Meal Hero is honored to host Andrea's Beautiful Eats and Things recipes on our platform and we were so excited to get the chance to sit down with her for a chat.
Araminta (Meal Hero's Culinary Advisor) and Lucy (Meal Hero Marketing team) got to talk with Andrea about her background and why she's excited to partner with Meal Hero. They go deep on diet culture, cooking with kids, steps to a healthier lifestyle, kitchen shortcuts, and meal planning struggles.
Enjoy watching the video version or scroll to read instead!
Andrea: Thank you so much for having me. I'm really excited to be here and to partner with Meal Hero.
Lucy: We’re so excited to partner as well! Thanks for being here.
Just a little about Meal Hero. Our goal is to help families get meals on the table more easily. We have totally free tools that you can use to plan, shop and cook, whether it's night by night, week by week, or something in between. We're a team of foodies and professionals who are trying to make everyone's time in the kitchen (including ours) more easy, efficient and enjoyable.
Araminta: Yeah! I think that we have in common as far as just wanting to feed people food information and help people cook more at home because that's one of the most valuable tools that we can share with others.
To get started, we would love to hear a little bit about you and your background.
Andrea: Sure! My name is Andrea and most people call me Andy. I am an Alabama based registered dietician and nutritionist. And I've been in this field for over 10 years. I've worked in public health in clinical settings and more recently in long term care. I left that position about two years ago to pursue the blogging full time. So right now I'm doing full time blogging and content creation and experiencing some really fun opportunities with different brands and partners.
Araminta: That's so interesting! I feel like a lot of food content out there doesn't necessarily have much of that nutrition background behind it that I feel like so many people are looking for right now.
A little on my background, I went to culinary school and then I also studied nutrition. So I also really love that combo and I feel like it's, it didn't use to be as typical of a combination. It seems like a natural fit. So I love seeing that and how Beautiful Eats and Things focuses on that very natural combination.
How did you go from that more clinical background into blogging? Where did you learn how to cook and, and how do all these roles tie together?
Andrea: Well, like I've always loved to cook. It’s something that I've been doing since I was a little kid helping my mom in the kitchen. So I've always loved to do that, but while I was working at the long term care facility, I just wanted some type of creative outlet. I wanted something to iust to kind of house my recipes and just be able to direct people to my site because I would get asked several questions, like, “How do you make this?” “How do you make that?” So I started the blog and I didn't know anything about the world of blogging, social media, any of that stuff. I just started to share my recipes, share my love for cooking.
And also as a healthier option for comfort recipes, because I'm from the South, and I love Southern comfort food and I wanted to show a healthier way to prepare those types of dishes. So it kind of took off unexpectedly, and I was receiving more and more opportunities, so I had to make the decision of staying in a full time job or leaving. So I made that leap, which was super scary, but definitely worth it.
Araminta: That's so cool to hear that it just happens so naturally for you. How long has the blog been up?
Andrea: It turned three years old this year. I started in 2017 and I left my job in 2018. So I left just after a year blogging and had no idea where it was going to go. I knew where I wanted it to go but it has exceeded my expectations. So, I’m very proud!
Araminta: You should be!
Lucy: In your bio, you mentioned a lot around this relationship with food, the love-hate relationship with it, and previously trying all different kinds of diets. Can you speak more about how you overcame that and what you think about today's diet culture?
Andrea: I feel like diet culture is all around us. It's one of those things that you can't escape, everywhere you turn, there’s a different ad for quick weight loss. I was submerged in it during my younger years trying to be a registered dietician. I was trying to fit society's mold of what a healthier lifestyle and body should look like. I really struggled with that going into my field.
It wasn't until a couple of years ago, but I've actually started to accept my body, and who I am. And I’m more comfortable and confident with giving nutrition advice, being open in my field and not worrying about what people say. It’s not easy, especially when you have a lot of influences around you telling you what you should look like and what you should eat. So it was a journey getting there, but I'm here now.
Lucy: Wow thank you, that’s so great! We just did a big series on going back to school and getting kids more involved in the kitchen. One of those articles was on nutrition and I'd love to know your perspective on how we talk about food and diets and how that affects kids.
Andrea: I have two boys ages, four and six. I don't like to talk in terms of diets or “this food is bad” - I don't like to give it labels. We talk about balance instead like what a balanced plate looks like with colorful fruits and veggies. I get them involved in the kitchen and let them help cook and put meals together on a plate.
I'll also encourage them to listen to their bodies. If they say they’re full and I know they’ve taken several bites, I’m not going to be the parent that says, “No you have to eat everything on your plate,” I want them to listen to their bodies. I think that’s really important and it’s how we do things in our home.
Lucy I love that. Listening to your body is so key. Even for adults - many of us are just now learning to check in on what our bodies need.
Araminta: You mentioned balanced, healthy eating and also Southern comfort foods. Would you define these as your, your style of cooking?
Andrea: Yes. I would say that my style is definitely a healthier version of Southern comfort foods. It’s what I was brought up on - a lot of those really decadent dishes that are supposed to bring warm, comforting feelings. They’re the recipes that I know and when I'm cooking them now, it's like, “Oh, I can't believe my mom used to use this much butter or cheese in this recipe?” I try to scale back and make the same recipe in a healthier way.
And that's how most of my recipes come about. It's just recipes from my childhood or recipes that I maybe had at a restaurant that I want to try to recreate at home. There’s a lot of trial and error, sometimes the recipes are just straight failures and I’ll just have to try again. So yeah, it just kind of comes from what I like and what I'm familiar with!
Araminta: I think failure is such an important thing to talk about with people when they're learning how to cook and trying new recipes. There are going to be some failures and that's okay. You have to just keep practicing, trying new things, and learning from those mistakes.
Working through failure is often how people start to develop their own personal cooking style and their favorite shortcuts. What are some of your favorite kitchen shortcuts?
Andrea: I love to use prepared dough, and canned veggies, and things like that because I don't always have a lot of time in the kitchen. You know, with two kids, it’s kind of a struggle to really find the time to put together something. So often, I’ll use the premade dough if I’m making some pies or baked goods. And for veggies or say beans, they take a while to prepare. So it’s nice if I can just pick up some canned beans and veggies and have dinner ready within minutes.
Araminta: I love that! There is no shame in pre-made parts of your meal. It's cool to learn how to make things like your own beans or a vinaigrette, but that doesn't mean that you need to make every single component of every meal homemade. Take advantage of canned, frozen or pre-made things. I definitely lean on shortcuts like that too.
My favorite kitchen shortcut is more in the realm of cleaning. I'm always trying to find ways to cut back on how many dishes I'm going to be using or cleaning at the end of the night. So I'm a big fan of reusing the same bowl or pan or spoon as much as possible without cross-contamination or anything. Because it's very easy at the end of the day to see your sink and think, “How, how did I use 20 spoons?”
Araminta: In our Meal Hero community, we hear that there’s a huge struggle with picky eaters; and not just children, but adults too. There are so many challenges for people to prepare meals while keeping everyone’s needs and preferences in mind. Do you have any tips as a parent that you can share with us about picky eating and how to get kids more involved with cooking and learning about food?
Andrea: My biggest tip would be to try to get your kids involved with cooking. My kids love to help me cook; sometimes they can make a mess, but it's okay because we're having fun and they're learning something. So if we're all making homemade pizza and we're adding some extra veggies on, it's a good way to let them help but also encourage them to learn more about food. Then they want to eat the food that they prepared! So that's really helped.
Also, to get them to try something new, I like to offer new foods with something familiar. For example, I'm a big fan of making these spinach grilled cheese sandwiches. They love grilled cheese, so I’ll put a few pieces of spinach in there and they still love it. They know it’s there and they’re sandwich is green but it has the same taste.
Araminta: What are some other struggles with meal planning or cooking at home that you yourself encounter a lot?
Andrea: If we're having a really stressful busy week, I notice that my creativity kind of leaves and I end up reaching for the same meals every couple of days or so and then we get bored with those same flavors. So it’s a challenge to try to think of something outside of the box when we're all exhausted and when I'm needing a mommy break. But, I like to pick my kids’ brains about it - sometimes they'll come up with crazy ideas for dinner, but sometimes it'll work! When I asked my oldest son what should we have for dinner? He mentioned pizza tacos and I said, you know what? I think we can make that work.
Araminta: Love how you get your kids involved with this process, not just the cooking part. I feel like kids really can be involved from the very beginning of the actual meal planning process, all the way to the cooking and eating and the cleanup part.
For myself, if I meal plan something for the week, it sounds really good when I'm writing it all down, but maybe come Wednesday, I'm not really in the mood for that anymore. I kind of have to pivot and figure out if I stay or stray from my plan.
We all have good intentions when we meal plan. Just like we all have good intentions to make healthy choices when we sit down and write our plan on paper, not thinking about our cravings later in the week. What are some of the top tips you have for people who are starting to eat more healthy and are trying to incorporate more healthy food choices into their meal plan?
Andrea: I would definitely say to start small and have some realistic goals when you're trying to make lifestyle changes. Sometimes, we tend to go overboard at first; we may read an article and then we'll make lists of what to get and what to cut, what to do or not do. When you start that way in the beginning, it's kind of setting yourself up for failure down the line because there’s no way you can keep it all up. So start small. For example, if you drink five sodas a day, cut that down to two, then one. Make changes that you can stick to because those small changes can end up making a big difference.
Araminta We're just starting the autumn season right now, and the team at Meal Hero is big on seasonal eating and cooking when available. What are some of your favorite ingredients or dishes that you're excited to, to get going with this fall?!
Andrea: Oh well, everything about the fall. I love pumpkin everything - pumpkin bread, pumpkin coffees… but one thing I don't like is pumpkin pie. I won't cook or eat that, but I will cook everything else that contains pumpkin. My family actually gets tired of pumpkin by the end of fall, but come December, I’m baking gingerbread cookies like every week.
Lucy Speaking of fall, we love that you have so many recipes that involve seasonal ingredients like pumpkin and squash and sweet potatoes and more. I want to highlight an autumn-inspired recipe of yours and learn the story behind it!
Andrea Yeah! One of my favorite recipes is the sheet pan pork chops with the sweet potatoes and apples. This recipe came about because I love to keep those sliced prepared apples in the fridge for my kids' snack. I don't know why, but I had so many of them in the fridge one particular day. So I just combined them with some sweet potatoes and pork chops. It became a really great recipe and my kids loved that the sweet flavors combined with the savory flavors. It has actually become a favorite in my house!
Lucy : As I said, we're obviously so excited to be able to host your recipes on our platform which curates recipes from all over the world! We take the top recipes and put them on our platform because our goal is to make the recipes and the work of creators, actually a reality in people's homes. We want them to not just look beautiful, but actually be cooked, and eaten, and enjoyed.
Being able to share your work adds an extra level of beauty, seasonality and healthy Southern flare to our platform. We're curious... What makes you excited to be partnered with Meal Hero?
Andrea: I think it's the best thing. My life is pretty busy and I know like a lot of people probably have the same busy lifestyle; whether it's kids, work, or whatever you have going on. But Meal Hero takes the stress out of trying to figure out, “Okay, what can I cook? What can I have lined up for the week? ”It helps you to choose meals, maybe even try something different that you haven't cooked before. Then it puts the ingredients into a list so you can get what you need - super convenient. I feel like it's kinda been a lifesaver and I’m glad to share the experience with others.
Meal Hero : Wow, such kind words! We are excited to partner with Andrea too and love how we align on the vision to make cooking at home easier.