How to Stay on Track When Eating is Your Job, and Other Tips from a TV Chef

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Aïda Mollenkamp is a former ballerina, Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef, editor of the food website and Food Network star (her Q & A cooking show, "Ask Aïda" is in its second season). Now she has teamed up with Yoplait to promote their 100-calorie Delights Parfaits. (We tried them a few weeks ago. Read our review.)

Aïda and I recently chatted on the phone about healthy snacking, motivation and simple suppers. Here are some of the highlights from our interview!

Stepfanie: I'm a big fan of your work on And now I hear you're working with the folks at Yoplait. Tell us a little bit about your work with them.
Aïda: I grew up eating a lot of yogurt and I've always turned to it as an afternoon snack. So when they told me they wanted to launch a product that would take care of the afternoon snacking issue, I said "oh, that's a perfect fit!"

Stepfanie: What are some of your other favorite afternoon snacks, and how do you integrate yogurt into those snacks?
Aïda: Usually if I eat yogurt, I just eat the Yoplait Delights and that's it. But this time of year when there's a bunch of fruit on hand, I'll throw in a bunch of fruit, maybe some honey, depending on the type of yogurt. I really like whole grains, so I always have steel-cut oats around, so I'll add that.

I keep a lot of whole-wheat crackers like ak-mak crackers, on hand, along with hard cheese like parmesan. I pair up a lot of fruit with cheese, nuts and dried fruit. It's just the standard stuff that you know is going to pack a lot of energy for a little amount of food.

And I'm a huge chocolate fan, so every once in awhile, I'll have just a square of really dark chocolate as my afternoon snack.

Stepfanie: It's your job to cook. How do you stay in shape and avoid going overboard?
Aïda: It's all about balance, and that's just the way I've always been raised in relation to food. Eat three meals a day, eat a mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack or both if you feel like you need it. I didn't grow up eating a lot of classical junk food. I grew up eating stuff like yogurt and dried fruit. My mother made us believe that Ritz crackers were cookies until we were in second grade, so we've always had that healthy mentality.

I run a lot, I do Pilates, ballet, and being the in the (San Francisco) Bay Area, I get to bike, I get to hike. I bike to work and back every day. I get to work and I know--I've actually tried to calorie count it--most people say they want to eat 400 calories for lunch; I'm probably eating like 600-700 (because of all the recipe testing) depending on the day. I really just have to accommodate it and say "OK, that means I don't get to have a latte today--just black coffee." Or I don't get to have a dessert after dinner. I really have to work around it. Luckily the food we're developing at Chow is relatively healthy unless it's the holidays or something. I can balance it out.

It's all about tasting little bits of everything and being honest with yourself about how much you're eating.

Stepfanie: After a busy day, what is your favorite go-to dinner?
Aïda:My best friend is Japanese and I live with her. I think that she's renewed my love of Japanese food in the last couple of years. What I do a lot of is quick, easy stir-fries or something like saag paneer (Indian-spiced spinach and cheese). I really try to do something that's ethnic that's got a lot of flavor and then take the fat down. For example, with saag paneer, I'll make it with tofu instead of the actual paneer cheese, with low-fat yogurt instead of whole-fat. (Find the recipe here.)

I make a lot of green tea broths with buckwheat soba (noodles) with an assortment of vegetables with tofu or edamame. I try to keep it really interesting, but if it's late at night and I've been traveling, it's probably scrambled eggs.

I like real late-night type food that's going to make me feel comfortable quickly.

Stepfanie: What are your top five kitchen tools?
  1. a big wooden cutting board, preferably bamboo
  2. a really good chef's knife, whatever feels good to you
  3. a "Y" peeler
  4. a cast-iron skillet
  5. a really awesome rubber spatula

Stepfanie: Do you have any secret ingredients that add a lot of flavor without adding fat or calories?
Aïda:I think that when people think of low fat, they think it's going to be not very flavorful.

Im not a stick of butter girl. I'm more likely to use a couple tablespoons of olive oil, but I use a lot of spices.

I use a lot of ethnic spices. I think people are scared of stuff like five-spice (powder, a Chinese herb blend of cinnamon, cloves, star anise, Szechuan peppercorns, and either fennel seed or ginger) and curry. But they're already mixed spice combinations, so you don't have to worry about whether this is going to go well together. If you turn to really exotic spice combos--like five-spice, curry, harissa or Ras el hanout (Middle Eastern/North African spice blends), whether you put them in your scrambled egg base or on your roast chicken, they're going to add a ton of flavor.

Have you tried the Yoplait Delights? Are you a fan of Aïda's cooking show? What secret ingredient adds tons of flavor in your kitchen?

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yoplait delights are so good & i hate yogurt unless i put granola in it. Report
Watched the show she poses too much for my taste. Some of the recipes are okay but the fierce model thing detracts from the credibility. The Yoplaits are dessert on occasion, too sweet for everyday snacking. Report
I haven't tried the Yoplait Delights yet but I love Aida's show. She presents great info and recipes that I can actually cook for my family. Now I'm off to check out! Report
I'm only a fan of Yoplait whips. I like to eat it only once in a while due to sugar content and artificial sweeteners in Yoplait yogurts. Most of the time, we enjoy plain natural yogurt either 'Desi' brand without rennet or Stonyfield. I even love the greek chemicals except when I really crave whips once every 6 months or so. Report
There are so many chemicals in these "yogurts" that they can hardly be called healthy. Low fat/cal doesn't automatically mean healthy. Eating clean and as close to whole foods as possible is alwasy the best. Report
I keep Yoplait Delights on hand. I like them and so does my kids. Report
Yoplait Delights really work for me Report
Aida is a terrible chef and the tips she gives on her show are pretty basic. But I do like the yoplait delights. Report
Yoplait is tasty...but ugh the sugar in the regular and artificial stuff in the light :( I really want to try and eat clean. The article was interesting...thank you! Report
She never said Ritz crackers were healthy or that she ate them. Report
I enjoyed the yogurt as did my husband. Report
I have eaten the yogurt and it is good. The spices I use most are garlic, pepper and onion. My new favorite is a salt-free seasoning blend. Garlic and Herb. I put in on my cottage cheese and my garden vegetable salad. Report
I love yogurt. I usually buy yoplait light but sure gonna try the yoplait delights. I use it as a snack at night with a couple of rice cakes. Sure satisfies the sweet craving I get then.
Dont watch much tv. so have not seen her show Report
Not sure how she figures Ritz crackers, with their white flour and hydrogenated oil, is healthy.
This article seemed like a thinly veiled ad for the yogurt (the name of which I do not need to mention AGAIN). Report
Yoplait delights are good, sometimes that's just what I have for lunch, for lack of time. Very informative. Report
Yes I have tried them. I was really disappointed. We bought the caramel flavored
one, and the first bite did it - it was slimy and the taste was awful. I threw the rest
out. In retrospect, I probably should have taken them back to the store.

I love yogurt, especially buying the large container and dipping out a serving, then
adding blueberries or banana or just using it in a smoothie.

I wish I could try the Yoplait Delights, but they unfortunately contain gelatin. Being a strict vegetarian, I am not willing to waive that. There are other yogurts out there (even our store brand, HEB) which do not contain gelatin. Their texture & flavors are fantastic, so I'm not sure why so many companies still use this in products that really don't require it. Oh well, maybe they'll figure it out someday. Report
No, not a fan of tons of chemicals in my yogurt. I'll stick to my Greek yogurt!

I love Aida though, I had no idea she was working on, I'll have to check it out! Report
Yoplait is great and low in carbs. I always have some in my fridge. It's a great breakfast when you're in a rush (like this morning), along with a couple of crackers and I'm content until lunchtime. Report
Have you tried the Yoplait Delights? No, I am not a fan of yogurt (wish I was, because it's so good for you, though!). For my kids, I buy Dannon Lite & Fit, and for my DH I buy Fage. He puts a few tsp. of Polaner Sugar-Free jam in his Fage and sometimes a 1/2 packet of Splenda.

Are you a fan of Ada's cooking show? I haven't seen it yet.

What secret ingredient adds tons of flavor in your kitchen? I love garlic and onion in most of my dishes. My DH has the best sense of spices, though. When cooking meat, I always call him to the kitchen and ask him to spice the food. He does it differently every time, and every time it tastes great! Report
I buy Yoplait Delights for my daughter. She really likes them as an afternoon snack whenstaying late at school for meetings or after a trip to the gym.
I really like Aida's interview and have added to my bookmarks.
I've tried every yogurt I can think of, and the only one I like is my store's brand (Wegmans). The one time my taste isn't expensive. LOL! Report
I love Aida and I love the Yoplait delights! What a great article! Report
I've bought all four of the Yoplait Delights parfaits, but have only tried one so far - the caramel - because it's expiring before the other flavors. It's very good and I'm looking forward to trying the other flavors. Report
Nope, don't buy yoplait products, so not likely to try them. Don't watch tv, so don't know her show, not generally impressed w/ celebrity chefs. BUT I love her tips and mentality - thanks for the post, and keep these people coming! Report
Haven't tried yoplait delights yet. I most often use yogurt in smoothies I love olive oil for cooking , and fresh ground peppercorns. It's definately a stronger taste than regular pepper, and is particularly good on veggies. Report
I don't like yogurt so I will pass on the Yoplaits! But I have caught her show a couple times. I liked it. Report
What a healthy way to look at food. I like yogurt but do not think of it often enough as a snack. I will try to have it daily for the next week as my afternoon snack. Report
I learned to cook and love food from my parents, both of whom cooked and were consistently trying new foods. The DASH diet is the rule around our kitchen now so to get around the loss of salt I have reverted back to my parents ways, i.e. lots of fresh herbs and pepper. We have been trying different "colours" of pepper recently and even mixing them together. They bring a whole new dimension to foods. I avoid watching most cooking shows, so have not seen this one. The only two yogurts I eat are my own home made or "Astro" brand (Canadian). It is the only one available here commercially that is the "real" yogurt, i.e. nothing artifical in it. Report
People have the misconception that Yoplait Delights are healthy. It's still high in sugar, and contains modified corn starch, artificial flavor and other artficial crap. You'd be better off getting organic Greek Yogurt. OIKOS is my favorite. It's very high in protein and NOTHING artificial. If you buy it already flavored, say vanilla, it's only 110 cals and 15 grams of protein!!! However, it still has sugar, so use in moderation. Report
I tried Yoplait Delights last night (I had a dollar coupon). I had the rasberry chocolate. It was just soooo good and creamy. LOVED IT! Report
Love the Yoplait delights Choc/Raspberry. I get Chow emails everyday. I appreciate the different recipes, especially ones that challange my normal eating patterns. Her cooking show "rocks". Garlic in everything! well almost! Go Aida! Report
I've been trying to train myself to eat more yoghurt, because I have very little milk and try to limit the amount of cheese I eat, but feel I should be getting more dairy in my diet. So perhaps this is the way to go. I like the sound of Aida, she's very down to earth. Report
No to all of the above. But I will be trying them soon (hopefully)! Report
While eating isn't my job per se, with older teenagers (16, 19 and 19) in the house, with school, college and work, I am a mix between an Iron Chef with the secret ingredient being ANYTHING in the house can be cooked in 30 minutes or less ala Rachel Ray and Tyler Florence Ultimate Whatever. I have an huge variety of spices and sauces in my kitchen and I haven't made a homemade broth base I didn't like. We don't know what we are having until I am done. The kids pitch in occassionally if I need something peeled, stirred or watched. Fresh and frozen veggies make up most of the meals with a protein and healthy starch added along side. I have learned (finally) how to cook brown rice (regular and basmati) and that potatoes are not that bad if you dont add a 1lb of butter and whole milk to them. A bit of fresh rosemary, cracked black pepper and a drizzle of olive oil in a steamer bag ROCKS out! Report
I have tried and love the Yogurt Delights. I use a lot of minced garlic in my cooking. Report
Yoplait Delights are delicious!! Report
I wish I could try the yoplait delights. The commercials make them look so yummy... unfortunately, like most yogurts, they contain gelatin. The only yogurt I've found that I can eat is Stoneyfield Farms (which is delicious), but sometimes yogurt companies come out with a flavor or concept that I'm dying to try. :-\ Maybe someday the rest of the world will catch on to the fact that yogurt can be made without gelatin. ;-)

I LOVE Aida's show! It's a great weekend go to (the Food Network is generally where I spend my weekends... haha). And her show has taught me so much!

My favorite spices are curry and cumin! They're great stir fry additives. :-) I love indian food and it's so easy to give any meal that indian flavor with just those two spices! Report
i went thruogh a lot when we got a "new chef in at work because i would not add all the butter and fat to thing that he wanted me to.. i would make some of his thing and leave out a whole lot of the fat and to me a lot of cals.. but OMG he would have a fit if he ever found out.. he was one of the 5 lbs of butter and bacon grease.. and that is in just i dish that he would make !!! He would say people like all the fat in there food !!! OMG there are way to many chef that think like that.. i am a chef and know how to make thing that are low in fat and in cals and tast just as good if not better than a full fat meal !!!! if people only knew how much hidden fat and cals are in there food there may not be so many fat people in this country !!! Report
I've been eating Greek Yogurt lately. I buy the large size because it's more economical. Yoplait is a little pricey. I buy it when I have coupons and it's on sale.

I don't watch TV (no cable) so I don't watch her cooking show but I loved this written interview. I loved the 5 top kitchen tools she recommended.

I love fresh cilantro. I wish I could put it in everything. Just chopping it and smelling it makes me HIGH! It smells so fresh and GOOD!
I've never cooked with curry but I'd like to try it sometime. Report
I haven't tried yoplait delights, but I think I will. I
like to add Koski Go Lean Crunch to my yogurt. Report
They are very yummy. I have tryied two so far. The lemon is my favorite. I get to try the chocolate today. So I will have to see if lemon remains the favorite or not. Report
Ooh, good comment! I also plow through yogurt. Report
No, I haven't tried the Yoplait Delights . . . yet. They sound tasty and I like that they're just 100 calories.

My "secret" ingredient is to add a few pecan pieces or thinly sliced almonds to yogurt to slow me down to thoroughly chew the nuts. Otherwise, I can down a yogurt in no time flat!
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