'Today' Show Nutrition Expert Joy Bauer Dishes on Her New Book, Picky Kids and Dancing in the Kitchen

With her new book, Slim & Scrumptious, Joy Bauer gives us guilt-free comfort foods she's sure we'll love (and our picky kids, too!)

Whether she’s answering diet questions on the Today show, counseling children and adults in her New York nutrition center, or testing recipes for a new cookbook, multitasking mom Joy Bauer still manages to get a healthy, home-cooked meal on the table for her 3 kids (ages 15, 12 and 9) most nights of the week. In her third book, Slim & Scrumptious, the nutrition and weight loss expert gives us wholesome, family-friendly fare that won’t leave the kids begging for fast food.

iVillage: Do you have a foolproof dish for picky kids?

Joy Bauer: I have picky kids myself! For this book, I took a lot of the meals that my kids love that are loaded with fat and over-the-top ingredients—foods that I don’t feel good about letting them eat—and I converted them into meals that a mom can really feel good about. Like AJ’s Mac & Cheezy, which is named for my daughter Ayden Jane. She loves macaroni and cheese. Another recipe is the Tofu Tomato Soup. It’s super creamy—just don’t tell your kids there’s tofu in it!

iVillage: How can parents encourage kids to get involved in cooking dinner?

JB: Make it a fun atmosphere. I play music and we dance around the kitchen. We chit chat about their days—I’ve gotten some of my best gossip when we’re cooking. I also like to give my kids ownership of the meal by letting them pick the menu one or two nights each week.

iVillage: Do you ever put your nutrition background out of your head and just splurge?

JB: Yes, yes, YES! I would say that my favorite splurge is ice cream with interesting add-ins. I love everything from semi-sweet chocolate chips to bananas to strawberries. My second most favorite indulgence would be crunchy, hard-as-a-rock sugar cookies.

iVillage: What things are always in your fridge or pantry?

JB: The first would be lean ground turkey. I always have a package in my freezer for burgers, tacos, turkey chili or meatballs; I use it for everything.

Secondly, healthy whole-grain cereals. They make for a very easy and quick breakfast. They also play double duty sometimes as breakfast for dinner.

Also, bananas are a very popular fruit in the Bauer house. We have them with breakfast, but also as a snack with peanut butter. I’ll even chop them into wheels and freeze them for a dessert. I love to make banana bread; there’s a great recipe in the book.

iVillage: What's your secret tool or weapon in the kitchen?

JB: My manual food chopper makes it really easy to prep vegetables. It’s great for my Chicken Lettuce Wraps. You don’t run the risk of mixing them too long in the food processor and having them turn to mush. It’s also a time-saver because you don’t have to be a pro with a knife. I always tell that to people—I’m a mom who cooks, not a chef.

iVillage: When feeding your family, should you avoid all pre-packaged items?

JB: I try to have a home-cooked meal at least four or five times a week, and we typically prevail, believe it or not. But my youngest loves chicken nuggets from the box, so I buy healthier brands of those. You want to look for brands that have clean ingredients. You don’t want them to be your go-to meals, but they’re good in a pinch.

iVillage: What’s your morning food ritual?

JB: During the week, I’m a bit of a crazy woman. I get up at the crack of dawn, I’m making three lunches for the kids to take to school, and I’ll usually just grab something easy like a non-fat Greek yogurt with a banana or another piece of fruit. Or I might make some oatmeal and toss in nuts.

iVillage: What advice do you hope to pass along to your readers through Slim & Scrumptious?

JB: The first would be to cook at home more often. You can make versions of your favorite restaurant, take-out or prepared convenience meals with significantly less salt, fat and sugar. But it’s not just about nutrition. Cooking and eating together is really so important because of the bonding time it gives us with our family. It helps us to strengthen our relationships with our kids.

My other big message to people is that it’s really easy to make healthy versions of your own favorite splurge foods. You’ll learn so many tricks from my book that you can then integrate into your own favorites. People have to give it just a little bit of effort for a huge pay off.

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