Just Jenny

Jenny Mollen Dishes On Her Latest Book Projects

Article by Maria Dinoia

Photography by Kathy Thomas Photography/Hair and Makeup by Beck (@itsmadebybeck)

Originally published in Thompson's Station Lifestyle

Actress Jennifer Jones once said, "If you could choose one characteristic that would get you through life, choose a sense of humor." Well, self-deprecating entertainer Jenny Mollen got the memo. Her sense of humor permeates her many talents and is infectious. Actress, writer, influencer and New York Times bestselling author, Mollen tackles her latest two book projects with wit and playfulness. 

Dictator Lunches: Inspired Meals That Will Compel Even the Toughest of (Tyrants) Children, due out mid-September is Jenny's first launch into the kitchen with a book of recipe ideas for kiddos. 

Maria Dinoia with Franklin Lifestyle (FL): Let's talk about Dictator Lunches first. Tell me how you appeal to moms with it.

Jenny Mollen (JM): Well, I started out just messing around in my kitchen. It was me bored at night. I don't know how to turn my television on, so my kids would go to sleep and I would just be rummaging for snacks in the kitchen and know that I had to make lunch for the next day. And I was like, 'okay, well, how can I make this fun? How can I entertain myself?' And then I started getting notes from the teachers and they were like, 'You can't send a pork bun with instructions on how to reheat it for lunch. We don't have time to do that. I would send fondue one day. I'm like, 'Could you reheat the cheese for me'?  But through doing it, it really became a way for me to not only push my son's boundaries in terms of what he ate, it was a way to communicate with him. It was a sublimation of my own guilt as a working mom. I could show up and have this dialogue with him, even when I wasn't there. Even when I'm not the one picking him up after school. I'm a latchkey kid. I come from two parents who work days and dated nights. So for me, food has always been so important and food equals love. And I always wanted to be the kid with the handwritten note. So this is my way of doing that for them.

FL: So where do you draw your kids' meal inspiration from?

Jenny: Literally, it's whatever I have in the house. I look at the fridge and I'm like, 'What can I do?' Let's say I have leftover fried rice. I'm like, 'Okay, I'm going to go with a full-on trip to China theme. I'm not a good cook. I'm not somebody who is a professional chef. I am also left-handed. So if I can do this, any mom can do this. This is really curation more than anything else. And for instance, one of these rice characters, I'll take a mold, I'll put the rice into the bear. I flip it onto the plate. And that's it. There's not a lot of steps.

And even in the book, I don't do recipes that are crazy. It just starts with just staring into the fridge and saying, 'What's a story I could tell?'

FL: Did you always feel this way about food? 

JM: Well, here's the thing: My dad is a sports medicine doc. We never had red meat. He doesn't eat red meat. I didn't eat chicken until I was in college. Diet and exercise has always played a huge role in my life. And I didn't know, at 15 years old that everybody didn't go home after school every day and not have to go on a run, go on a walk, or do something for their bodies. So I did grow up  with more of a heightened awareness on health and fitness and diet and exercise. 

As opposed to my husband {actor Jason Biggs} who's from north Jersey who grew up eating processed cheese and learned what romaine lettuce was at the age of 25. And I just knew all along that I was going to feed my kids the way I eat. I'm not going to dumb it down for them. I have faith that they can rise to the challenge. I also want to expose them to every possible thing I can expose them to food wise while they're this age, while they're still growing and developing their palette and then later on they can do whatever they plan to do. 

FL: What about sugar? 

JM: I get scared when I start talking about it and people think my kids don't eat sugar and it's like, 'No, my kids eat sugar every day. That's why I have to be woke about it. Because the rest of their diet is completely sugar.

I know it's polarizing. I know some moms definitely are like, 'Whoa, I don't want to...' They always say to me, 'There's such a disparity between the hot mess that you present on your Instagram page and then this sort of neurotic food-obsessed mom on the other. And I'm like 'They can be together. They can live simultaneously. I just want them to eat real food. I mean Jason's a foodie so he can get behind this because he loves eating everything. He wants to taste everything. He thinks he's Anthony Bourdain. He's traveling to places unknown to eat crickets and whatever. So I just want them to have that spirit of adventure with food because I just think it makes for a well-rounded palette life person.

FL: Let's now talk City of Likes. How much of the book is based in truth? Because it's about someone just like you with two kids who falls into the influencer world. It's touted as fiction, but how much of it is based in truth?

JM: A lot of it is true. And now that I've written fiction, I believe that every writer is just writing their truth over and over and over again but calling it fiction. Because this book is I think, Jason's always joking, but I think this book is more honest than either of my first two memoirs. It's my mommy issues on steroids. It's my darkest fears. And I think that I get into some of my most vulnerable truths in this book that I really couldn't have written in the other two or as memoir in general, because I would be protective of the people in my life. I wouldn't want to hurt their feelings. Even though the opening of my second book does start 'Names have been changed except for my mom. Her name is Peggy.' 

FL: When did you first decide that you wanted to tackle being an influencer?

JM:  I fell into it accidentally, to be honest. I had my second son, I moved to New York with a following really that started on Twitter. I mean, Twitter really launched my career because in that particular time, 2010, Twitter democratized comedy for female writers in L.A. and all of a sudden people were getting book deals off of just having a big following and telling funny jokes in however many characters or less that it used to be. I think it's changed now, but I think it used to be 140. And I used to think in Tweets.

So unlike LA, where the currency is really fame and you're only as popular as the last pilot you shot, I moved to New York at a time when, if you had a following, like I did of females between the ages of 18 to 35, you could really monetize that. And brands would approach you. And I found myself selling maxi pads and posing for the cover of Parents magazine and doing all these wacky things that sort of pushed me into that world that I never really went searching for. None of us did, the influencing thing, it sort of happened to all of us. One day we were posting pictures of our feet on vacation and the next thing you know, you're selling dog food. It really just happened to us. 

And I always laugh because if in high school, somebody had asked what I wanted to do when I grew up, I would never have said, 'well what I want to do is just post pictures of my life and document myself, picking a chin zit in the middle of the night while also making money for it.' 

FL: You're a podcast host, you're an author. You're an actress. You're an Instagram personality. Do you have a favorite role besides mom and wife, of course?

I think at the end of the day, I'm just a writer. It's like all the other stuff, nothing fills me like that. So that is really my true passion. Once I found writing, and once I wrote my first book, I was like, 'I'm never going back to acting. Why did I ever think that would be fun?' I hate being held hostage on the set. I get food anxiety when I'm stuck in a trailer and I'm like, 'All there is is this last granola bar and we're here until tomorrow.' It's so stressful. And there are so many cooks in the kitchen. It's almost like I don't want to facilitate somebody else's story when I could tell my own. And that might sound so narcissistic, but you know, as a writer, you create the world. There's so much freedom and so much creativity.


Instagram: @dictatorlunches


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