If you're one of the many who have picked up a new hobby or learned a new skill while social distancing, Valerie Bertinelli is so impressed with you. The former One Day at a Time and Hot in Cleveland actress has added quite a few titles and skills to her resume over the years — most recently as a Food Network host in multiple capacities, spanning easy eats to family treats — and is definitely considered a Renaissance woman by her peers and fans. But Valerie, who recently celebrated a milestone 60th birthday while isolating at home in Los Angeles, hasn't been able to focus on new pursuits during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
"I guess [I thought] I'll just take this time and I will definitely clean out my closet. It's been almost two months now — I have not cleaned up. I've cleaned out a few drawers in the kitchen, maybe," she shares with Good Housekeeping. "I brought all my needlepoint out and my knitting that I had done through the years, I thought, 'Well, I'm going to finish this pillow right here, and this blanket.' Haven't done it! So, my hat goes off to everybody and anybody who has been able to get through anything during this time."
While she might not be able to focus on anything new, Valerie has all but dove into one of her foremost life passions over the last few months — cooking fresh recipes in her kitchen, mostly for her husband, Tom Vitale, and her son, Wolfgang "Wolfie" Van Halen (and her mail carrier, Laura, who has sampled many extra baked goods!). Almost ironically, Valerie's popular cooking series Valerie's Home Cooking returned to the Food Network on Mother's Day for its 11th season, at a time when everyone is definitely doing more cooking at home.
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My hat goes off to everybody and anybody who has been able to get through anything during this time.
Filming was cut short due to the coronavirus outbreak, but her time at home has given Valerie an opportunity to reflect on what sparked her passion for cooking in the first place — and how integral it's been in her own personal growth over the last decade. "All I remember is my nonna making, you know, a cup of tea and her serving it to me fresh. And my mom, our cute little kitchen was her office; She just did three meals a day, no microwave, using fresh, fresh ingredients," Valerie shares, adding that she really started shadowing the pair of them in the kitchen as early as nine years old. "But I think they had a passion for it too. And I learned from them. And now I have a passion for it, too."
Valerie's Italian heritage dovetails perfectly with her lifelong passion for cooking, honoring her mother and nonna's hand in her upbringing by incorporating staples into her culinary routine. Currently, she's been having as much fun as a home cook could have during the pandemic by whipping up classic Italian recipes in a trio she likes to call the #3ItalianChicks — alongside Food Network's Giada de Laurentiis and Alex Guarnaschelli. Valerie has also been playing with live programming from her own home kitchen. The videographer? Her husband, who has been doing some cooking of his own (he even baked a birthday cake for Valerie to enjoy during a virtual dinner party with her closest friends).
"I have been cooking a lot more, and on Instagram, I show people what I've been cooking for me… I still believe in cleaning as you go. I think it keeps your brain a little bit clearer," Valerie says, adding that she appreciates her culinary crew more than ever with all the busy prep work she's doing. "And I also believe in mise en place; look at the ingredients again and again, and then get all the ingredients out in front of you."
Many cooks lament the way that shopping habits have changed, but Valerie tries to see it as a much-needed excuse to clean out the pantry. "We have to be a little more forgiving about ingredients these days," Valerie advises, as she's working through her favorite recipes with new proteins or different veggies. "Have fun with that, too, as you can also swap out different ingredients and see where you can take it."
Cooking also played a role in Valerie's relationship with 29-year-old son Wolfie, who has grown to appreciate fresh flavors after spending plenty of time in the kitchen with his mom. "Children love exploring and they love doing things on their own, love being autonomous," says Valerie, who has also hosted Food Network's Kids Baking Championship and Family Restaurant Rivals. "With Wolfie, I was able to get him to start eating broccoli at a very young age because he would just sit in the kitchen with me and watch me do everything… He would get really interested and I would sneak him a bit of tofu or whatever it may be that we were cooking with that day."
Valerie jokes that she isn't certain if Wolfie remembers it all, as he ended up taking after his father, Eddie Van Halen, with his passion for music as a recording artist. "He likes to kid me. He's said this more than once to me, 'Mom, I don't know how you got your own cooking shows — you burn popcorn.' And it's true!" she admits with a chuckle. For Valerie, her light-hearted relationship with Wolfie is a sign she knows "how to do something right," as she shared on a recent Today show appearance.
"The older he gets, the more I know how to stay out of his business… He's got a good head on his shoulders, and I'm lucky that he does," she shares. "I'm finding the fine line of staying out of his business and still staying connected… but I can't help but lightly ask, 'Sooo, when's the album coming out?!' Just a few questions so he won't get too annoyed." Of course, the pair have been inseparable via FaceTime these days, and Valerie says their relationship is stronger than ever.
But her relationship with food and her own health is still evolving, Valerie tells us. This January, Valerie partnered with her friends at NBC to kick off Start TODAY with Valerie Bertinelli, where she shared her insights with viewers after spending the whole month refining her approach to holistic health.
"I had to realize that food wasn't the enemy. And I used to think of food as the enemy no matter what it was… Food isn't the enemy, it's the way I have abused it in my life by eating the wrong things, eating emotionally, or eating unconsciously," she says, adding that she's rediscovering the role that all foods play in a balanced die. "I'm [still] trying to figure out, then, where does my body fit into this? Even at 60, I'm still trying to figure out what my body likes and what it doesn't like, but I have to stay conscious when I eat. And that's not always what I do… But that's the path I'm on right now."
Admittedly, Valerie has made even bigger strides coming to grips with her health by adapting a particularly inspiring stance on self-image, and says she works hard to understand self-acceptance these days. "I don't want to feel shame all the time for having extra weight on my body — and I don't think I should be made to feel shameful. Because I am still a loveable, kind person, no matter what I weigh," she shares, then pauses. "Oh, boy. That was hard to say. The words are still challenging for me, because I have 60 years of bad habits of hurting myself with words in my head to overcome."
Valerie is outspoken against body shaming online, particularly on social media, because she refuses to let someone's bad day or negative reflection derail her progress in her own journey. "I cannot let them steal my joy because I've done it to myself too often. And I can't then widen that net and let other people do it too, while I'm trying to work on my own. So it's just trying to rid the shame; there's no reason any person in this world should feel shame about whatever they look like."
I truly believe that you're allowed to choose happiness. I have to live by my own words.
In grappling with self-acceptance over many long years, Valerie shares that her own growth isn't complete just yet: "When I observe any extra weight on my body, I think of the pain that I haven't dealt with yet in my life, and I'm currently dealing with… I just see pain," she shares. "And I know I don't want to be judged for my pain, and what I look like right now. So it starts with me. And the only way I can really work on me and tidy up my own mind is by not letting other people encroach on it, and try to bring me down."
Her own evolution definitely didn't occur overnight, but Valerie believes anyone struggling with embracing their bodies can begin thinking about their self-worth in a new light by posing a crucial question. "Ask yourself: Why do I focus on the negative? It's about just changing that. I would encourage anybody to focus on the positive that you do in your life…"
While she's doing her best to keep her family safe by staying home, Valerie admits that the pandemic has left her feeling isolated at times — and believes that it's okay if you're feeling that, too. "I want to see my son — I want to have my son. And thank god for the pets that I have, they give us unconditional love that helps a lot."
As she's working hard to evolve into her next chapter of life, Valerie's celebrating 60 years of growth with a $60,000 donation to various charities that help at-risk communities, including the National Domestic Workers Alliance, No Kid Hungry, Blessings in a Backpack, and the Giving Help Fund. It's her latest kind act in a string of many throughout the last decade and beyond, including gearing up to run the Boston Marathon in 2010 for cancer research on behalf of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
Valerie has earned a reputation for being "down to earth," crossing the digital divide to connect with her followers in a unique way. Her key tip for staying grounded is crucial in the midst of a pandemic, but is something that we can carry into everyday life, too. "I would say reach out to anybody you can — just a hi and thank you for your service, or thank you for what you're doing to keep me safe," she says, regardless of whether it's a neighbor or your grocer or a close friend. "Anytime we're able to reach out and be kind to another person, it makes us feel better. It's almost a selfish act. When you're kind to someone else, you're helping yourself, too."
Zee Krstic is a health editor for Good Housekeeping, where he covers health and nutrition news, decodes diet and fitness trends and reviews the best products in the wellness aisle. Prior to joining GH in 2019, Zee fostered a nutrition background as an editor at Cooking Light and is continually developing his grasp of holistic health through collaboration with leading academic experts and clinical care providers. He has written about food and dining for Time, among other publications.