How Leighton Meester’s Life Inspired Her To Fight Childhood Hunger
The former Gossip Girl star, now a mother of two, reveals why she has no rules when it comes to food in her house.
Leighton Meester might be famous for portraying a socialite who had it all on Gossip Girl, but her own childhood couldn’t have been more different. Meester reveals that her family relied on food stamps and welfare, and that they sometimes ran out of food toward the end of the month.
Now, the 37-year-old actress and mother of two with her husband of nine years, Adam Brody, has joined the fight against food insecurity by partnering with GoGo squeeZ, a brand that’s providing up to 250,000 meals to families through Feeding America (and that offers a new fall yogurt flavor, apple pumpkin spice!).
Feeding America estimates there are 9 million children facing hunger in the United States. When it comes to setting an example for her kids, Leighton is a food security advocate and volunteer who does her best to show gratitude for the food her family has. This is also why she has no rules when it comes to food—for her kids that means…bring on the ice cream!
Leighton Meester on her history with food insecurity
The Healthy @Readers Digest: You partnered with GoGo SqueeZ and Feeding America to fight food insecurity in the lunchroom. We read that you were particularly committed to this cause because of your personal experiences growing up. Could you tell us a little bit about that?
Leighton Meester: It’s one of those things that growing up, I didn’t necessarily know that that was what was happening. I saw my parents struggling, putting things back on the shelves. I would get the task of putting things back in the grocery store at the checkout line, or not really having anything towards the end of the month. Sometimes we had enough, and then sometimes we didn’t. We relied on food stamps and welfare. I was always aware of how much things cost.
The Healthy: Now that you have two children, how has that changed how you relate to the cause?
Leighton Meester: Feeding your kid sets them up for success for the day, for being able to focus at school, to have energy to play, to have a good night’s sleep. It’s such a basic need, but also it’s such a huge part of bringing your family together. Volunteering with Feeding America these past few years has really opened my eyes to growing up, how hard that must have been for my parents. And just sort of seeing it through my kids’ eyes, maybe almost for the first time, how that affected me.
The Healthy: How have you figured out how to talk to your children about these issues?
Leighton Meester: I think just leading by example in the best way that I can. Working with Feeding America and GoGo SqueeZ in this partnership, volunteering. And as much as I can in a child-friendly way, opening them up to volunteering and being aware that not everybody has all that they have. But at the same time, I think being grateful for what we do have is probably the best way to teach them or help them learn.
Leighton Meester on her nutrition habits
The Healthy: What does nutrition look like in your home? Do you have any rules that you live by?
Leighton Meester: I’m the same way as I am with myself. I can’t have rules around food whatsoever. I feel like the amount of traveling and being on-set and being on the go that I do—and even my children do as well—it’s important to be very open to different kinds of food. When they’re hungry, they will eat. And if they’re not, then they won’t. Just putting some vegetables on their plate, even if they don’t eat it, it’s still an exposure. So as long as they’re exposed to healthy food, I feel like it’s a win.
And also not necessarily labeling foods “healthy” or “unhealthy,” or “good” or “bad.” I think that is not a healthy mindset, even for me as an adult.
So, no rules. If we go to the movies, we have popcorn and candy and eat nachos, I am all about that. Ice cream and desserts. Sometimes food isn’t about getting nutrition, it’s about the feeling of eating chips because they’re delicious and salty and crunchy.
Leighton Meester’s fitness routine
The Healthy: Are there any wellness routines that you do with your family?
Leighton Meester: My family’s pretty active, which I really enjoy. We love taking walks in our neighborhood. Walking to get ice cream or get dinner on a weekend is really fun. And just being at the beach, swimming. I think if emotions are high, if kids are tired, I do a checklist of, “Are you hungry or are you tired or what?” You go through your checklist, and a lot of the time it’s hunger. And if it isn’t that, it’s being tired. So we just try to, I guess, take deep breaths and talk it out.
The Healthy: What is one self-care ritual that you refuse to skip?
Leighton Meester: Well, now yoga and stretching, warming up before exercise. I try to get some kind of physical activity because I feel like it helps me sleep at night. But from a non-physical point of view, although some would argue it’s physical as well, I do therapy. That’s been a weekly thing for the majority of my adult life, and I think that’s really helped immeasurable ways.