Padma Lakshmi 2

At 41, with a big career, living in a big city, raising a toddler daughter, and looking stunning while she openly discusses what's not so pretty about parenting and her body, you might think this single mama is the new face of motherhood. But Padma Lakshmi would not agree.

"What are the faces of motherhood? You tell me. There are so many!" Lakshmi, the host of "Top Chef" and spokesperson for Sterling Vineyards Ultimate Host contest, told Shine, saying she couldn't claim that title herself.

As we all await the Wednesday evening premiere of "Top Chef:Texas" and Lakshmi offers advice on how each of us can turn a little dinner into a fabulous entertaining opportunity, the ultimate host herself also shared a bit about what it's like to be a mother to nearly-2-year old Krishna, how she feels about her post-pregnancy body, and how to make a budget get-together feel rich. And while she might not take to being called the new face of motherhood, she did share a few secrets about the upcoming season she promises is bigger than ever.

We hear so much about the tough parts of single parenthood. But what have been some of the joys of parenting this way for you?

I think you're right. One thing I'll say, in truth - I am a single parent. But I don't feel alone at all in parenting my daughter. I have a big family, who I am surrounded by, and friends. Krishna has a whole other side of her family who loves her, too. And so Krishna is parented by me, but also by her grandmother and aunts and cousins and uncles and friends. It's a corny thing, but it does take a village. The more who encompass her, the more different-kinds of people who are in Krishna's life, the better off she is.

What's your best advice for entertaining with kids in the house and still making it a pleasurable experience for adults and little ones?

The key to doing anything when you're a mom - entertaining or anything else - is preparation and organization. That's something I'm still learning how to achieve on a day-to-day basis!

I tell people that, when you're entertaining, choose a menu with most items that you can prepare ahead of time and then one or two dishes that you will finish off just before or during the party. Then you can enlist guests to help - and also kids! Kids love to help and they can, as long as it doesn't involve knives or heat. They can toss a salad for you. They can fold the napkins. That makes them feel like it's their party, too.

So should you put kids to work?

I think it makes children in more interested in getting to know their family during a fun experience -- there's an event in the house! I have a friend who is able to get her daughter to vacuum and all kinds of things [to get ready for a party]. She says, "We're having a party! You get to pick up your room!" So it's a nice opportunity to teach your children about entertaining but also get involved in cooking and taking care of their surroundings and learning how to be hospitable people.

And it's a great lesson to teach kids how to open your home to the people you care about.

Often you're making a choice between being with family or at a social engagement and you don't want to put your friends and loved ones in that position. Entertaining and having parties is about getting together, not about what's the most this or the coolest that. It's about being together and coming together and having fun.

I always suggest you make it clear if it's an adult party or is it a child's party. If it's an event with children and you do have wine there, you want to be very responsible. You want to make sure there's a lot of food. You want to be sure they are eating while they're drinking and they're not having more than one glass of wine or cocktail an hour, that they're definitely not driving afterwards. And that there are enough people taking care of and keeping an eye on the children.

Many families don't have a big budget to entertain, how can you have a lavish meal without spending a lot of money?

What's good for the wallet is also usually good for the body. Rather than do a big beef roast, you can make a stew. It has chunks of meat in it but if you slow cook it, you can use cheaper cuts of meat. You can add a lot of root vegetables, which stretch the budget [and portions] a lot farther. You can wind up feeding twelve people instead of six.

If you cook creatively, add beans, which are a part of a nutritious, plant-based regime. Root vegetables also offer an incredible earthy flavor and texture to whatever dish you're adding them to. You can get sweet potatoes or pumpkin and cut them up and drizzle chili powder, salt, maple syrup, and a little bit of olive oil and butter and bake that. It's gorgeous and makes beautiful oranges and yellows and browns and golds of fall. Also, it's delicious.

What about decorating?

When I decorate the table, I use what I have around. Now that it's fall, I take bunches of cinnamon sticks and wrap them with natural twine. I do that as a centerpiece. Or I have a flat vase that's filled to the brim with tangerines or lemons - beautiful!

One way you can decorate the environment that people don't often think of is sound. It's important to make a playlist on your iPod. Curate that playlist to last 2-1/2 to 3 hours and you want to keep in mind who the guests are, who is coming to have this meal. Cater to their tastes. Make the music nice enough to get the party started but not so raucous that it prevents conversation or people getting to know each other, especially if they've never met before.