Turn your favorite comfort foods into healthy foods

Skinny Chicken Parm Recipe
Skinny Chicken Parm Recipe

The struggle to eat healthy food while craving delicious food is eternal. Why, oh why does it seem like healthy foods end up being synonymous with tasteless, unsatisfying dishes? We either end up sacrificing the enjoyment of eating for meals that taste like cardboard, or we spend a fortune at restaurants trying to find healthy dishes we actually like.

Joy Bauer From Junk Food to Joy Food healthy recipes
Joy Bauer From Junk Food to Joy Food healthy recipes

There has to be a way to marry healthy, easy recipes with flavor and satisfaction, right? That's exactly what bestselling author and TODAY show nutrition expert Joy Bauer set out to do with her latest cookbook, From Junk Food to Joy Food: All the Foods You Love to Eat...Only Better, so naturally we wanted to know more! Check out our Q&A with Joy below!

How do you take away so many calories without taking away flavor, too?

It's all about experimenting—learning what works in different recipes and what doesn't. Believe me, I want these lightened-up dishes to be every bit as delicious and feel just as indulgent as the real thing because I know that no one wants to trade their fattening favorites for just any old "diet" food. If my slimmer creations don't pass the taste test (and trust me, my family and friends can be harsh critics), then I go back to the drawing board.

But what I've discovered is that in many cases, a few simple tweaks (and nailing the right spice blend and cooking method) is all it takes. Using rich Greek yogurt instead of sour cream in dips and dressings... creamy avocado instead of mayo... lean ground turkey meat in place of fatty chuck......etc.

Of course, some recipes require a bit more creativity. For instance, using a black bean puree in place of oil and eggs to make chocolate cake and brownies. Swapping white flour for whole grain oats and pureed banana to make my silver dollar pancakes. More fiber, fewer calories and no one will ever even suspect the sneaky swaps!

Does a calorie reduction mean you're adding more processed ingredients?

Not a chance. My recipes are not just about calories—they're "health-ified" as well—and significantly lower in refined carb, sugar, salt and saturated fat than the original Junk Food versions. Plus, they're sprinkled with superfoods. For example, my Blueberry Muffins contain chia seeds, which can help ease aches and pains. My Double Chocolate Chip Pancakes and Devil Dogs provide brain-boosting cocoa powder. My creamy Caesar Dressing is made with potassium-rich avocado to help beat bloat. And my Shepherd's Pie is topped with immune-strengthening whipped cauliflower (instead of mashed potatoes). And wait until you check out my clever Chinese food remakes (think General Tso's chicken, Vegetable Lo Mein and Cold Sesame Noodles!).

Could you give us an example or two of recipes from the book?

Who doesn't love a glazed Cinnabon at the mall? They're insanely delicious (in the spirit of research, I have to taste everything, lol). But eat one and you'll flood your system with 880 calories and more than 14 teaspoons of sugar. I slimmed mine down by using two surprising ingredients: pumpkin, which is packed with beta-carotene and potassium, and calcium-rich yogurt. You'll see, you get the same cinnamony-sweet satisfaction, but for just 150 calories and a fraction of the sugar. You can enjoy two for breakfast and still feel virtuous. Not bad ;)

I had more than 200 requests for a lightened-up Mac and Cheese, which didn't surprise me considering three of the requests came from my own kids (talk about pressure!). After quite a bit of experimenting, I'm proud to report I nailed a creamy-cheesy-indulgent version that's nearly 1,000 calories slimmer than the one you'd order at a restaurant. I simply swap white pasta for whole grain elbows to get more nutrients and fiber into every bite. And I use a perfect combo of reduced-fat sharp cheddar with a secret blend of spices to kick up the delicious flavor. Best part? It takes just 15 minutes to prepare!

Joy Bauer mac and cheese healthy recipe
Joy Bauer mac and cheese healthy recipe

Many chefs will tell you that you compromise the integrity of good food by substituting fattening ingredients like butter for lower-calorie alternatives. • What would you say to those chefs?

I work very hard to not compromise flavor with my ingredient swaps. And truth be told, some of my most flattering compliments have come from seasoned chefs!

What are a few go-to, easy-to-make recipes that are delicious and not too unhealthy that our readers could make for their families on a busy weeknight?

Here are three speedy meals that I often turn to when I have to get dinner on the table fast!

Chicken Parm with Roasted Broccoli

Instead of breaded and fried chicken Parm, try topping grilled or sautéed skinless chicken breasts with marinara sauce and part-skim mozzarella, and broil until the cheese gets all melty. You can serve with roasted broccoli and/or whole grain penne. You'll have a delicious, nutritious meal on the table in just 15-20 minutes.

Get the recipe here.

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Spinach Taco Burgers

Add frozen, chopped spinach and taco seasonings to lean ground turkey meat to create flavorful burgers that are ready to gobble up in just 15 minutes. Serve on whole grain buns or pair them with my oven-roasted Sweet Potato Fries...yum!

Get the taco recipe here and the sweet potato fries recipe here.

Black Bean Salsa Spuds

This dish is a quadruple threat: it's cheap, simple-to-make, nutritious and vegan. Black beans are a super source of vegetarian protein and fiber, the salsa and spices punch up the flavor, and the potato adds fiber, magnesium and potassium. Dig in!

Get the recipe here.

What inspired you to find alternatives for typically unhealthy foods like cheeseburgers and ice cream?

Actually, the inspiration came from thousands of different people—TODAY show viewers, people who follow me on social media, and friends and family—all of whom challenged me to lighten up their favorite fattening comfort foods. And I was thrilled to get busy in the kitchen! The book has been a true team effort.

PS: If anyone has a favorite fattening food that's not included in my book...just send me your challenge via Twitter (@joybauer), Instagram (@joybauer) or Facebook (JoyLBauer) and I'm on it. That's my promise!

After working with millions of people, here's what I've come to know: Diets fail because they don't include our favorite indulgent foods. People start out strong with great intentions, but inevitably jump ship when cravings set in. My simple recipes provide a way to have your cake (or chicken Parm, or fettuccini alfredo), and eat it, too. Now, you can indulge in the foods you love every night of the week...and still lose weight, boost energy, lower cholesterol, steady blood sugars and ease aches and pains. What's better than that?!?

See more delicious recipes on Joy's website, and be sure to get a copy of her new cookbook, From Junk Food to Joy Food!

Click through the gallery below to see some of our favorite recipes from Joy's website!

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