March 05, 2011 05:00 PM

PAPSFIRST/Splash News Online

Padma Lakshmi knows a thing or two about good food, and she’s sharing that love with her 1-year-old daughter, Krishna Thea.

“I make all her food. She doesn’t eat baby food,” the Top Chef judge, 40, told PEOPLE at the National Education Association’s 14th Annual Read Across America Day in Washington, D.C. “Lentils and rice, that’s her favorite. And she loves black-eyed peas.”

When it comes to whipping up meals for her daughter, the cookbook author keeps it simple.

“You just boil them with a little salt, water, onion, rice and carrots,” says Lakshmi. “It’s really easy to cook for children because they’re very simple in their tastes and they’re very grateful. She’s never gotten bottled baby food.”

Lakshmi just celebrated her daughter’s first birthday with a “nice party with her family, her little friends and some of our loved ones.” But don’t think this first-time mom is easily caught offguard.

“Nothing surprises me about Krishna because she’s a very witty and exuberant child,” she shares. “She’s already got a very developed sense of humor, she’s walking very fast at breakneck speeds!”

Despite the occasional topple, Krishna is learning from her experiences. Says Lakshmi: “She bounces down on her bum. The good thing is now she’s learned how to break her own fall. Before she was kind of just flailing around. Now, she’s got the hang of it. She knows how to fall because she’s experienced at falling as well.”

And while her daughter loves a good book, she doesn’t find the experience particularly relaxing.

“Reading is a very stimulating activity for her, so we don’t read to her if we’re trying to put her to sleep,” says Lakshmi, whose book list for her little one includes Ten in the Bed, Goodnight Moon, Dr. Seuss’ Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb and a favorite, Hop on Pop. Says the proud mom: “She always tries to turn the pages by herself.”

— Arnesa A. Howell

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