The Nashville star prepares for her role by visiting local restaurants
Connie Britton
Credit: Quaker Oats

Whether she’s playing Texas football wife Tami Taylor on Friday Night Lights or Tennessee country star Rayna Jaymes on Nashville, Connie Britton prepares for her roles in the best way possible—by eating.

“I love food. I’m a foodie, and I think that getting out and trying different restaurants is a great way to see what local people are doing and to feel the essence of that place,” Britton, who has shot on location for both shows, tells PEOPLE.

While she says she could “never answer” which region has better cuisine, she admits that Nashville—where she currently resides with her 6-year-old son, Eyob—used to leave something to be desired. “I think Nashville itself would probably acknowledge that until very recently, it did not have a great food scene,” she says. “From the time I shot the pilot of Nashville to now, it has changed so dramatically. And now there’s really awesome food.” Britton has previously mentioned that her favorite spot in the city is the Patterson House, a cocktail bar that specializes in southern small plates.

It’s not all brisket sandwiches and hot chicken, though. The actress, who has teamed up with Quaker Oats as an advocate for heart health, is fairly disciplined with her diet and exercise routine. “Eating healthy is a big part of my life because it’s something I can really have control over and it doesn’t take up a lot of my time,” she says. “And that’s something that I know impacts my heart health, which is as important to me as how I’m looking on the outside.”

“In terms of working out, again it’s about finding things that I can actually fit into my day,” she continues. “I love to walk; I love to be outside, and that’s something I can do with my son.”

WATCH: Connie Britton Reveals Her Favorite Nashville Hot Spot

And though she lists green smoothies and hot yoga among her favorite things, she does admit to more indulgent cravings. “I love pasta,” she says, “and if I was really, really going to cheat and be really bad and didn’t care about calories, I go for chocolate cake. Sugar is something that I really try to stay away from, though.”

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Ultimately, Britton’s health philosophy boils down to doing what’s practical and enjoyable for you. “What I’ve done and what I recommend for people is finding the thing thing you actually genuinely like doing and stick with it,” she says.