Joy Bauer may be one of the most famous nutritionists in the country. For the past decade she’s been the nutrition expert for NBC’s Today, teaching millions of Americans how to live healthier lives. Last year, she made actor Christian Slater try her latest invention: beet yogurt. More recently, she introduced four “health-ified renditions” of pizza, using English muffins, cauliflower, and chicken as crust instead of white flour. Matt Lauer jokingly threw her under the bus, saying the latter tasted like barbecue chicken, not pizza.
Others may know her name from the 11 books she’s written, like her latest, The Joy Fit Club: Cookbook, Diet Plan & Inspiration. She has another book coming out in February, about how to make healthy versions of junk food like Pop Tarts and mint-chocolate-chip ice cream cones.
Her gluten-free food line, Nourish Snacks, includes strange-sounding but tasty treats like Monkey Love (chocolate-banana granola bites), Almond Aloha (chewy-pineapple, roasted almonds), and Mr. Popular (half-popped corn kernals.) “Everyone has their favorites,” says Bauer of the Today staff. “Natalie loves Monkey Love and Hoda loves Mr. Popular.”
Some might even know her personally from the years she ran Joy Bauer Nutrition Centers, her Manhattan- and Westchester-based practice that had been one of the largest nutrition centers in the country. Celebrities, athletes, models, and regular folks alike went through her doors daily to get advice on a host of subjects that ranged from allergies and weight management to pregnancy. “We were growing by leaps and bounds,” recalls Bauer. “We really saw the gambit; it was just unbelievable.”
But Bauer says what defines her is not her success or the positions she’s held. It’s the fact that she is just another Westchester mom who loves to cook healthy foods for her family. “Everything happens in Westchester first,” she said. “[My recipes are] born in Rye Brook.”
Bauer has a small-town, Parenthood-esque setup where she, her husband, Ian, and kids Jesse, Ayden Jane, and Cole live in the same development as their extended family. Her sister, brother-in-law, and their four kids, for example, live five houses down the road. Bauer’s brother, meanwhile, who married her best friend’s younger sister, lives in the house directly behind her. Bauer’s cousin’s family lives on the same block, too. “It’s like a family compound; it’s hilarious,” she says. “The school, our little school district, is flooded with my kids and nieces and nephews.”
“On set with my girlfriends Kathie Lee and Hoda at Today, cooking up some fun,” remarks Bauer.
Her recipes—including healthy versions of mac ‘n’ cheese and silver-dollar pancakes—start in her kitchen. If her kids like them, she invites the nieces, nephews and siblings to try them, as well. Once she opens them up to the wider neighborhood, and they are “a slam dunk,” she spreads the word through her books, television shows (she also has a spot on PBS), lectures, and her website, JoyBauer.com. Some even end up with the New York City Ballet, where she is the official nutritional advisor. This system works because her family is brutally honest, she says. “I’ve gotten comments like ‘Joy, that’s just bad.’ And I’ve also gotten, ‘Aunt Joy, OMG, that is amazing!’ My favorite is when they stop by my house to grab snack bags for lunch the next day.”
Bauer’s passion for health and cooking started back in childhood. Raised in Tappan, New York, Bauer was first inspired by her father, who is a “real sports nut,” running marathons, playing baseball and competing in the Senior Olympics. She followed in his athletic footsteps by becoming a competitive gymnast at a young age, something that made her want to push her body and eat foods that optimized her performance. “I was always cooking and concocting and creating and whipping things up in my mom’s kitchen,” she remembers. “My parents joked that I chose broccoli over Barbies.”
After an injury during her time at James Madison University (and later the University of Maryland) halted her gymnastic ambitions, she turned her interest to science, a move that shocked her family and friends. “I became a total science nerd; I dove in,” she says. “My parents thought aliens had abducted their daughter.” But this interest never abated, and she went to NYU to get a master’s degree in clinical nutrition. When she graduated, she worked at NYU and the Mount Sinai Medical Center, teaching patients and faculty members about health and exercise.
A turning point occurred when she received a grant to teach health classes to K–12 students in East Harlem. She taught athletes how vegetables can make them faster on the playing field and beauty queens how they can help hair and skin look more radiant. She remembers walking around the cafeteria and seeing kids wave the skin of their fried chicken, to show her they had pulled it off and not eaten it. Blood pressure and cholesterol levels dropped over the five years she was there. “That job really gave me my mojo,” she says. “It was a huge success.”
From that moment, Bauer did whatever she could to reach as many people as possible. “I loved every single job, no matter what I was paid,” she said. She spoke for free, pitched articles to glossy publications, and joined tons of boards. Eventually she got a book deal, which landed her a job in television, first working for Live! with Regis and Kelly and then Today. “The Earth moved for me, because I grew up with the Today show in my house. I felt like I already knew Katie Couric and Matt Lauer and Ann Curry and Al Roker. The first show we did, I couldn’t get the smile off my face, and it was like pinch me!”
When pushed on what makes her so successful, so able to resonate with so many, she returns to the fact that she faces the same struggles as many overburdened parents. “I’m over-scheduled. I’m overworked. I’m frazzled. I get it,” she says. “I’m just a regular person who loves to stay healthy. I want to be around for a very long time for my kids and their kids and hopefully their kids. That’s why I do it.”
Alyson Krueger is a freelance journalist in New York City and a regular contributor to Westchester Magazine. Interviewing Joy has inspired her to eat healthier…and to stop by the Bauer house for some tastings!