Ellie Krieger is no ordinary TV chef. A former adjunct professor at New York University, Krieger has worked on nutrition initiatives with Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign, New York City SchoolFood, and hunger organizations including Share Our Strength and City Harvest. Her cooking show, Healthy Appetite, is a constant reminder of how easy it is to make healthy food that doesn’t compromise on taste, so we sat down with the health-conscious cook to pick her brain about getting healthy, eating seasonally, and fighting childhood obesity.
What sorts of fruits and vegetables are you really looking forward to this Fall?
I can’t wait for apple season to be in full swing. I just love them as a crisp, juicy snack with some nut butter. And I will, of course, make my share of apple crisps and cakes — my healthier versions, though!
I’m also looking forward to all the squashes, like butternut, kabocha, and acorn, which I especially like to roast and put into soups and stews.
What kind of healthy treats will you be handing out to kids this Halloween?
I do hand out regular candy on Halloween, because once a year it's no big deal. But I always invite a group of kids over for dinner before trick-or-treating, so they at least start the night with a belly full of good stuff — that way, they’re less likely to overdose on the junk!
One thing I like to serve is “Witch’s Fingers with Bloody Dip”: I roll whole-grain pizza dough into “fingers,” and before baking I put a sliced almond on the end as a fingernail. Then I serve them with tomato sauce for dipping. I also serve deviled eggs with sliced olives on top to make them look like eyeballs. It’s so much fun!
Your recipes always have a healthy or wholesome aspect to them. What’s your biggest challenge in selling people on healthy cuisine?
So many people have made up their mind that healthy food doesn’t taste good before they even try it. (Not without cause, since a lot of people make healthy food with no consideration for taste!) My tactic is to just not say anything, and make delicious, healthy food that speaks for itself. I like to cook for people and let them enjoy — once they taste how good it is, I may mention how healthy it is, too!
You founded a Wellness Committee at your daughter’s New York City school. Thanks to your efforts, it’s the only school in the city to receive the Let’s Move! campaign’s HealthierUS School Challenge certification. The program rewards schools that support the USDA’s Child Nutrition Program by keeping their students informed about healthy food; what kind of changes did you implement that you think would work for other schools?
The HealthierUS Schools Challenge wound up being a really helpful template for change. There were so many things the Wellness Committee wanted to accomplish, and taking on the Challenge really helped us focus our efforts. These are some of the changes we made:
- Offered more whole grains, whole fruit, and vegetables in the cafeteria and the after school program.
- Reduced the amount of fruit juice and chocolate milk we offer in favor of more whole fruit and low-fat regular milk.
- Installed a water cooler in the cafeteria.
- Developed healthy guidelines for classroom snacks.
- Conducted regular “Vegetable Tastings” in the cafeteria, where we also bring in a few different varieties of a vegetable and give a short “hands-on” seminar.
- Established a structured nutrition education program for children.
- Provided more physical education and more opportunities for movement in the classroom.
I love to make fish tacos. Just grill up some flakey white fish, douse it with lime, then plunk it on the table with corn tortillas and bowls of shredded cabbage, corn, cilantro, avocado, and some Sriracha and Greek yogurt spread. It’s delicious, healthy, fun and easy.
Lastly, what’s your favorite little-known health tip?
One of the cornerstones of eating well that people often overlook is mindfulness. If we simply take a moment to slow down, turn our attention to what we are eating, and really savor the taste, textures and aromas, we enjoy our food more and are satisfied with fewer calories. It’s amazingly powerful.
Check out Ellie Krieger’s website for a sampling of her healthy recipes and tips, to watch clips from her cooking show, or to check out her cookbooks!