Dawn Lerman: My Fat Dad, Chicken Soup & Protein-Packed Thumb-Print Cookies

Taste Buds with Deb - Episode 18
August 16, 2023
Dawn Lerman. Photo by Michael Molinoff

Growing up, Dawn Lerman, nutritionist and author of My Fat Dad: A Memoir of Food, Love, and Family, With Recipes.” had a variety of food influences within her own family.

Lerman describes her father, who created the slogans “Coke is It!” and “Leggo my Eggo,” as the 450-pound Don Draper from the TV show “Mad Men.” He cared in equal parts about junk food and the latest fad diet.

Her maternal grandmother, “Beauty,” was very pro-nutrition and anti-preservatives. She believed if you want to lose weight, you need to learn how to cook.

Lerman’s mother was a feminist and couldn’t care less about cooking – “It was whatever is cheap and fast,” she said. Lerman took on that role.

“Every memory from my childhood is attached to food,” Lerman told the Journal. “Whether they were good or bad, that is what I remember.”

After Lerman’s family moved from Chicago to New York for her dad’s work, Beauty would send her a recipe card and a $20 via mail each week to keep her on the healthy cooking path.

“I was only nine years old, but I had to create Weight Watcher shakes for my dad,” she said.

Lerman would try and figure out how to make them healthy. She would use milk, add ice for froth and put fresh fruit in them, too.

“It was before the days of smoothies and frappuccinos.” she said. “We used to make all that stuff before it was really trendy.”

While many people shy away from cooking – and healthy cooking to boot – Lerman says it’s easy.

“If you make something, like a soup or stew, nothing could go wrong,” she said.

Put whatever you have, whether it’s chicken broth or vegetable broth, into a pot. If you have a whole chicken, half of a chicken or a piece of chicken, toss it in. Then add vegetables, along with spices, such as dill. And cook it on the stove.

“If it looks too thick, throw in some water,” she said.

Whatever it is, you’re going to come up with an amazing soup or stew. For those who prefer a recipe, find Lerman’s chicken soup below. “My absolute favorite thing in the world is chicken soup,” she said.

Lerman is also a huge fan of breakfast for dinner and dessert for lunch.

“I’m a nutritionist, so I like every meal to have protein, fat and complex carbs,” she said.

For instance, Lerman makes pancakes with eggs, cottage cheese and oats with a little bit of vanilla.

“You basically just throw everything in the blender and then just pour it [into the frying pan]; it;s so easy,” she said. “It turns into the most delicious, decadent, protein-packed pancakes.”

She also loves to make gluten-free, protein-packed thumb-print cookies. That recipe is below too.

“Everything I make has a healthy twist,” she said.

Even as a kid, Lerman found herself giving cooking advice and offering healthy substitutes to her friend’s parents. However, it wasn’t until she had kids and her dad got sick with cancer that she went back to school and pursued it as a career.

“It was so obvious,” she said. “I’d been a nutritionist my entire life.”

When asked what she wanted people to know about cooking, Lerman referred back to her grandmother.

“Her mantra was: ‘Good food is not fast, fast food is not good and if you know how to make a pot of chicken soup, you can nourish yourself for life,’” Lerman said.

For the full conversation, listen to the podcast:

Watch the interview:

Beauty’s Sweet Potato Infused Chicken Soup

Photo by Dawn Lerman

32-ounces water (plus 10 more cups to add as the broth absorbs)

1 (3½-pound) chicken, cut into 8 pieces, most of the skin removed

4 medium carrots, peeled and cut into ¼-inch pieces

4 ribs of celery, cut into ¼-inch pieces

2 medium parsnips, peeled and cut into ¼-inch pieces

1 large sweet potato, peeled and cubed

1 medium yellow onion, quartered

Handful of fresh dill, chopped

Kosher salt and pepper to taste

Garlic powder or a couple of cloves of fresh garlic, to taste

Serve with matzah balls or for a modern low-carb take, serve it over cauliflower rice.

Place the 32 ounces of cold water in an 8-quart stockpot set over high heat and bring to a boil.

Add the chicken and cook until foam comes to the top. Spoon off the foam, reduce the heat and add the carrots, celery, parsnips, sweet potato, onion and dill. Simmer the soup for at least 2 hours and add the 10 cups of cold water, 1 cup at a time, as needed. As the soup cooks, the liquid will evaporate and the soup will thicken.

Check the soup every 30 minutes to remove any film that rises to the top. Stir in the salt, pepper, and garlic powder to taste, and remove the pot from the heat. Remove the chicken and the vegetables from the soup, and pull the chicken meat off the bones. Ladle the broth into bowls and add the desired amount of chicken and vegetables to each bowl.

Gluten-Free, Protein-Packed Thumb-Print Cookies

Photo by Dawn Lerman

8 tablespoons coconut oil or softened butter
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons almond milk
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup almond flour
1 1/4 cups oat flour (you can make your own oat flour by blending oats in a blender)
1 teaspoon flax seeds (optional)
Pinch of sea salt
Strawberry jam or preserves
Powdered sugar for dusting (optional)


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a mixing bowl, combine the oil, egg, vanilla, almond milk and maple syrup and mix well. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, flax seeds and salt. Then combine the ingredients from both bowls and mix together with your hands, until it forms a sticky dough. If the dough feels a touch dry, you can add a splash of water to thin it. And if it feels a bit wet, you can add a touch more almond flour.

Roll the dough into balls with your hands; I like mine to be 1 1/2 to 2 inches across. Place them on a lightly greased cookie sheet, flatten them slightly with your palm, and push a thumbprint into each ball. Add a dollop of jam or preserves to the thumbprint.

Bake for 15 minutes, or until lightly brown on the bottom. Let cool and sprinkle with powdered sugar before eating.

Debra Eckerling is a writer for the Jewish Journal and the host of “Taste Buds with Deb.Subscribe on YouTube or your favorite podcast platform. Email Debra: tastebuds@jewishjournal.com.

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