Sophia Bush - Lead 2016
Credit: Peter Kramer/NBCUniversal/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty

To play a badass detective on Chicago P.D., Sophia Bush has to look the part. But when the star gets a rare break from filming her physically demanding scenes, she prefers sitting down for a nice meal to hitting the gym. “It's really funny, because people think we have all this time to work out—but I honestly don't remember the last time I was in a gym,” Bush recently told InStyle. “When you're on set for 80 or 90 hours a week, you really just don't have a ton of time. I try to make sure that I recoup a little fitness when we're on hiatus, but when we're working, it's pretty tough.”

Bush’s desire to be more health-conscious on set inspired her to team up with chef Michael Symon for Lipton’s Chef Fest, a series of events celebrating mealtime with twists on many classic recipes this fall. “Part of the reason that I'm really thinking more about the way mealtime is structured and what I'm putting in my body is because we’re sort of in this constant state of disrepair on the set, physically,” she said. “Somebody's always getting hurt, and we don't have a whole lot of time to get to the gym. Craft service is what it is—which, for us, typically the morning snack is hot dogs and the late night snack that comes to set is deep dish pizza. It's crazy. People come to visit and they're like, ‘Wait, what is going on? I figured you guys would have all this healthy food.’ But that’s not the case.”

Sophia Bush Lipton Event - Lead 2016
Credit: Courtesy Lipton's Chef Fest

To make up for the lack of nutritious offerings on set, Bush focuses on eating well in her down time. “I'm really prioritizing cooking a little bit more for myself on the weekends whenever I can,” she said. “Last weekend, I made a huge chicken stew and I brought it to work in a big mason jar every day through the week. That way, I know at least one meal or snack I eat is really going to be healthy.”

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Bush has also picked up homemade recipes from her famous chef friends. “I've really learned from my friendships with Mario Batali and Michael Symon,” she said. “We've all stayed great friends ever since I first went on The Chew, and we go out to eat together in New York all the time when I'm there. It's been fun to learn really sort of quick and easy recipes from those guys that are hearty and delicious, and also can be made as healthy as you'd like them to be. Even if it's one meal a day that you can control, that can add up to a really big difference when you're thinking about seven days a week.”

But when it comes down to it, Bush tries not to think too much into each and every meal. “It’s important to focus on relaxing a little bit with the demands that you place on yourself, rather than saying, ‘Oh my god, I've got to be so healthy and watch what I’m eating,’ she said. “It's just a little easier, because then it's less pressure and you're less stressed about it.” In fact, mealtime has been enjoyable for the actress as long as she can remember—and it’s about more than just the food on the table.

“I grew up in a big Italian family, and mealtime was always when you congregated and shared your stories about your day,” she said. “I truly find that it’s the most meaningful time for families, for groups of friends, and even for us working on a set. We work these crazy hours and sometimes when we realize the week's been really overwhelming, the cast will grab lunch and we'll all head to one of our trailers and just sit and catch up with each other for twenty minutes. In this sort of ‘Go-go-go’ rat race universe that we find ourselves in, where we're always connected and we're always getting calls and emails, it's so nice to just shut down for thirty minutes for lunch or for a couple of hours in the evening to really be in the presence of the people who you love and admire, and want to have some quality time with.”

And while Bush finds meaning in even the briefest of mealtime catch-ups, there’s one sit-down dinner in particular that she always finds to be memorable. “Thanksgiving dinner is always the really big one in my house,” she said. “I look forward to it for months, because my parents are both incredible cooks.” On the menu each year? “My mom's turkey is outrageous, and she also does some traditional recipes that she learned from her family,” said the star. “She makes amazing meatballs and an outrageous side of pasta, and then my dad grills all the vegetables. It's all really unique to them.”