Home Chef winner shares healthy cooking tips

July 9, 2012 at 9:41 AM ET

Ilana Bucholtz, left, winner of TODAY's Home Chef Challenge, says she lost 40 pounds by changing her diet and incorporating recipes like her spaghetti squash primavera.

Meet the winner of TODAY’s Home Chef Challenge: Joy Fit edition. We asked readers to send in their best original healthy comfort food recipes. TODAY nutritionist Joy Bauer picked her three favorites, and viewers voted on the top choice. Ilana Bucholtz took the title. Ilana, who has had her own struggles with weight loss, shares her tips. Get her winning recipe for spaghetti squash primavera.

Age: 22

Hometown: Doylestown, Penn.

How long have you been cooking?

I have always enjoyed being in the kitchen. From a very young age, I loved helping my mom prepare holiday dinners and always enjoyed adding my personal touch to certain dishes and the presentation of the meal. When I settled into my own apartment, my sophomore year of college, I took advantage of the new and spacious kitchen and began preparing all of my meals, experimenting with new ingredients, techniques, and cuisines. This is when cooking and creating healthy dishes evolved into a great passion of mine.

Share your favorite healthy cooking tip.

Food can be bursting with flavor without excess salt or fat! These additions can contribute to weight gain, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Instead, fresh herbs like rosemary and basil and ingredients like garlic and lemon juice can really rev up a dish and take it to the next level.

What’s your favorite healthy ingredient?

This is such a tough question to answer because there are so many types of food I enjoy utilizing from fish such as salmon and tilapia to vegetables like spinach and squash. I think the variety of ingredients I enjoy and cook with helps to keep my dishes interesting and enjoyable. When you vary your meals, your palate and mind do not become bored and you may be less likely to crave the unhealthy, refined, processed foods.

What would be your ideal last meal?

Honestly, if I knew it was my last meal, I think I would throw every logical rule out the window and go all out. I think it would consist of several courses that incorporated salty, savory, and sweet. A rich pasta dish and dessert with peanut butter would certainly be in order.