Padma Lakshmi Writes Debut Kids' Book Inspired By Cooking with Daughter: 'Tomatoes for Neela'

Tomatoes for Neela will be published by Viking Children's Books on August 31, 2021

Padma Lakshmi
Padma Lakshmi. Photo: Inez & Vinoodh

Cooking is a family tradition that Padma Lakshmi shares with her daughter — and now she's celebrating that legacy with her first picture book, Tomatoes for Neela.

The children's book, geared for little ones ages 4-8, will be published by Viking Children's Books on August 31, 2021, the host of Top Chef exclusively shares with PEOPLE.

"I'm thrilled to reveal the cover for my debut children's book Tomatoes for Neela. It's a celebration of food, the many people who help bring it to us, and the connection it provides to our family and our culture," Lakshmi, 50, tells PEOPLE in an exclusive statement. "I was inspired by the many incredible women in my family and one of the most important ways we bonded was through food."

She continues: "Tomatoes are such an integral part of Indian cuisine and one of my favorite fruits — I wanted to highlight the importance of healthy and seasonal eating and how children are more excited to eat and enjoy the foods that they have helped to prepare."

Tomatoes for Neela
Viking Books for Young Readers

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Lakshmi explains that, as she did with the women in her family, cooking is "how I bond today with my daughter, passing down skills and advice that I hope will give her a lifetime of healthy eating long after I am gone."

Tomatoes for Neela follows a little girl, Neela, who enjoys cooking with her mom. Together they share in the traditions and recipes that her mom shared with her mother, Neela's grandmother.

"Neela loves cooking with her amma and writing down the recipes in her notebook. It makes her feel closer to her paati who lives far away in India," reads the book's description. "On Saturdays, Neela and Amma go to the green market and today they are buying tomatoes to make Paati's famous sauce. But first, Neela needs to learn about all the different kinds of tomatoes they can pick from. And as Neela and Amma cook together, they find a way for Paati to share in both the love and the flavors of the day."

Tomatoes for Neela is illustrated by Caldecott Honor-winning artist Juana Martinez-Neal. It's the latest of Lakshmi's bestselling book projects. The food expert and television host has published two cookbooks (Tang Tart Hot and Sweet and Easy Exotic), wrote The Encyclopedia of Spices & Herbs and released her memoir, Love, Loss, and What We Ate, in 2016. Now, she's the host of Hulu's new series Taste the Nation, which celebrates immigrant food and culture.

Padma Lakshmi and Krishna Lakshmi-Del
The chef with her daughter. James Devaney/Getty

When Lakshmi isn't working, she's focused on raising her daughter, Krishna Thea, 11, whom she shares with Adam Dell, to be happy and healthy. In September, the star spoke with Parents about cooking with Krishna — and teaching her how to eat well.

"There are a lot of things I'm not strict about, like bedtime, but I've always been pretty strict about what she eats," Lakshmi told the magazine. "I believe you set a child's eating patterns by the time they're 4 or 5, and the best way to get a child to eat healthily is to eat well yourself."

The Top Chef host explained that they both "try to keep our diet 50 percent fruits and vegetables, and Krishna knows that I'll look over her plate" — though they sometimes splurge with treats like pizza and ice cream.

According to Lakshmi, her daughter can hold her own in the kitchen.

Juana Martinez-Neal
The illustrator.

"The other day she FaceTimed me to ask, 'Mom, how hot does oil have to be to fry chicken?' I was like, 'What? That's too dangerous!' But she was adamant about doing it, so I walked her through the steps," Lakshmi told Parents at the time.

Krishna "had prepared the egg wash, the breadcrumbs and the flour, and had the paper towels and tongs all ready. She had even salted the breading," explained the star.

She added: "When I asked her how she knew how to do it, she said, 'Mom, I've been watching you for years!' "

Tomatoes for Neela will hit bookstores on August 31, 2021.

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