Jennifer Garner on the One Word She Never Uses With Her Kids

From a fake cooking show, rumors of an 'Alias' reboot, to how to be fair and "banana-forward," your favorite celebrity mom is just as cool as she seems.

by Donna Freydkin
Originally Published: 

Jennifer Garner is perhaps, next to Kristen Bell, the most relatable famous-parent on social media. There she is, making misshapen bagels from scratch on her Pretend Cooking Show. Here she sits, facing the pre-Christmas ordeal of parents everywhere: Trying and failing to perfectly wrap an unwieldy gift. Yes, of course, she works — she just wrapped the Netflix comedy Yes Day, based on the children’s book by Tom Lichtenheld and Amy Krouse Rosenthal.

But Garner has expanded her repertoire beyond the screen by cofounding the baby food brand Once Upon a Farm, which produces organic, cold-pressed pouches. She just created her own blend, Farmer Jen and the Giant Squash, featuring the Koginut squash grown on her farm in Oklahoma. Her children are her taste testers. “I use my kids. They’re hilarious. My daughter will be like, ‘This is banana-forward. This is a great mouth feel but what I’m looking for actually is…” And I think to myself, ‘What in the hell.’ But that’s how we do it.”

The mom of three — Violet, 14; Seraphina, 11; and Samuel, almost eight — talks with Fatherly about finding goodness in the ground, and raising grounded kids.

You don’t need the fame or the money, so what prompted you to become so hands-on with Once Upon a Farm?

Because I heard about a business that was tiny. It was a just tiny startup. The idea was so solid. It was the first idea that I’d heard in forever that I thought, ‘I would use this company.’ I personally found making homemade baby food to be onerous.

Making baby food is truly a hassle. And after all that … you wind up with one cup of something.

I mean, I did it. And I had help to clean the steamer and the grinder and everything else. But I worried if I was doing it right? How long had it been in the freezer? It wasn’t my favorite thing. With Once Upon a Farm, we were never trying to talk moms out of making homemade food for their babies. But if you’re going back to work, let us help you. If you’re out at the store, let us help you.

You have a pretend cooking show on Instagram and you love food. So asking on behalf of all parents, how do you raise adventurous eaters?

I am not the person to talk to you about that. I was a horribly picky eater as a kid. And as a parent, I have made more buttered noodles than I care to admit. Even so, it’s a texture thing as much as anything for my kids. I would say, just have faith. My mom had faith — she always said to me to not battle my kids about food. Today I’ll eat anything. As a kid, I don’t remember having broccoli. My mom would make me carrots.

So you took the same approach with your kids?

To me, you don’t battle. You just don’t battle. If you want veggies in your kids, have cut-up raw veggies with dip on the counter while you’re making dinner. They’ll get eaten. My kids have eaten mountains of bell peppers. Now my 14-year-old asks me to take her to new restaurants. She’s into the coolness of trying new foods. We have to chill out. I’m absolutely guilty of this. Let them eat what they’re going to eat.

I do have to admit, I almost made homemade bread after watching you do it on Instagram but my New York kitchen couldn’t handle it.

I kind of think I belong cooking for people in three or four-minute increments. I’m an homage to Ina Garten. That’s really it. Seriously, the pretend cooking show — it’s always, ‘I’m about to make shrimp for lunch, should I make it for all of us?’ My assistant — she’s so much more than that, she’s been with me for seven years — she does all the filming and editing. She’s with me all the time. It’s really easy to just say, she’ll be with me for a few days, and she’ll say, ‘Should we make bagels?’ So we do. It’s very funny.

You just wrapped the comedy Yes Day, in which your characters say yes to their kids for 24 hours. How do your kids view your day job?

They’re all big. I have a 14-year-old, an 11-year-old, and a 7 almost 8-year-old. It’s not a secret. They’re very aware. The 14-year-old rolls her eyes but is secretly proud. The 11-year-old does too. The 7-year-old is sweet and yummy. They get it. They’re such good sports about it. I didn’t get to take them to school for months. They finally last week started saying, ‘Are you going to take us to school tomorrow?’ Even though there’s a calendar up and a countdown clock up, so they can see things visually.

I’m sure they’re just as hyper-aware of the flip side of fame: The endless paparazzi.

It follows you wherever you go. It’s a conversation. It’s a daily nuisance we talk about a lot. But all my kids would tell you there are a lot of bigger problems in the world. They all hate it. That law being passed by Halle Berry, it has been a game-changer for us. The only people who put pictures out there now are the nasty web sites. I’ll have four (paparazzi outside my house) where I used to have 20. You could hardly live. You don’t feel normal in the world. You’re a walking spectacle. You can’t have a normal interaction with anyone.

I’m asking you this because I want to know for myself. As a person of privilege, how do you not raise entitled kids?

The proof will be in the pudding. I don’t know what that is. There are only a couple of things I know to be true. ‘Don’t’ doesn’t work. To say, ’Other kids don’t have that.’ To me, it’s unfair. My kid does have things other kids don’t have. It’s not their fault. That’s a confusing message to send. They shouldn’t have to apologize. I don’t get them a new backpack every year. I don’t get them the bright shiny new shoes. They see friends who have a brand new this or that. I buy nice things for me but that’s for me. It’s not hard to find ways to connect with people. We make dinner for the older people at church and take it to them, not all the time but a few times a year. We have them to our house for dinner. Not all the time, but a few times a year. I’m not an expert. My way of doing it is to look at ways you can be helpful.

That sounds like what Mister Rogers espoused: To always look for the helpers.

Misters Rogers is my favorite. It’s funny how much we need him right now. Tell us how to be, Mister Rogers.

You did a guest spot on Ask the Storybots. What other shows do you watch with your kids?

We don’t watch a lot of TV. I read with my kids. I am reading the Hobbit. My mom read to me all the way through middle school. Because it was a special thing with my mom and me, it’s a special thing for me and my kids. My son and I are about to finish the fourth Harry Potter. My eldest, she and I are going to finish The Importance of Being Earnest. I don’t watch a ton of TV with them. What they do watch is ruled by the oldest. My son is home sick today and he had on Boss Baby. My eldest has introduced the other two to Brooklyn Nine-Nine. It’s a lot of Andy Samberg in our house.

Speaking of TV, so many shows are getting reboots. Is there one of Alias in your future?

I appreciate the Alias love and it’s still my favorite. I had heard of an Alias reboot a couple of years ago and it was from a good source. But nothing has materialized. I don’t think it would involve me. It would be a new young person. I’ve seen several cast members and crew members, and J.J. Abrams and our producing director all within the last month and we’re all very close.

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