As a vampire slayer, Sarah Michelle Gellar learned the value of an old-fashioned wooden stake. As a mom of two children, she's still pretty handy with a good stick — only this time it's in the kitchen.
Gellar skewers all kinds of things in her new cookbook, "Stirring Up Fun with Food ," making appetizing-looking chicken fingers, fondues, fruit slices, sliders, cake pops and even a Caesar salad.
The former star of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" also embraces muffin tins, cookie cutters, jars and some nifty knife work — all part of her effort to get kids to eat their veggies and try new flavors.
"We eat with our eyes first and a lot of decisions are made just by looking at something," she said. "A child, an adult, anyone, looks at asparagus and says, 'I don't want to eat that. I'm going to go and eat a cupcake.' So how do you make things more visibly appealing?"
Gellar and co-author Gia Russo think they have the answer with something called food crafting, which elevates a dish's appeal by using clever presentation. Think of boring old meat loaf as a cute muffin.
In their book, mashed potatoes are put in shot glasses, bat-shaped mozzarella is baked for Halloween and chili is spooned into mason jars. Those weird asparagus are baked in panko crumbs.
One clever way Gellar gets fruit or vegetables into her kids' stomach is by using cookie cutters to cut letters out of cucumbers or watermelon, assembling words and then sending her kids to school with edible notes ("I Love You" or "Great Job!").
"Let me tell you how fast those vegetables go," Gellar said.
She also substitutes roasted, Parmesan-flavored cauliflower for popcorn for snacking in front of the TV. "You're getting that same sensation, that same satisfaction, right, but you're getting a nutritional value at the same time."
Gellar, who with her husband, Freddie Prinze Jr., have two children, Charlotte, 7, and Rocky, 4, is passionate about food and nutrition, urging kids to learn about different foods early and help in the kitchen.
Cooking, she said, teaches gross motor skills, math, science and vocabulary. "More than that: It's about time spent together. People will say, 'My child is too young.' You're never too young. My daughter will say to my son, 'OK, we need three cups. Which one is the three, Rocky?' He just points to the three."
Karen Murgolo, who worked on the book as editorial director of the Grand Central Life & Style imprint, said she was impressed by Gellar's creativity and concern for portion control, nutrition and creating food for people on the go. "It's great for parents of kids anywhere from 1½ to 17, but I think 80 percent of the recipes could be served at any dinner party, honestly."
Gellar's interest in better ingredients and sustainable food policies has led her, Galit Laibow and Greg Fleishman to start their own business, Foodstirs, a non-GMO line of baking mixes free of artificial preservatives, flavors and colors that's ethically sourced.
She was prompted to act after being frustrated by the lack of change in supermarket baking mix boxes, which often have salt as the second ingredient or add red dye in a yellow cake mix.
"There's been so much attention on the perimeter of the grocery store — juices and cleanses and fruits and vegetables. Then you go into the interior and it's kind of really antiquated. I thought, 'This is wrong,'" she said.
With her business, Gellar joins other actresses like Gwyneth Paltrow, Gwen Stefani and Jessica Alba who have shown a strong entrepreneurial drive after establishing themselves.
"I think that there's a safety net that we have because we've achieved so much. I've achieved more than I ever thought I would achieve. So everything else becomes gravy and I think it makes you braver," said Gellar, who lives in Los Angeles.
"It makes you not rely so much on the negative comments. It makes you really sort of feel like, 'You know what? I'm going to try it and if it doesn't work out, that's OK because I'm happy with everything I've done.'"
One thing she won't do is help reboot her old Buffy role, saying fans of the Joss Whedon-created show will be upset whether she backs it or not. She called it a "no-win situation."
"I think that the show lives on in graphic novels, in fan fiction. And it lives on because people are still discovering it and still watching it, which means they're happy with it. If it ain't broke, I'm not going to be the one to offer to fix it."