In her travels across the country, Cooking Light contributing editor Allison Fishman Task has tasted every creamy, cheesy, ooey-gooey dish America has to offer. Now she's giving all your classic American favorites a healthier makeover in her new cookbook Lighten Up, America!
Credit: Photo: Oxmoor House

More than 200,000 miles on the road. Over a million calories consumed. And I’m here to share the whole story with you.

You may know me as the host of Yahoo!’s food show Blue Ribbon Hunter. I’ve traveled from Maine to Hawaii doing what I love—meeting new people and eating. Along the way, I’ve learned the history behind some of our most beloved American foods. Memphis barbecue. Iowa pork tenderloin sandwiches. Chicago hot dogs. I’ve also sampled some of the more, shall we say, unusual foods this great country has to offer. When it comes to food, well, I’ll eat just about anything. I’m thinking of you, West Virginia burgoo, wild boar nachos, and bear meat loaf. 

When I first joined Blue Ribbon Hunter, I was in a quandary. So many of the foods I found on the road were stuffed—literally stuffed—with butter, cream, cheese, and other decadent ingredients. Was there a way to enjoy them with gusto without constantly worrying about what it was doing to my waistline? And thus began my quest to re-create the American favorites I’ve grown to adore, but in a healthier way.

If you’ve seen the show, you know I can eat quite a bit in one sitting. At the National Hamburger Festival in Akron, Ohio, I ate 15 burgers. As a judge of the San Diego Bay Wine and Food Festival, I consumed 26 plates of food. I even went head to head with Maria Edible, a competitive eater, in a Buffalo wing–eating contest. Thirteen wings. In two minutes. She won, but I certainly held my own.

But even though I love my job—and the incredible indulgence that comes with it—it’s important to me to stay healthy, keeping my energy up and my weight stable. And after recently becoming a mom to two beautiful twin boys, my desire to enjoy a long, healthy, fun-filled life has only gotten stronger. There simply isn’t any alternative.

My love of food was nurtured in me early by my parents. But they also instilled in me a deep appreciation for good food, the kind that sustains and nourishes you. I know that I’m not alone in my struggle to balance eating the foods I love with staying healthy. I’ve come across a lot of you who are passionate about what you cook for your friends and family, yet feel guilty eating these very same dishes. But it is possible to enjoy your favorite comfort foods every night of the week. A few smart cooking techniques and simple ingredient substitutions are all you need to make your dishes leaner. Being smart about portion sizes will help keep your calories in check.

I know what you’re thinking. Too often, “leaner” equals “flavorless.” And “smart about portion sizes” means eating like a rabbit. But I’m the gal who loves food, remember? And I’m also a chef, having trained my taste buds at one of the country’s best cooking temples, the Institute of Culinary Education. You could say it’s against my religion to create a flavorless plate of rabbit food.

The recipes here have all the creamy, cheesy, ooey-gooey goodness of the foods we Americans love to eat—pizza, burgers, shrimp and grits, cinnamon buns, macaroni and cheese, apple pie and so much more—but without the unnecessary fat and calories. And, often, with a little bit more nutrition. They’re the prize-worthy dishes I’ve discovered in my Blue Ribbon Hunter travels, the comfort foods my mother made for me when I was a kid, the daily meals I serve my own family.

The way I see it, the food we prepare and eat with our friends and families is one of life’s simple pleasures. It’s something to be appreciated and thankful for, to enjoy with gusto. And never, ever with guilt.

With love,

Allison Fishman Task