An interview with Zooey Deschanel about family dinners and her company Lettuce Grow.
Photography by Sergio Necoechea

Becoming A Mom Inspired Zooey Deschanel To Ask More Questions About The Food She Eats

The actress is behind Lettuce Grow, The Farm Project, and now the Merryfield app.

by Kaitlin Kimont
Originally Published: 
Family Dinner

Becoming a mom made Zooey Deschanel especially aware and curious about the food she was eating to fuel her body. Google can be a pregnant woman’s friend when they’re trying figure out which foods will help with nausea or if they can nibble on that charcuterie board, but it can also take you down a dark rabbit hole. Indeed, Deschanel struggled to find the answers she was looking for, but also discovered some information that just didn’t sit right with her.

“I was asking more questions about the food I ate and wondering about the ingredients that were in the foods that are on offer at the grocery store. And it was harder to find that information,” Deschanel tells Romper. “At the same time, [I] was reading about food deserts and that there are a lot of places where there’s just not a lot of access to healthy food.”

So Deschanel took action and launched her hydroponic garden company Lettuce Grow in 2019 and co-founded The Farm Project with her ex-husband, film producer Jacob Pechenik, with whom she shares 7-year-old daughter Elsie Otter and 5-year-old son Charlie Wolf. “I believe that eating healthy should be a right, not a privilege,” Deschanel says.

The New Girl star also didn’t like that access to healthy food was “considered something that maybe only certain people could afford” and hoped to “remedy some of that” by helping people grow their own produce at home with Lettuce Grow. “If you grow all of your produce, it doesn’t go to waste because you’re just picking right before you eat. And it can actually be a lot more affordable than buying produce in the store.”

Photography by Sergio Necoechea

The mom of two didn’t stop there. Deschanel helped create Merryfield, an app that rewards shoppers for buying “better-for-you” brands. Simply upload your receipt from the grocery store and you can redeem points for gift cards to stores like Whole Foods, Sephora, and REI. “It’s been making a difference for a lot of people in terms of what they are able to afford in the grocery store,” says Deschanel.

The app also recently launched a new program with Fresh Thyme Markets called Learn & Earn to inspire people “to learn more about the food that they’re buying and the food that they’re seeing in the grocery store,” Deschanel explains.

We spoke to Deschanel for our Family Dinner series about how she incorporates all of this at home, growing up on her mom’s freshly baked bread, and the simple hack she’s found to get her kids excited about salad.

Having been in and around the entertainment industry for so long, growing up in LA, and often traveling with your parents [actress Mary Jo Deschanel and cinematographer Caleb Deschanel] for work, I’d love to know what mealtimes looked like when you were a kid. What comes to mind?

[My parents] never had anything artificial in the house. It was always real everything. I think my parents eat in a very European way, and both of them cook. My mom would usually be cooking dinner, and we’d all have dinner together. So we were always having meals together and eating very fresh, tasty food.

Is there a specific childhood meal that sticks with you as a memory?

My parents lived in Italy before I was born, and so they always cooked a lot of Italian food. My mom makes bread three times a week ... like sourdough. So growing up, I would really only want to eat my mom’s bread. Even bread from a good bakery wasn’t as good as my mom’s.

Wow, that’s pretty lucky.

Yeah, very lucky.

Now that you have a family of your own, what have you taken or maybe even changed from your childhood when it comes to meals and food?

Growing up, I was very adventurous... I was a very adventurous eater. My kids aren’t as adventurous as I was, I guess. I love to cook, and when I cook a meal, just offering new things to try and allowing the kids to explore food in a way that’s fun, I think, is important.

Can you tell me what a typical weeknight dinner looks like with two young kids?

I don’t have a ton of time, so if I’m cooking, it’s going to be something simple on a weeknight ... They like pasta. But I try to, to some degree, keep it to things that they enjoy but also challenge them a little bit by adding things in that they might not have tried. But it’s not always successful.

So you’re touching on maybe having some picky appetites?

Yeah, for sure ... I don’t want to force anyone to eat. I just find if you force somebody to do something, it creates a negative memory. So I just don’t want to do that. I know they’ll eat eventually. And sometimes we’ll talk about what we’re going to eat, and then I make it, and then they’re like, “We don’t want this anymore.” And that just happens. I can’t control what they like and don’t like, I can just offer stuff and hope for the best. And then sometimes we’re surprised, you know? Like, “Oh, I didn’t know they liked that.”

Do you find that you’re cooking a bunch of different meals just so everyone has something to eat?

I try not to. I try to at least get them to agree on something because I don’t want to be a short order cook.

Right. So sometimes it’s just chicken nuggets or buttered noodles?

We don’t eat chicken, but sometimes it’s butter noodles, that’s for sure.

How have you gotten your kids involved with [growing produce at home] or did it just come naturally because that’s what they grew up with?

Well, I’m not a gardener, so I can’t garden. I’m terrible, I do not have a green thumb. I think it’s funny, there’s a misconception that because I’m a co-founder of Lettuce Grow, that I’m good at gardening. I’m like, “Absolutely not.” That’s why I started Lettuce Grow because it’s no maintenance. It’s very low maintenance. You don’t have to be talented. You just have to want fresh produce. And it’s very, very easy.

So it’s not that they need to be involved. It’s nice because it’s there, and then the kids pick stuff off of it. It makes them curious about the food. And so it’s just more of a fun thing, I would say. It’s basically no work. There’s a little bit of maintenance, but it’s so little ... It’s really nice to have fresh food growing in your home.

What produce do you have growing right now?

Lettuces, herbs, greens. Those are things I use all the time ... they do enjoy it. And picking lettuce for a salad and helping to prepare it is... The only time I really get the kids to eat salad is if we pick it and they get to make the dressing. And then since they were a part of it, then they'll want to eat it.

I grew up with a garden as a kid, and it was so fun just to pick off a green bean or dig up a radish.

It’s different, and then you have the opportunity to try different things, and it feels like the stakes are lower. If you have to then go out of your way to go and buy something, I think it scares kids off. But if they have a bunch of different things, they can just go, “Oh, what does this taste like?” They have just an opportunity to try different things

Definitely. I’m sure they still get a sweet tooth every once in a while?

Oh, yeah, they have the biggest sweet tooth. They love sweets.

Have they ever asked to eat like your former co-star, Buddy the Elf?

I don’t deprive my kids of having sweets. I think that’s counterproductive. I notice if people have some extreme thing where they’re not allowed to have something, then they tend to swing the pendulum really far the other way. I try to get organic and better-for-you brands of cookies and things like that, or make them ourselves. But at a birthday party, I’m not going to say, “No, you can’t have a cupcake.” That would be depriving them of a social experience. And I just wouldn’t want to do that, you know? But of course they ask about candy all the time.

Yeah, so Buddy’s not the best influence on them, I would guess.

He’s not a great influence.

I can confidently say New Girl is a go-to comfort watch for myself and many of my friends and colleagues. And, it’s not going anywhere, but it’s leaving Netflix, so people kind of panicked.

Yeah, now it’s going to be on two streaming services though!

(Editor’s note: New Girl is heading to Hulu and Peacock on April 17. Phew!)

FOX/FOX Image Collection/Getty Images

Right, it’s really accessible now! But since it’s such a comfort watch for everyone, I was just curious, what’s your go-to comfort watch?

I like Bravo shows.

Which one are you obsessed with right now?

Well, I’d never really seen it before, but I just started watching Vanderpump just ‘cause of the ... the scandal. I’ve been hooked.

Yeah, you can’t stop.

Can’t stop.

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