Get a Top Nutritionist’s Secrets for Eating Healthfully

Joy Bauer gives us the skinny.

You can have your cake and eat it too, believes Joy Bauer, MS, RDN, nutrition and health expert for NBC’s Today show, monthly columnist for Woman’s Day, and founder of Nourish Snacks. In the case of dessert, make a healthier version 90 percent of the time (using recipes from Bauer’s most recent book*, From Junk Food to Joy Food: All the Foods You Love to Eat … Only Better*), and indulge the remaining 10 percent of the time. Bauer keeps herself, her husband, and their three children (ages 22, 19, and 16) well-nourished with intelligent strategies like this one. For others, read on.

Which ingredients do you always have in the house?

If you were to open my fridge, you’d usually find nonfat Greek yogurt (for a healthy breakfast or snack), some form of milk (skim, soy, almond or coconut), cheese (one of my go-to snacks—I love part-skim mozzarella, cheddar, Mexican blend, Parmesan, and low-fat cottage cheese), hot sauce (I use it on everything—from eggs to hummus to chicken salad), eggs, apples (portable and perfectly packaged, with so many beneficial nutrients), hummus (a healthy dip and sandwich spread), and bell peppers (my kids and I love crunching on these because they’re sweet and satisfying).

And, of course, my produce drawers are stuffed with a variety of fresh veggies and fruits (in addition to the apples and peppers). I regularly visit a local farmers market and am on a first-name basis with my grocery store’s produce manager. As for the freezer, you’ll always find a stash of portion-controlled leftovers, frozen veggies and fruit, nuts and seeds (yes, you can freeze them), and ice cream (hey, I’m human!).

Are there any foods that you and your family completely avoid?

I don’t eat red meat—haven’t since high school. Thus, it’s never in our house, and my kids (and husband) rarely eat it as well. You’ll also never-ever find soda, white bread, or hot dogs.

You cook nutritious dinners for the week on Sunday nights. Which dishes do you prepare the most often?

I try to cook on weekends for the week ahead as often as possible, since weekdays are busy and usually unpredictable. I love making big batches of chili, soup, stew—foods that keep well. Also, I rely on my slow cooker a lot. It’s one of my favorite kitchen gadgets. I toss in all the ingredients in the morning, before I rush out the door, and happily come home to a home-cooked meal. It’s super simple and totally delicious. These chicken enchiladas, which I make in my slow cooker, are a favorite in the Bauer house! I also love this slow cooker chicken and black bean chili and slow cooker chicken and vegetable curry. Other classics that never fall out of favor include turkey tacos, General Joy’s chicken, mac and cheese, turkey-black bean burgers, and grilled chicken parm.

What about breakfasts?

Mornings are always hectic! Typically, I’m out the door by 6 a.m. and off to the Today show or my office. I usually grab something quick, portable, and packed with protein and fiber to keep me feeling energized during my chaotic a.m. routine. My go-to breakfast is a container of Greek yogurt and one of my Nourish snack bags. I’m also crazy for eggs, so when there’s time, I’ll whip up an over-stuffed egg white omelet or these protein pancakes. And of course, I never leave the house without a cup of black coffee!

What about sweets?

There are a lot of treats we love, but here are some of our absolute favorites: banana ice cream (often with the peanut butter and chocolate chip mix-ins), banana split on a stick, cherry-vanilla-chocolate ice cream sandwiches, cinna-yums, and s’mores pops.

What do you snack on?

I’m a huge snacker, so it’s no surprise I started a snack company! When I’m on the go, I munch on my own Nourish Snacks. And while I love them all, right now I’m hooked on the Granola Bites and have been rotating between chocolate-banana (Monkey Love) and coconut-vanilla (Coco’nilla Crunch). When I’m home, I’ll munch on baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, pepper sticks and sliced jicama sticks dunked in salsa or hummus. I also keep my freezer stocked with bags of frozen fruit, like mangos, pitted cherries, mixed berries, grapes and peaches. I eat them right out of the freezer bag … it’s like Italian ices without the junk. I’m also a self-proclaimed nutaholic, and always have pistachios, almonds, pecans, walnuts and peanuts in the house. And I love to fancy up plain Greek yogurt by adding chopped fruit, nuts and seeds (chia, sunflower and pumpkin). I even make a “pumpkin pudding” by adding a dollop of canned pumpkin puree with a dash of vanilla extract, cinnamon and toasted walnuts.

What’s your philosophy on unhealthy food?

I personally follow a 90/10 food philosophy (and encourage my family to do the same). By that I mean I go out of my way to eat smart 90 percent of the time and allow myself 10 percent wiggle room for the not-so-healthy stuff I love to indulge in. If you try to restrict yourself from all your favorite foods, your plan will likely backfire. And life’s too short not to enjoy a little chocolate or wine or pizza or ice cream … or whatever your favorite splurge food is. My personal 10 percent bounces between vanilla ice cream and pizza.

How often do you eat out?

I eat out all the time and love sampling various ethnic cuisines. As I’ve always told clients, “It’s not where you eat, it’s what you eat.” As long as you navigate the menu and make special requests when needed, there’s something clean and delicious to be discovered at almost every restaurant.

What do you eat pre- and post-workout?

I walk for an hour a day (sometimes outdoors, sometimes on a stair climber or treadmill) and do about 15 minutes of strength-training exercises in addition. Since my workout intensity is pretty moderate, I usually keep my pre-workout fuel light. A banana is perfect because it provides potassium, an electrolyte that gets depleted when you sweat. And I pair it with a cup of coffee or tea about 30 minutes beforehand because the caffeine gives me an extra boost of energy. When I finish a workout, it’s usually close to mealtime, so I guzzle some water and soon after enjoy a protein-packed breakfast (protein pancakes or Greek yogurt with fixings) or lunch (salad with grilled chicken or an open-faced sandwich).

Do you believe in coconut water and sports and energy drinks to replenish your body post-workout?

For nonathletes and casual exercisers, plain old water is the best bet. It’s calorie-free, sugar-free and sodium-free. Coconut water, on the other hand, provides 45 calories, 8–11 grams (2–3 teaspoons) of sugar, and 40–100 milligrams of sodium per one-cup serving. Of course, if you have room for the calories and enjoy the taste, it’s perfectly healthy to drink coconut water. But you definitely don’t need it for hydration. If you’re a serious exerciser or are planning a prolonged bout of activity, coconut water or sports drinks may be advantageous. In this case, you may need the extra carbs or electrolytes to fuel your workout.

Joy Bauer’s Strategies for Healthful Eating 1. Plan ahead. If you get hungry and have not planned ahead for your meals, you are more likely to grab something processed, sugary, starchy or fatty. I recommend going grocery shopping for all the foods you’ll need for the coming week, so you will never be caught unprepared. Also, each night, check your meal plan for the following day, so you know what to expect and can prep accordingly. 2. Set short-term goals. I think long-term goals are terrific, but short-term goals can be even more powerful because they reinforce success every step of the way. People who are successful—at getting in shape, losing weight or making changes—set daily, weekly or monthly targets to keep them motivated and focused. Sometimes, goals are related to pounds (“lose two pounds this week”); other times, it’s action goals (“make supper at home five times this week” or “don’t snack after dinner”). Celebrating these mini-achievements reminds you that hard work pays off, boosts your commitment level, and continually refreshes your motivation, so you keep your head in the game, which brings me to my last tip. 3. Get your head in the game. Losing weight, getting in shape, eating well—it’s 50 percent attitude. If you aren’t mentally, emotionally and psychologically committed to making a change, it’s not worth doing. Having your head in the game means understanding your personal goals, being willing to put in the effort, and seeing the journey as a lifelong approach to health.

Photo credit: 123RF, Ekaterina Molchanova