Laila Ali, 40, has shown the same passion and drive as her late, “greatest” father, Muhammad Ali. She is a recently published cookbook author (Food for Life), blogger (Laila Ali Lifestyle), podcast host (Laila Ali Lifestyle on PodcastOne), reality TV star (Celebrity Apprentice, Chopped, Dancing with the Stars) and ambassador to numerous charities and non-profit organizations (TIAA Difference Maker 100, American Heart Association). We caught up with the boxer-turned-businesswoman to discuss her young family and budding lifestyle brand empire.
You published a cookbook earlier this year. Tell me a little bit about that…
Food for Life released in January. It's available in stores now and a lot of people obviously don't realize I've been cooking since I was 10 years old. I focus on health and wellness and encouraging and inspiring others to take control of their health through dietary changes and lifestyle choices.
The cookbook has a lot of information in it of how to apply different ways to live a healthier life and to prepare meals that you're already making. It’s all compiled in the book. It's the first of many to come. I'm really, really excited about it. I love the way that it turned out. And so far, people are loving it.
Did your dad cook?
No. He definitely didn't do that. Growing up with my dad, we actually had a cook, where I lived with my father. That is one of the things I joke about in my book — I had a cook, and had amazing food, but when my parents divorced, I had to divorce the cook. That's why I started cooking myself.
What do you cook that your dad liked to eat?
My dad loves home-cooked meals, so Thanksgiving was a favorite because you got some of everything. He liked food with flavor. My stewed chicken recipe was definitely one of them. But again, the Thanksgiving recipes, your candied yams and your mac and cheese and your potatoes and your greens, and the different animal proteins, he loved all of it. And, of course, dessert. He loved sweet potato pie, different pies à la mode. He definitely was big on eating well.
When I say “well,” I mean good food, not necessarily always the healthiest food. I'm really trying to bring people back to just home cooking because we're living in a time where people are suffering from heart disease and diabetes and weight gain, and a lot of it due to the lifestyle choices that we make. That's why I'm involved in organizations like the American Heart Association, trying to encourage people to eat better and live better.
You have two young kids and your husband is an ex-NFL player (Curtis Conway). What do you like to cook for your family?
I keep it simple with my family because my kids, they're young and they're very picky, like most kids. They're six and nine and I'm starting to learn to stop asking them, “What do you guys want for dinner?” My husband's like, “Would you stop doing that? Just make the dinner and stop asking them.” But being the mom and the cook, I love kind of pleasing everybody.
I do turkey tacos a lot and what I do is I'll hide veggies into the foods that I make. For example, I'm going to sauté some ground turkey, I'll take four zucchini, peel off the green skin, put them in the food processor, so they're broken down. And then, I'll sauté them with the meat, so they get all those vegetables. It doesn't change the flavor at all. It goes undetected.
Then, put those with some good non-GMO (genetically modified organism) organic corn shells, that I can fry up lightly for the kids, choose their toppings and they're happy. That's just an example of one of our favorites on “Taco Tuesday” night. It's a crowd pleaser for my family.
What are some simple things people can do to make big improvements in their diet? What would you recommend?
One of the main things that would make a tremendous difference in so many different ways is to just stop eating so much processed food. Whether it's fast food out of a drive thru or something you can get at a gas station. You don't want to buy your food where you buy your gas. It's not even food.
If people would start eating whole foods. You don't really have to think about the calories and that quite as much when you're eating food that your body can actually process. I'm talking about vegetables and fruits and whole grains and protein. Drinking more water. Back to the basics, really. It’s easier than it seems, but there's just so much information out there that it gets overwhelming sometimes.
You do a lot of charitable and non-profit work. What are your current projects?
I’m super excited to be the TIAA Difference Maker 100 program ambassador. I'm going to be focusing on building awareness of the program and supporting people who are making exceptional contributions in the nonprofit world. I'll also be evaluating program nominees and participating in the judging process.
The program is to honor 100 individuals who work for nonprofits and are making a difference in the world. They'll each receive $10,000 for the nonprofit where they work, totaling $1 million in donations from TIAA. People can go to tiaadifferencemaker100.org to nominate themselves or to recommend other people. There will be submissions, articles, videos, other inspiring stories that people can access. And then, we'll be choosing 100 people to actually win.
What’s next for you? What else is coming up on the horizon?
I have my blog, which is Laila Ali Lifestyle, which just embodies everything that we have been talking about, just encouraging people to live their healthiest life, to parenting and sickness and wellness and everything, relationships. I have my podcast, Laila Ali Lifestyle Podcast, which is on PodcastOne. I put out a new episode every week. My book is obviously the most recent thing that I've done, but I'm in the process right now of creating my own nutrition line, which I am very excited about.
I'm going to offer a line of nutrition products starting with protein powders, green powders, multi vitamins, meal bars, really make it a part of a lifestyle package. A lot of people ask me all the time, “What products do you use?” And I found a company that is really great, that would be producing the products. I'm just in the process of everything you got to do, as far as naming the products and labels and things like that. It's really exciting and fun. I'm really looking forward to it.