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Man with a plan: Curtis Stone wants meal prep to be a pleasure, not a chore

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TORONTO - Celeb chef Curtis Stone says he never gets tired of being in the kitchen, but the birth of his son made him only too aware of the challenges many families face when trying to get dinner on the table.

Stone, who has spent a lot of time in home kitchens as the host of "Take Home Chef," says people are incredibly busy and often see getting a meal on the table as simply a chore.

In his new cookbook, "What's for Dinner? Delicious Recipes for a Busy Life" (Appetite by Random House), he aims to put pleasure into prepping meals.

Instead of organizing his fifth cookbook into the traditional format of appetizers, side dishes and main courses, the Aussie chef has focused on each day of the week, creating doable dishes and providing plenty of kitchen solutions.

"The concept behind the book is just really being honest and sincere about understanding what people go through when they try to get dinner on the table and I think Monday to Friday it's a fight against do we order out, do we heat up a microwave dinner," Stone said during a recent visit to Toronto.

"It's a real challenge and it's a skill that we're losing as a culture, I think, because convenience is there and the opportunity not to cook for your family is a huge one.

"If you think about everything that comes out of a home-cooked meal, the appreciation for the person cooking the meal, communication around the dinner table when you're talking to each other, co-operation in setting the table, all those family values, they're all lost when you're eating out of a box in front of the television. And it's a real shame," lamented the six-foot-four blue-eyed blond.

Since people tend to overindulge on the weekend, he starts with Motivating Mondays, with such nutritious fare as grilled salmon, chicken, shrimp or quinoa accompanied by vegetables. The "Top Chef Masters" host suggests putting out fruit to snack on and plating each person's meal to ensure portion control.

In Time-Saving Tuesdays, meals can be cooked in 10 to 15 minutes.

In Stone's home, Wednesday is kitchen-cleaning day, so the last thing he wants to do is sully the spotless surfaces. He put together a collection of one-pot recipes to make cleanup a breeze.

"Thrifty Thursdays is all about saving money for the weekend" and Stone has provided recipes for soups, pasta dishes and sliders.

Low-maintenance recipes for Fridays feature five main ingredients.

Dinner Party Saturdays include delicious crowd-pleasing recipes that may take more time to prepare.

"Sunday is family day, incorporating all those nostalgic comfort foods that make you feel so good, whether it's lasagna or pot roast or meat loaf," explained Stone, who was born in Melbourne, Australia, and did his chef training in London.

He rounds out the book with desserts that are bound to tempt any sweet tooth.

"One of the things that I wanted to achieve with this book is it's great to have traditions around food. My mum used to cook a roast chicken every Sunday, but it's also great to create them. Just because you don't have one right now doesn't mean that you can't create it, whether it's making pancakes on Sunday morning or making a lasagna on the weekend."

Stone, 37, and his young son Hudson have started a tradition of concocting fresh juice every morning.

"He loves the process of putting the piece of fruit (into the juicer) and squeezing it down. And it's a total mess after we're done. But at the end of it we have this really beautiful fresh natural juice — he puts carrots, apples and celery sticks and all sorts in there — and he's somehow getting an appreciation for it," Stone said.

"And if I just poured it straight from a bottle which is full of sugar and not have all the nutrients we'd then go and play with his toys. So what's the difference if we're playing with the juicer and the fruit or we're playing with something from Fisher-Price?" said Stone, who co-hosted last year's "Around the World in 80 Plates" and was a contributor to "The Biggest Loser" for many years.

Hudson, born in November 2011, also likes to help pick lemons and vegetables in the garden of the Los Angeles-based home Stone shares with his fiancee Lindsay Price, who starred on "Beverly Hills 90210." The two plan to tie the knot later this year in Europe. "We're not saying when because we want to sneak off and be private," he confided.

As host of "Take Home Chef," Stone corners shoppers in grocery stores and goes home with them to cook a meal.

"The first thing that people say to me is 'I'm a terrible cook. I can't cook. I don't cook.' It's this big disclaimer. And of course with that comes a real belief that that's the case. ... You never hear a boxer interviewed before a fight, 'You know what, I don't think I'm as strong as him, I haven't trained as hard as him and I think he can punch better than me.' You are gonna lose that fight.

"So I think that confidence is really missing from people's kitchens. So that's a part of my whole mantra is to bring people confidence in their kitchens and from there happiness to their dinner tables."

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