’re more likely to eat something that they’ve prepared. Though my son is only 2½, we involve him, too. We say to my daughter, put two cups of this, and she’ll pour two cups and hand it to my 2½ year old and say, “now you put it in there.”
Make them all part of the process. I always say pizza is a great way to get kids involved. They love making a mess with the sauce and the cheese, and it’s a great way to get vegetables in there. Put some broccoli on it.
We make smoothies. We don’t eat junk food. We eat meals to fill ourselves. We eat good food and make good choices. I think that’s the most important thing you can do.
Last night we made fajitas, and we went to the farmer’s market this weekend and got fresh vegetables. You don’t have to have access to that; that’s [an excuse]: “You know, I don’t live in an area where there’s a farmer’s market.” You can go to your supermarket and talk to your grocers. Supermarkets are trying to be competitive in that market now and you can go to your grocer and say, “What’s the freshest?” or “What’s on sale that came in fresh? What do you recommend?” or “What’s in season in this area?” People say, “I don’t have a farmer’s market near me,” but you’d be surprised what the supermarkets can offer these days.
ET: Based on your childhood activities, as well as on your focus on raising a healthy family, you probably engage your family in an array of fitness activities. I read that you were a competitive figure skater when you were young, finishing in third place at a New York State regional competition, and that you placed fourth at a Tae Kwon Do competition at Madison Square Garden.
SMG: I have my brown belt in Tae Kwan Do, but we’re a jiu jitsu family now. We’ve moved on. Everyone in the house participates in some form of jiu jitsu. The big benefit of jiu jitsu is lifestyle. We really believe that everything is all encompassing, that nothing is about one thing.
We study with a family called the Gracie brothers, and they are responsible for bringing jiu jitsu into the United States. It’s a really beautiful form of protecting yourself. It’s not fighting, it’s not about hurting other people, it’s about making sure your temple, your body, is safe.
One of the great comments we got from a children’s class called Bullyproof was, “You have to try something ten times and then two times more to decide that you don’t like it.” And it’s such a great and true thing, because very often a child will take a bite of something and decide they don’t like it anymore. But we’ll make sure our kids taste something ten times and two times more, and you’d be surprised, “wait, they do like this.”
ET: What other fitness activities do you engage in?
SMG: I’m fortunate. I live in a climate that’s conducive to being outside. We like to take hikes on the weekend with the kids and we take the dog. We go to the beach. We swim a lot. I’m very fortunate in that. And having two young kids makes it easy to be active, because they’re active.
ET: On the subject of fitness, was “Buffy” your most physically challenging role?
SMG: I would say “Buffy” was my most physically challenging in the sense that eight years of that is extremely grueling and hard on your body, there’s no question.
ET: Buffy has been cited over the years as a positive role model. That’s a huge feat for a television character considering the media images that young girls in particular are exposed to, which wreaks havoc on their self-esteem and what should be a healthy self-image.
SMG: I’m honored. I think that ultimately what anyone wants to do is have an impact and make a difference. I think that character was really important. [The pressure on young girls to aspire to an unhealthy self-image has] only gotten worse over time with the rise of social media, and I love that there are characters out there that show the other side of it.
ET: You have said that you have a strategy for raising strong, independent children—you and your husband split domestic responsibilities. Tell me more about that.
SMG: It’s extremely important. There’s a lot of focus in the media about how women are still paid less and how our value is different, and the only way to change that is to start from the time children are young, and letting them know that there are not necessarily traditional roles for women and men, that we’re both capable of doing it all. We have to be examples of that.
ET: You also had a strategy for starting a family. You and Freddie waited until you both built a solid relationship and foundation in your marriage before having kids.
SMG: I think that’s a personal choice for everyone, and you have to know when the timing is right for your household. For us, there was a lot that we wanted to do and see. To be the kind of parents that we wanted to be, we knew that our lives would then become completely about them, and our choices would be about them and their life and what they needed, and so we took the time we needed to be selfish and be young and have those experiences.