Husband and wife, celebrity chef duo and restaurant owners, Patrick (Pat) and Gina Neely, took the world by storm in 2008 with the debut of the Food Network hit, Down Home with The Neelys. They are also New York Times best-selling cookbook authors.
In this interview, Gina Neely reveals her unique weight loss formula, favorite healthy BBQ recipes and top tips for healthier cooking, eating and motivation for staying on track.
Q: As a BBQ expert and with summertime in full swing, what is one of your favorite BBQ dishes that doesn’t hold back on the flavor but keeps our health in mind?
GN: I would have to recommend the grilled salmon with peach relish. I love the fact that you get the smoky flavor and grill marks, which lends to the BBQ effect, but then you add on the unexpected peach relish. It’s light in calories without sacrificing the flavor. So, in essence, you are “shocking the palate” as well as providing great flavor.
Q: Your weight loss success has been an inspiration to millions, what are some little things we can adjust about how we cook and eat, for big results overtime?
GN: Thank you for the compliment and let me say I’m asked this question all the time everywhere I go! I always explain my formula this way: 80% was a result of what I put into my body and 20% was exercise. It really comes down to making a commitment to a lifestyle change. You have to have the discipline to want it. The experience was so eye-opening to me – not only from a physical aspect, but also from a spiritual one and me wanting to be one with my body. I had to find my rhythm and become “in sync” with it. I first started with cleaning out the things that I knew weren’t good for my body. Then I made little changes like eating on a salad plate as opposed to a bigger plate. When I felt full I stopped. I choose to limit breads and sugar…..even my beloved pasta. It’s all about moderation!!!
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Beyond that, I got moving. I started taking the stairs when I could, parking farther and walking more, doing lunges as I walked through the house doing laundry. I did sit-ups while watching my favorite show. These are some of the “small” things that made a huge difference.
Q: When changing eating/cooking habits sometimes motivation can be a challenge, what are some great ways to add variety while maintaining a healthier diet?
GN: Try new recipes and incorporate spices that you wouldn’t normally use. Think about the way our parents/grandparents did it with fresh ingredients but with a contemporary “remix” for a healthier approach. Use olive oil more than butter. Grill or bake more instead of frying. Plan your meals and make grocery lists before heading to store. Experiment…swap recipes with your friends and add a little “Gina” attitude to it.
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Q: When dining out what is your number one piece of advice for staying on track?
GN: First I look at the menu to see if they offer dishes that are low in calories because a lot of restaurants now try to take the guessing out for you. If they don’t, take a look at the Appetizer Menu and see if 1 or 2 small items can fit the bill. Look for something with vibrant color in it. If you want dessert, go for it but get forks for everyone and share! That way, you can get your sweets and be sweet to your friends.
Q: We are so excited about your latest cookbook, Back Home with the Neelys! Could you share a story behind one of your favorite dishes from the cookbook?
GN: Sure! I’m so glad you are enjoying it because it is a book about how food binds people together from all walks of life for one common goal – to feed our Soul!
The dish that comes to mind for me would have to be “Not Your Basic Sweet Potato Salad” because my Mom is the “Potato Salad Queen.” If it’s a holiday, she is bringing the potato salad and you better not try to match her. So I wanted to pay tribute to her but with a little Gina twist. I am a huge lover of sweet potatoes – you can bake, twice bake, steam, fry or, really, do almost anything with them. I remember when I was testing the recipe and I took her some, she looked at me like I had three heads, and she was reluctant to try it (you know our Moms are set in their ways). I explained the benefits of sweet potatoes, such as being high in beta-carotene, high in vitamin A and a great antioxidant (everybody loves that word now). The fact that she sees how I have changed my body and eating habits was the icing on the cake that I needed to get her on board. She took a spoonful and chewed it ever so slowly as hoping not to like it, then she looked at me and said, “you are something else lil’ girl.” So there you have it, Mom-Approved. What more could a daughter ask for?
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