We’re really excited to kick off our Featured Contributor Series in 2018 with a spotlight on Leslie McDonald, founder of Balanced Life of Leslie. We’ve been big fans of her work for a long time, and were excited to have her join the Primal Palate Community over the last year. She’s a longtime supporter of our organic spices, and uses them often in her day to day cooking. So if you are looking for more recipe inspiration using them, give her a follow!
You can find Balanced Life of Leslie on Instagram as well as her website as well. And be sure to browse her collection of recipes here on Primal Palate too!
Tell us a little bit about how you came to adopting healthier lifestyle habits. It looks like healthy living wasn’t always a priority for you?
I grew up in a family that valued family meals. We always ate breakfast and dinner together and my mom packed my brother and I lunch every day to bring to school with us. My parents would make homemade pizza, bread, cake, cookies, and delicious meals that proved cooking didn’t have to be as complicated as people thought! But the idea of healthy eating has changed over the years for me. My packed lunches were the typical peanut butter & jelly sandwich with a yoo-hoo and chocolate dessert. And one time I even claimed to be a vegetarian, but that ended 10 minutes after I realized the amount of vegetables I’d actually have to eat.
For me, pizza was a food group and when I went to college, the unlimited food buffet did not help me understand what healthy eating was any better. The choices were boring romaine lettuce salads with the option for grilled chicken, or the meal of the day which was cheesy, oily, greasy and contained all the wrong kinds of fat. And breakfast options included bagels with eggs and bacon or boxed cereal and a muffin.
As I ate my way through life, my body changed, and not for the better. I was breaking out all over my face, my skin was dry, my hair was brittle, I was experiencing brain fog, and of course I gained way more than the Freshman 15. I stopped seeing food as a family tradition and more of just something that tasted really good. But a few years after I graduated, I began experiencing symptoms that were diagnosed as a thyroid disorder and adrenal fatigue. I was only 25 years old and I wasn’t ready for a life of medication at such a young age. So I sought out the help of an osteopath doctor who recommended a change to my diet. That meant eliminating inflammatory foods like dairy and grains (good-bye pizza) and eating more whole foods (hello vegetables and lean protein).
My parents have always loved cooking and I knew I had it in me to cook delicious meals just like them. I just needed the motivation to stop ordering in and eating foot long sandwiches because it was convenient. Adopting healthier eating habits for me wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be once I eliminated the foods that were making me feel sick. I learned the importance of meal prepping so I wasn’t cooking every single day, cooking meals as a serving size of 4-6 even though my husband and I are the only ones in our home because it saved so much time and money buying in bulk. And I learned the great flavor that food could have when it was cooked with love and great spices. Healthy food didn’t have to be boring grilled chicken or romaine lettuce salads. Healthy food meant clean ingredients, less food in packaging and more whole foods, fresh vegetables, and grass-fed meat/wild-caught fish.
When I cleaned up my diet, the lifestyle started falling into place as well, including working out, sleeping better and practicing self-care routines.
Going from the party lifestyle to helping others get healthy is quite the jump. When did you know that you wanted to start your website?
I have been sober now for 11 years. I didn’t realize it then, but quitting drinking and smoking cigarettes was my first step to living a healthier lifestyle, even before adopting a paleo way of eating. I knew that if I continued drinking and partying the way I was that I wouldn’t graduate college and create a life that I was proud of.
After my health diagnosis and cleaning up my eating habits, I began encouraging my family to eat cleaner (mostly because I wouldn’t come to family dinners anymore if chicken parm and pizza were being served). And then at my corporate job, I was the designated healthy eater and people started coming to me when they wanted to clean up their own diet (mostly because they wanted to lose weight, but I knew that changing what they eat would help with so much more than just their weight). Helping others became second nature to me so I decided to enroll at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition so I could have a certification behind the knowledge I was sharing with others. My website became an extension of this because it gave me an outlet to share recipes and lifestyle tips with others in one location. It allowed me to stop emailing the same few recipes to friends and coworkers and have the information all in one easy to find website.
Your recipes are really straightforward (like ours!) … have you always loved cooking?
My parents taught me that delicious food doesn’t have to be complicated. I learned the importance of adding spices and fresh herbs to my meals to bring out the best flavors in everything I make. It’s honestly very hard for me to write recipes to share with others because I don’t usually follow a recipe. I like to throw a protein in a pan and add whatever spices and vegetables I have without getting to technical measuring everything. I was never trained to be a chef so I cook from the heart, and my stomach! I like to make paleo recipes based off of the comfort food I grew up eating which is why they’re easy to follow recipes that are very straightforward. I also like keeping the ingredients list small so that everyone feels that they can cook healthy meals and aren’t afraid to get in the kitchen and start cooking themselves.
You’re a big fan of meal prep – how can people learn more about this technique from you?
I absolutely love meal prepping. When I was working my 9-5 job, the last thing I wanted to do was to come home and start cooking a meal. Meal prep allowed me to prepare a weeks worth of food at one time so that I could easily put together meals. I like to call this the meal prep buffet. I am a creature of habit, but I also like to mix it up. So instead of creating tupperware meals, I prep a ton of vegetables, starches and protein. And then I can mix and match throughout the week to keep it interesting. The last thing food should be is boring, so I use a ton of amazing spices (my pantry is stocked with every Primal Palate blend), and I also eat seasonally so that my produce is at the peak of freshness and it becomes more cost efficient.
I have a ton of meal prep inspiration on my Instagram page and my website. There are also a ton of easy to make recipes in the Rooted With Love ebook!
What are some of your go-to meals for easy weeknight cooking?
My favorite thing to cook is a pan-seared salmon cooked in ghee or avocado oil, seasoned with Primal Palate Seafood Blend and some New Bae Seasoning for a kick. I serve this with a side of Japanese (or purple) sweet potato fries roasted in ghee and seasoned with Primal Palate Meat & Potatoes Blend and some roasted vegetables (either Brussels sprouts or broccoli are my favorite).
What does a typical work day look like for you?
What I love most about my new career path is that no two days are ever the same. I used to work a 9-5 desk job where every day I had the same to-do list every day. It was something that I found to be tedious and I was looking for more excitement and joy in the work that I was doing. When I began my career as a health coach and wellness blogger, I realized that I was the only person motivating me to work and if I didn’t work, I didn’t get paid. So every day I find something that will challenge me to do my best work and bring me joy.
Most days I wake up before the sun even rises and go to my favorite workout, Bar Method. It was the first workout I ever did 7 years ago when I was diagnosed with thyroid disorder and adrenal fatigue. I had never worked out before and was looking for something low impact but low-to-high intensity so that I would break a sweat, move my body, strengthen my muscles, but not increase my cortisol levels too much. I’ve never been one to force myself to workout and Bar Method brings me joy that I actually look forward to my early morning workouts.
Some days I will then go grocery shopping and cook for a meal prep client, and other days I will set up for a work day at a local coffee shop (I would love to work from home, but I tend to just curl up on the couch with my dog if I do that). Or I will actually be at home recipe testing and photographing my food for my blog and social media. Some nights I will attend networking events, or I will be hosting my own. I recently became trained to play the gong which is an ancient tool for healing using sound to move stagnant energy in the body and return the body to balance. I love sharing this gift with others so I host sound bath events as well as partner with my co-founder of our business Holistic Happening where we combine yoga and dinner to bring together the community and show them that living a healthy and balanced lifestyle isn’t as hard as people think it is. All it takes is a little movement and some home cooked meals to make you feel good.
A lot of my work recently has been on my new Rooted With Love seasonal ebooks (https://gumroad.com/l/getgrounded) that I am co-writing with my partner, friend and fellow health coach, Lauren Unger. We started writing these ebooks to bring the magic of holistic health and wellness to others. We wanted people to start taking control of their own health, just like I did 7 years ago when I wanted to use food as medicine instead of surgery and medication. We want to educate people on simple lifestyle tools like journaling, meditating, moving the body, listening to music, using crystals and the moon phases to manifest their dreams. We also wrote a kitchen alchemy guide that features over 65 recipes that are simple to make, again, showcasing that health and wellness is accessible to everyone. We have prepared four “Rooted With Love” guides that align with the seasons. Because just like the Earth itself, we are seasonal creatures that continuously grow and change. The seasonal guides are road maps using food and lifestyle to lead you to greatness.
The first guide, ‘Get Grounded’ has roots in the Winter months, helping us find ourselves within the hibernation season so that we can begin planning for the growth that comes with Spring. ‘Get Grounded’ is all about finding the inner magic and using tools to help us heal internally. It features recipes that utilize grounding foods like potatoes, beets, parsnips, grass-fed meat, wild-caught fish and organic eggs, as well as grounding mantras that are rooted in I AM and I HAVE. ‘Get Grounded’ provides the stability that we all need before we can flourish and grow to be the leaders others need in the world.
The second ebook that will be released in a couple of months will help people Get Focused for the Spring season. It will provides tips and tricks for helping the seeds that were planted in the Winter to begin to grow!
I am so excited for 2018 because it will be the year that all of the lessons I have learned the past year will come together. I became a certified health coach so that I can help people live a healthy, well and balanced life and the Rooted With Love ebooks showcase all of this information. Being healthy isn’t just about the foods you eat, but also the relationships you have, your career, fitness routine, and even your spirituality (not to be confused with religion). Food was a gateway for me to begin healing and when I starting working a job that brought me joy, found a community of like-minded people and started implementing practices like journaling, using crystals for manifestation and creating a lifestyle, and not just a diet, my mind and body began to heal. In 2018 I want to bring this to my community. I will be hosting a ton of sound baths in NYC that will give people the opportunity to relax their mind, body and soul, as well as hosting events that combine food and fitness, and releasing the seasonal Rooted With Love ebooks. I am so excited for what this year has to bring!
Thanks for sharing your talents with the Primal Palate Community! If you want to see more from Leslie, be sure to follow her Instagram and visit her website.