Whether it's the bad habits we need to give up or the ones we need to adopt, sometimes seeking out simple health advice can be a frustrating maze of dos and don'ts. As editors, we know how confusing it can be because we report on them daily. From the hottest wellness trends to the latest superfood snacks, if you signed up for them all, your grocery cart would exceed your budget and you'd most likely fall off the health wagon from sheer exhaustion at trying to keep up.
Besides, who's got the time? What we really need is a common-sense, no-fuss approach to eating, and that's where celebrity chef (and Food Network regular) Debbie Lee comes in. She helps busy people like ourselves manage to lead a healthier lifestyle in spite of a jam-packed calendar thanks to her sustainable, chef-driven meal delivery service, Mind Body Fork. So we asked Lee to give us the lowdown on the healthy snacks we should always have in our handbag, the one ingredient that keeps us fuller for longer, and what she cooks when she's short on time.
MYDOMAINE: With our busy lives, we often have very little time to cook at night. How can we make better food choices and ensure these meals are healthy?
DEBBIE LEE: Luckily we are in an era when sustainable and non-GMO-verified products are available at our local grocery stores, our farmers markets, and even through online merchants such as Amazon. It’s really about taking the second to ask your farmer questions like Do you use pesticides? Also, you can easily look on the back of any grocery shelf-stable product and see what the ingredients are in your food. Just taking that extra second to check will ensure you’re one step closer to healthier eating.
For a quick breakfast when I don’t have time to make some eggs, I actually use Better Body Food’s PBfit along with some grass-fed yogurt, a scoop of their plant protein, and some chia seeds to make a quick smoothie. Since I cook all day long, I need sustenance and proper protein with good fat to kick-start my day until I can grab some lunch.
MD: What do you cook when you don’t have time to?
DL: I keep it simple. I always seem to have leftover protein from the night before (I make extra for this very reason); then I reach for some raw fresh veggies and add one of my staple dressings that I batch out for the week. Given the abundance of incredible produce here in Southern California, you can always make a salad a true meal.
MD: Snacking is something we all do, but when we’re tired, stressed, and busy, we can often reach for the wrong things. What do you always have in your bag?
DL: I make a variation of a granola weekly for my clients. Everyone seems to love the salty with a hint of sweet. However, to make sure we’re giving everyone good calories loaded with nutrients, lately, we’ve been making grain-free granola with an assortment of raw nuts, toasted coconut, virgin coconut oil, and some chia seeds. They are shelf-stable, and we serve them in plastic pouches so you can take them to work or have on the go. I am a firm believer of always having a healthy snack in your purse or car at all times.
MD: What are some simple meals we can prepare on the weekend and snack on all week?
DL: I always make a batch of dressings/sauces to dress up protein and veggies on Saturday. It’s also great for my family when I’m not home, so they have something to reach for. Soups are also a great thing to make as the flavor enhances day by day. Last but not least, it’s always great to have some high-protein salads to reach for. We always make egg salad, tuna, and typically a kitchen-sink veggie salad with some quinoa. It’s really important to have protein and healthy fat in our snacks so we don’t keep craving those naughty processed items. Plus, they taste so much better.
MD: Some of us find it hard to change from our old bad eating ways. How can we disguise healthy food and trick ourselves into eating it?
DL: So after battling my weight since I was a child, I realized I needed to stop thinking that I was depriving myself. I became aware of all the delicious options and healthy food choices available today. I started rediscovering all the selections we have to eat sustainably and to cook with a conscience. The notion of good clean eating is not about depriving yourself of delicious ingredients. It’s more about seeing those items in a different light and opening your mind (and palate) up for the experience.
The days when we considered a boiled chicken breast and steamed broccoli as healthy are really a myth at this point. We have such a bounty of fresh herbs, organic spices, and sustainable grains to choose from that I really don’t know how I ever thought I was giving up something. I was forgetting what was right in front of me. So before you discount that bunch of swiss chard, know that it is absolutely delicious sautéed in some avocado oil, garlic, sea salt, and a squeeze of lemon. You’ll be surprised what you become hooked on.
Go to your local farmers markets and find a fruit or vegetable that you haven’t cooked with before. Ask the farmer for advice on preparing it and have a fun cooking experience with it and your family. We are creatures of habit, but sometimes you need to go out of your comfort zone and give that parsnip a try instead of instant mashed potatoes. Trust me—it will change your life.
MD: What are your top superfood/power ingredients to cook with that ramp up the nutrients in every meal?
DL: I have been using plant protein in our grain-free power waffles for my Mind Body Fork meal clients. They just love them. Knowing they are sugar free and low carb makes them even happier. For snacks, we have been making parfaits out of baobab powder along with coconut cream. Top it with some toasted coconut, nuts, and a little toasted chia dust for a great sweet snack without feeling bad about it. It’s extremely satisfying for my clients when their sweet tooth kicks in.
MD: What snacks should we always keep in the pantry to make sure we nosh on the right stuff?
DL: First and foremost, healthy cooking is all about the oils. That is where it starts. Luckily we have accessibility to a company like BetterBody Foods and can stock up on their avocado and virgin coconut oil. I always steer from the hydrogenated palm, soy, and corn/vegetable oils. Avocado oil is great and has a great smoking point to grill, or even deep fry. It’s an incredible base for mayo. I’m a huge believer in having a nut butter, and peanut is my favorite. So at home, I will always have a tub of PBfit in hand so I can use it to dip apples in or add to a smoothie when I need something quick.
MD: What are those ingredients/foods that keep us fuller for longer so we don’t have to snack at all, or at least less than usual?
DL: Anything with protein and healthy fat will always keep the munchies away. Make sure you are eating enough protein and healthy fat on a daily basis. Women should have 50 to 60 grams of protein a day along with three portions of healthy fat (equivalent to three tablespoons). It’s the one thing I learned from our medical adviser Dr. Cate Shanahan (who also happens to be the director of nutrition for the Los Angeles Lakers).
We instill Dr. Cate’s nutritional philosophy in our meal program and make sure that our clients have the proper nutrients daily so they can meet their health goals. Instead of reaching for that bag of kettle corn, make yourself an easy pudding using whole-fat coconut cream and a scoop of protein powder (I use BBF’s Chocolate PBfit). Your body will thank you.
What are your go-to health snacks? How do you add protein to your diet to keep you fuller for longer?