When it comes to kids and food, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is pragmatic: "Give kids a choice between French fries and green beans, they're going to pick French fries because they're delicious." Last summer, the junior senator from New York and mom to two young boys spoke about the need for more healthful school-lunch standards at a Senate committee hearing. She believes all kids deserve healthful, fresh, well-prepared foods so they can develop a taste for them at an early age.
Gillibrand's mother was an attorney. Her grandmother worked for the New York State Legislature. She observed from both women that "doing it all" — raising kind, empathetic children; nurturing a marriage; running a household; and helping people in need, while working full time — was not easy, but possible and fulfilling.
In the mid-1990s, a speech by Hillary Rodham Clinton, then first lady, spurred Gillibrand, a corporate attorney, to become politically active, first as a volunteer, then as a Democratic candidate. In 2006, voters in upstate New York elected her to Congress. When Clinton became secretary of State in 2009, Gillibrand was appointed to fill her Senate seat. She later won a special election and, in 2012, was reelected in a landslide.
As Dartmouth College undergrads, Gillibrand and actress Connie Britton studied together in China. At the time, did Gillibrand, now 48, think the two might become the most famous members of their class? "Definitely not!" she says with a laugh. Gillibrand considers longtime friendships with Britton and other women to be a vital complement to her work and family life.
How have you introduced your sons, Theo, 11, and Henry, 6, to exercise?
My husband and I hike with them. I encourage them to play sports and not give up early. I say, "You have to learn it, then we'll decide if it's for you." Both play baseball and soccer. They take taekwondo. Henry is excellent at yoga.... They both play tennis. Theo is learning squash.
How did you approach post-pregnancy weight loss?
I wanted to be healthy and fit, so I started playing competitive sports again.... I joined the women's softball team in Congress. At a public gym I started playing squash and tennis again. I run outdoors wherever I am. [Exercise] is my "me" time. It keeps me sane and well centered.
What foods do you make? Do your kids cook with you?
I like to cook. It's relaxing.... I make carrot-ginger-squash soup and kale soup — delicious and healthy. I bake a variety of vegetables. Theo's favorite dish is [made with] kidney and cannellini beans, peppers, onions, carrots and Indian spices. Around the holidays I bake pies. Henry likes to bake with me. His favorite recipe is chocolate banana bread. We make a healthier version for my husband: no chocolate. We add flaxseeds, oat flour, honey and dates, figs or prunes. He loves it!
Children are not allowed on the Senate floor. How has that affected you?
I have to pick up my children before … school closes at 6. [Sometimes, for a vote,] I bring them to the Senate and they literally hang out with me in the hallway.... We often hover together in Sen. Reid's office [in] a small public space. I sit my children there. It's not ideal. They should be able to sit in other places, but I haven't been able to convince … the rules committee.
How much sleep do you get?
On average, eight to nine hours. I make it a priority. It allows me to control my stress. Sleep is one of my best defense mechanisms. If I have enough sleep, I can handle any challenge, any trouble at work.