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A Food Network chef + mama obsessed with Aperol spritzes, travel, and mouth watering food. I also own a gorgeous cooking school in Italy. My mission? To share the secrets of La Dolce Vita so you can create a healthy, beautiful, delicious life filled with joy!

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While we were on vacation, my teenage old daughter asked me if I thought she was fat. I was horrified and shocked at this question. At first, I thought I had failed as a mother to teach her about self-worth. But then I realized teenagers today are bombarded with retouched images of models and movie stars, with perfect bodies. These role models have warped her perception of what is ideal.

Jade is an absolute bean pole. At 12, she is taller than me and has legs that go on forever. I was devastated she was even concerned about her weight. Had I failed to help her develop a healthy body image? I told her she was perfect but I was upset that this was something she was worried about.

It started me thinking about my journey through the teenage years. What many of you probably don’t know, is that I battled with my weight and body image from the time I was 12, till well into my 20’s. I was never obese but I was definitely chubbier and chunkier than my friends.

I remember wrapping a towel around me when I wanted to swim. I would lay it on the bricks next to the pool and hop into the water and immediately hop back onto the towel, so no one could see my butt. I always made sure to wear long jackets to cover my legs and I hated jeans. I only really felt comfortable in dresses.

I remember auditioning for the high school fashion shows. All my friends made the cut, but not me. I felt like the ugly duckling and I desperately wanted to be a swan.

I tried every crazy diet and went for weekly weigh-ins. And food became the enemy. I kept journals of what I was eating, but the more foods were off-limits, the more I craved them. Biscuits, sugary treats, and fatty fried foods. And then I would berate myself and feel guilty for indulging.

I moved to Los Angeles in my mid 20’s. Everywhere I looked there were fast-food chains and drive-throughs, promising quick and cheap food. But I was craving the food of home, so I began cooking for myself.

It is around this time that I started to develop a healthy relationship with food. I would head to the grocery store and buy fresh fruits and veggies and cook this along with some lean protein.

I was eating real food and my body responded to it. I started to drop weight and I would feel satisfied after eating. And I guess this is where “COOK IT OFF” was born. It’s why I believe ABS ARE MADE IN THE KITCHEN…

Once I was in control of the ingredients that went into my food, I could control my weight without any crazy fad diets and restrictions. Cooking for myself became a lifestyle and the effects snowballed. I had more energy and I looked forward to enjoying a good meal. If I treated myself to a rich dessert, I would scale back and make the next meal a little lighter. But nothing crazy.

This was not a quick fix and the changes happened slowly over time. But because this was an easy-to-follow plan, it stuck with me and became second nature.

I actually crave veggies and fresh fruits and feel strong and energized when I am eating them. I also crave variety. The thing with diets is they are regimental and fixed. And life is not like that. What if I cannot find a tuna salad when I am with my daughter at Disney Land? And what if I don’t feel like a tuna salad for the 25th time this month.

That is why I try to make different meals throughout the week so my family and I are never bored. Each night I try something new. And from each of these attempts comes a new recipe which I share with you.

Your feedback and support have been such a motivating factor. I cannot thank you enough for sharing my recipes and sending me your thoughts. It is because of you that I love what I do. You inspire me to keep creating new dishes. I would be lost without each of you.

I have never believed in limiting entire food groups. Unless you have a serious medical condition, your body needs a little of everything. Dairy, sugar, carbs, fat, and protein. I tend to favor a high protein diet with tons of fresh fruits and veggies. It works for me, but there is always room for a cocktail, a slice of pizza, and something sweet. Balance and moderation are key. Nothing too extreme.

I have often seen parents who have a poor relationship with food and body image, pass this onto their kids. They point out to their kids, that they could do without the bowl of ice cream or even suggest the dreaded D-word. Never ever tell a child they need to diet. This is not the relationship with food we want to create for our children. This is an eating disorder waiting to happen.

It is our responsibility as parents to help them make the right choices. I always pack Jade’s school lunch with a variety of fruits and veggies, a sandwich, milk, and yogurt. We have an abundance of candy and chocolate bowls around the house. She is welcome to eat these, once she has eaten a balanced meal.

We need to get our kids into the kitchen and cook with them. We need to ask them what they want for dinner and cook the meal instead of ordering in or microwaving a frozen dinner.

I get Jade to help out and she is learning how to make healthy food for herself. This is a lifestyle that works. It is not a trend, fad, or quick fix. Cooking is the secret to creating a healthy relationship with food for ourselves and our families. And without trying, the benefits will flow over into your lives.

And it doesn’t hurt that everyone will look forward to sitting down to a home-cooked meal and that you’ll be able to enjoy quality time with your family.

I hope by sharing my journey I have helped you on your own. Please send me feedback, questions, and topics you would like me to address.

Much love, appreciation, and gratitude. 

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I'm Melissa, your host & tour guide.

A Food Network chef, author, mamma, eternal optimist, wannabe-mermaid, spice mixologist, and “dough therapist” (yep, it’s a thing)—

I'm also the founder of Susina Cucina, the gorgeous, Italian cooking school I manifested into my reality. I’m obsessed with Aperol spritzes, travel, and mouthwatering food… especially pizza and pasta.

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