Guilt-Free Guru

Lisa Lillien, creator of Hungry Girl, shares some tips

Let’s be clear: Lisa Lillien loves to eat good food.  She just wants to know what she is eating. That’s precisely why she started Hungry Girl eight years ago. 

“I’d gotten some pastries that were supposedly low-calorie, and I just didn’t believe it. I was on a mission. I found a lab in Commerce and had them analyzed.”

The “low-cal” label turned out to be false, inspiring the Encino resident to launch her business. Each day Hungry Girl sends an email blast to more than a million subscribers, sharing tasty, simple recipes with low-calorie counts.

“I’m really a mad scientist with a knack for creating good food that’s low in calories,” she quips from her Woodland Hills office. On this particular day, most of the work takes place outside the kitchen. There’s the daily email to craft, a regular Redbook article to write, planning an appearance on The Dr. Oz Show and her upcoming promotional tour for her new cookbook, Hungry Girl to the Max.

Busy as she is though, there was nothing minimal about her willingness to dish—on everything from food indulgences to fashion finds.

I love to collect pop culture items—advertising collectibles like lunchboxes and food memorabilia. At home, I have a collection of food-shaped radios from the ‘60s and ‘70s. I have one that is french fries and one that is a Yoo-Hoo.

Kazu in Studio City has the best sushi in the Valley—and I should know. I eat sushi everywhere I go. I consider myself a sushi expert. Kazu is small, with about 20 seats, and never crowded. But I also eat at Midori, where they have all-you-can-eat. It is really good, trust me!

Online shopping is where I get most of my clothes. I do all the sites. When it comes to local stores, I get a lot of great deals from Nordstrom Rack. You just have to go frequently for the best finds.

I tend to indulge when I travel. I eat at all the great places, and I let myself enjoy it. When I’m in Memphis, for example, I always go to Pete & Sam’s.

One seriously under-rated ingredient is pumpkin. It is low-fat/low-calorie and high in fiber. I use it in everything—swirled with my oatmeal with a little cinnamon and as a substitute in recipes that call for eggs and oil. 

I’ve had two TV shows, one for Food Network and one for Cooking Channel. I’m not taping them any more, but they are both still airing. Unlike most TV hosts, I’m not a chef. I’m an encyclopedia of guilt-free food knowledge. So there was a bit of pressure there, but I loved doing it.

I truly love helping people. Meeting fans at book signings sometimes makes me want to cry. When someone says, “I made your fettucine Alfredo, and it is fantastic,” that makes my day.

My husband, who works in TV, is really supportive. I remember one day really early in the game, he saw me working at the kitchen table in my sweatpants. He said, “If you can sit here at home in your sweats with your computer and make something of nothing, it would be fantastic!”

When I got the idea for Hungry Girl, I simply believed that I had information that needed to be shared and I was the person to do it. It was after the dot-com crash, and I noticed what Daily Candy was doing—the only thing out there like that at the time—and I thought, “That’s the way to go!”

Stay away from what I call your “trigger” foods. These are foods that you know you will eat too much of. You start and can’t stop. For some people it is chocolate. For me, it’s chips. Removing chips from my diet was a big part of my weight-loss success.

Career change came after I had one of those corporate reviews. I was VP of new media at Warner Brothers. The corporate therapist said, “You seem very entrepreneurial. Why don’t you start your own business?” I thought, “She is right, why don’t I?”


The Ultimate Guilt-Free Holiday


1¼ pounds raw lean
ground turkey
½ cup chili sauce
1/3 cup sweetened
dried cranberries,
roughly chopped
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper

Preheat oven to 350º.
Spray a baking sheet
with nonstick spray.

In a large bowl, thoroughly mix all ingredients. Firmly and evenly form into 20 balls and place on the baking sheet, evenly spaced.

Bake for 10 minutes. Gently flip meatballs. Bake until cooked through, about 5 minutes. Serve and enjoy!
Makes 5 servings.


One 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1 cup crumbled fat-free feta cheese
4 wedges The Laughing Cow Light Creamy Swiss cheese
1/3 cup diced onion
½ teaspoon chopped garlic
½ teaspoon dried parsley
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon salt
16 small square wonton wrappers
16 sprays I Can’t Believe
It’s Not Butter!

Preheat oven to 350º. Spray a baking sheet with nonstick spray.
To make the filling, combine all ingredients except wonton wrappers and butter spray in a bowl. Mix thoroughly.

Lay a wonton wrapper flat on a dry surface. Place a heaping tablespoon of filling in the upper-right portion, and slightly spread so it covers one triangular half of the wrapper. Fold the lower triangular half over the filling, and gently pat to adhere. (No need to seal the edges.) Place on the baking sheet. Repeat with remaining wrappers and filling.

Spritz the top of each piece with 1 spray of butter spray. Bake for 6 minutes. Carefully flip pieces. Bake until golden brown, 6 to 9 minutes.
Makes 4 servings.