Leah Brickley is a recipe developer in the Food Network Kitchens and is also a dietetic technician (DTR), working toward her master’s degree in nutrition. Leah works on developing recipes for Food Network Magazine, Food Network Magazine Cookbooks, Food Network Apps and foodnetwork.com. We caught up to find out about her schooling, her secrets for healthy home cooking and how she maintains a healthy diet while working in one of the busiest test kitchens in the world.
Can you tell us more about what you do as a recipe developer-nutritionist at Food Network?
Sure! I have a combined degree in culinary arts and nutrition and I’m a DTR (dietetic technician registered). I’m also getting my master’s degree in nutrition. So, I get to develop a broad range of recipes from barbecued brisket to apple pie but with a special interest in healthy recipes. I’m here as an internal resource for my coworkers who have nutrition-related questions and I keep up on current health news and trends.
Do you sample every recipe made in the Food Network Kitchens? Is it difficult to eat healthy when you’re around food all day long?
I eat almost everything! We have two set times for tastings and everyone who participates has to taste and give feedback. Eating healthy isn’t as difficult as it sounds, even with that volume of food. We develop recipes using real and fresh ingredients. When I first started I did need to learn moderation because I often overate. Now it’s a few bites of everything and lots of water (and a jog or kickboxing after work)!
How have your views on recipe developing changed since you’ve studied nutrition?
I’ve never been one for using lots of butter in cream in recipes but since studying nutrition I am certainly more sensitive and try to develop more balanced meals like the ones my husband and I would eat at home.
What was the most surprising thing you learned in school?
How vulnerable certain vitamins can be, especially vitamin C, which is very sensitive to both heat and exposure to air. If you only use half a lemon be sure to wrap it up tightly before storing.
What’s more challenging: lightening up classic recipes or creating a healthy recipe from scratch?
Hmm, developing healthy recipes from scratch is very second nature to us in the test kitchen. I would say that lightening up a classic dish can sometimes pose more of a challenge because it’s important to maintain the same level of comfort and satisfaction one expects from our favorites without relying on ingredients and cooking methods that aren’t necessarily healthy.
Can you share 3 tips for home cooks looking to eat healthier?
1. Plan ahead: Try to set aside a block of time to cook for the week and make a batch of soup or cook a large pot of brown rice and freeze in portioned bags.
2. Use flavor boosters: When I cook at home I often try to cut out some of the initial fat and salt by saving it for the end (like drizzling olive oil or adding a little melted butter to a soup or sauce right before serving). I also like to use flavor boosters at the end like lemon juice, flaky sea salt, chopped parsley, grated Parmesan cheese or hot sauce to brighten up leaner dishes.
3. Be mindful: Take a moment to think about what you eat. Ask yourself; how is this going to make me feel? Being mindful of food and savoring every bite will help you make healthier decisions more naturally.