Lisa Lillien, better known as the entertaining and informative self-described “foodologist” Hungry Girl, is entering the new year hungrier than ever. With a loyal following of millions of email subscribers from all walks of life keeping up with her recipes, food finds, tips and tricks, twelve bestselling cookbooks (six of which debuted at #1 on the New York Times Best Sellers List), a weekly column on www.People.com, and recurring appearances on TV shows such as Good Morning America, The View, and The Dr. Oz Show, Hungry Girl is the leader of a nationwide community, and uses her platform to motivate people to take control of their health. We spoke with Lisa by phone as she was gearing up for the release of her first issue of Hungry Girl magazine — and as we were preparing for our next semester of college — about her venture into the magazine world, and her tips for college students eating in a dorm, on a budget.
H: The launch of your new Hungry Girl magazine, which hits newsstands January 16th, will make it even easier for your print readers to keep up with you. What will we find in the magazine that we haven’t seen yet on the website or in the cookbooks?
LL: That’s a great question. The magazine, just like all the other Hungry Girl recipes and things that I bring to the public, is a lot of fun, a lot of delicious food. But the magazine has a different sort of spin on things. There are success stories, and lots of information from people who have used Hungry Girl to lose weight. There’s also lots of information for how you can make foods that you can share with your pets, things that you can cook for your pets. So it’s a little more of a lifestyle approach than just the Hungry Girl emails and the books.
C: You’re getting more people involved by hearing their stories, and the way that they’ve been shaped by following you and seeing how you do things.
LL: Exactly. I don’t really get to do a lot of that in the daily emails, and I don’t do that in the books at all. So this is a really exciting opportunity.
H: That’s great. You started your career, actually, as a magazine editor. What made you decide it was time to go back to your roots?
LL: Yeah! You know, when I was a senior in college, the first job I ever had was as the editor of a national teen magazine. So it was super fun, and I loved writing, and I loved print. That’s probably why I ended up starting Hungry Girl as a daily email service, which is a little bit like a magazine online. I thought it was time to bring the world an actual Hungry Girl magazine. As fun as it is to see things online and read things digitally, you really can’t compare it to holding something in your hand and feeling it, and seeing something that is so beautiful.
C: I didn’t realize that your first passion was writing, and then you sort of blended it with your interest in healthy eating.
LL: Exactly! My passion has always been writing, it’s always been food, so to [be able to] combine the two is something that makes me feel really lucky, and I’m excited about.
H: Now, we’ve been following you for years, and I’ve always wondered where the Hungry Girl recipes come from. Are they all from your own head, or are some family recipes, or friend recipes, or from other places?
LL: It’s interesting, because a lot of them do come from my head. But now that there are thousands of them, they have to come from other places. So inspiration comes from, you know, me going to restaurants… I travel a lot, and I’ll find something and say, I can lighten that up. Or a subscriber will email in and say, “Oh, my aunt makes this amazing pie and I want to find a way to make it lighter. Here’s the recipe, what can you do with it?” I also have a staff of people who work with me that are fantastic, and we have brainstorm sessions. We are inspired by tons of things every single day, everywhere we go.
C: We’re in college right now, and college, as you know, is notoriously a time when people just don’t eat very healthy. I’m wondering what you were like in college. Were you as mindful then as you are now when it comes to nutrition?
C: In a word, no?
LL: No! When I was in college, I did what typical college students do. You know, you go out, and then maybe after a night out you go to Denny’s and get a Grand Slam breakfast at 3 a.m. Definitely not the smartest thing to do! And of course there was the late night pizzas, snacking, and things. But I do think that these days people are more mindful of it, and there are more options. There are more things that you can keep either in your purse, or your backpack, or your fridge in your dorm, and people have microwaves. So it’s a lot easier these days to be more mindful about what you’re eating, and make smart choices.
H: What would you say to college students who feel like they don’t have the time or money to eat healthy?
C: ‘Cause a lot of people say, “Oh, well, it’s cheaper to eat less healthy, it’s too expensive to actually go and make things that you know all the ingredients to and everything that goes into it.”
LL: The thing about ‘not having time’… I feel like you can always make excuses about not having time for something. But, you guys, you wake up every day, you have time to brush your teeth. You have time to do that. So you have to have time to think about your eating if it’s important to you. If you prioritize it, you can think and plan ahead. And as far as saving money, there are definitely ways to find things on sale, and buy in season, and just be smart about how you shop. If you plan ahead, you can do it on a budget.
C: At our school, we only have mini fridges and microwaves in our dorms. So sometimes people feel like they don’t have the resources to make healthy things, especially with what’s available at our on-campus convenience store. What would you suggest for healthy meals that you can make when you only have a fridge and a microwave?
LL: There are a lot of really healthy frozen foods. MorningStar makes a lot of great meals, and Amy’s. I like a lot of their canned soups as well. I like to keep a lot of emergency snacks, because if I’m out and about, and I’m traveling a lot, it’s almost like being at college, and being away from your dorm room, or away from a place where you can get healthy foods. But if you keep things on you, that’s key. I like things like beef jerky, which is not the most popular snack, but it’s great because it’s high in protein and low in calories and fat. I also keep packets of miso soup in my purse, because all you need is hot water, and then you have a satisfying snack. It’s less than 100 calories, and it fills you up a little bit. I like fruit a lot, so I always have apples and oranges, things that won’t squish in my bag. And just with a fridge and a microwave in your dorm, you can have a hot breakfast! If you keep a mug in your dorm, and egg beaters or an egg white, or some kind of eggs, just throw that in your mug, throw it in the microwave for two minutes, mix it up, and you’ve got a hot breakfast that’s high in protein and good for you.
C: And those are all things that you can make when you’ve just got an hour or so between classes, so that’s perfect for snacks as well as quick meals.
LL: I just think sometimes people make excuses, they say “Oh, I don’t have a lot of time!” and they let too many hours pass before they’ve eaten anything. So you may be running around going from class to class and studying, and then all of the sudden you realize you haven’t had food in five hours, and you’re in the campus center, and that burger and fries looks so appealing. But if you have things on you and you don’t let yourself get so hungry, you can satisfy your cravings without eating the wrong things.
H: Yeah, that’s what happens! You get really hungry and then you’re just like, Being healthy can wait.
LL: Exactly! I’ve been there!
C: Our last question for you is a big one. We see you as being more than just Hungry Girl–You’re someone who inspires people to work toward being their best self. Is there a quote that you would say sums up your message to people, your outlook on life, and what you want people to learn from following you and reading your stuff?
LL: The quote I always use, and I close every one of my TV shows and my Facebook Lives with this, is chew the right thing.
H: That sums up everything!
LL: But I do have another piece of advice. And it’s a quote that I follow, because I think it’s been so important to me. One of my old bosses once told me this, and I think it really resonates and it rings true. Are you ready?
H & C: Yes.
LL: Worry is interest paid upfront on a debt that may never come due. When you’re dealing with people that are young and anxious — and college students, they worry a lot — it’s not worth it.