Inspiring Health Pros
Laura Lea Bryant – Chef and Cookbook Author
One of Nashville’s favorites is up on the blog today. I stumbled across Laura Lea’s instagram several years ago and immediately fell in love with her recipes. She has a true gift. She takes comfort food and turns them into healthier, better for you recipes. I don’t think I’ve made one recipe of hers and not loved it….and I’ve made a lot. She has two beautiful cookbooks that are a must have in the kitchen (great Christmas gift idea if you want to get a head start). Laura Lea also just launched her meal planning community (I joined it myself) and it’s a game changer. If you are looking for a simple way to meal plan, shop, and save money then look no further and head to her website to learn more. Her goal is to use everything up from your grocery haul for the week…YES!! Not only is she an amazing chef and cook book author but she is so kind and down to earth. I’ve had the opportunity to attend a private cooking class in her home and talked to her at an event and it’s like talking to your best friend. She’s warm and welcoming. Thanks, Laura Lea, for taking the time to give us a peek inside your health journey.
LAURA LEA BRYANT
What is your occupation?
Chef and Cookbook Author
How did you choose this career?
When I graduated from the University of Virginia and began my post-collegiate life as a paralegal in New York City, I experienced a lot of anxiety. The city and I were like oil and water, and my anxiety grew worse over time: heart-palpitations, panic attacks, even some agoraphobia. I spent my first three city years trying to party the pain away, drinking, ordering greasy takeout and sleeping poorly. Finally, I realized my tactic wasn’t working—it was actually exacerbating the problem. I started to spend my weekends differently. I got plenty of rest, drank very rarely, and I used the daylight hours to wander around the farmer’s markets. I’d grab some beautiful local produce, then head home to cook a delicious, nourishing meal.
After several months of these changes, and my anxiety improved dramatically. I discovered the powerful connection between food and our mental/emotional health. Plus, I’d been smitten by the cooking bug. I searched for wellness-focused culinary schools, and I found the Natural Gourmet Institute in NYC. I enrolled soon after, graduated the following August, and I moved home to Nashville to begin my business, Laura Lea Balanced.
What do you love about what you do?
Pretty much everything! I find incredible joy in connecting with my community, in cooking/testing, in food photography, in writing recipes, cookbooks and meal plans, in collaborating with my team. I just love my job!
When you first started living a healthy lifestyle, did you have a mentor or did you find more success doing it on your own?
I had a lot of mentors! All of my culinary school classmates inspired me in various and wonderful ways—they became my family. We were a diverse group, but we shared similar priorities and purpose, and we encouraged each other every step of the way. My mom has been, unknowingly, my lifelong culinary mentor. She made beautiful, from-scratch meals for our family almost every single night of my childhood. This laid the foundation for my career many years later, as I understood that cooking is as much about community as it is about nutrients. And then, Alice. Alice Randall taught an elective course that I took as a freshman in high school. Many years my senior, we still connected immediately, and she became a dear friend and mentor. She gave me my first job post-culinary school, making snacks and beverages for Vanderbilt students.
What pushes you out of your comfort zone?
Whatever I really WANT to do, but I’m scared to do it. Any time I start a new aspect of my business, or I make changes to an already-existing aspect, I am terrified. So I know that it’s exactly what I need to be doing. I definitely experience a little bit of “imposter syndrome”, but I think most people do. What’s more important is just taking steps forward, in spite of fears, rather than trying to eliminate them.
What kind of workout do you do, how many days per week do you workout, and for how long?
It changes from year to year, season to season. Recently, my boyfriend and I have fallen in love with long bike rides. It’s a lovely way to experience your own city from a new perspective. We also enjoy F45 classes several times per week, and we feel like our particular location is taking proper precautions. My one consistent form of exercise is walking—I walk almost every day, 365 days per year. It doesn’t have to be a long walk, even 20 minutes will do. But it helps with my mental health, sleep and creativity.
What does a typical day of eating look like for you?
I know this sounds like an obnoxious answer, but I really don’t have a typical day… I mean, truly. It varies based on my schedule, my hunger levels, the type of exercise I’m doing, what’s available in the pantry/fridge etc. So I will share what I ate yesterday, but again; I really don’t have a ‘normal’ or ‘routine’ food day!
Breakfast: Siggis yogurt with organic blueberries and Nature’s Path granola
Lunch: Avocado Toast with Manna Organics Sourdough Bread, Trader Joes Everything But the Bagel Seasoning and a handful of Dot’s Pretzels.
Dinner: Garlic Chive Mashed Potatoes and Pulled BBQ Instant Pot Chicken, both homemade. I’m testing the mashies for a blog post soon! I had a few store-bought marinated beets while my food was heating up.
Snacks: Daily Crunch Sprouted Almonds, Trader Joes Dark Chocolate Almond Butter Cups, Swedish Fish (yep!), more Dot’s Pretzels.
What inspires you to live a healthy and active life?
Spending time in nature, feeling the vibrancy that comes from physical movement (I love to sweat!), having the energy to produce and add value to my community, feeling peaceful and content (but not complacent), instead of the anxiety roller coaster. Perhaps most importantly, I’m inspired to take care of myself so that I can best connect with my loved ones.
How do you stay motivated on a daily basis?
I’m not sure I do stay motivated on a daily basis, truthfully. Most days I’m motivated by the people I serve and by my imaginings—new recipes and photoshoots are always swirling in my head. But I have plenty of days where I don’t feel particularly motivated, and there are certain business/administrative tasks that are downright unpleasant. But I don’t believe that we NEED to be motivated to do good work. You just do it anyway. Because we’re physically and mentally capable of whatever that task is, regardless of whether or not we want to do it. I look forward to the feelings of accomplishment and productiveness that come afterwards!
How do you handle unhealthy cravings?
Firstly, I try not think of my cravings as healthy or unhealthy. When I categorize cravings, I automatically find myself assigning guilt/shame or pride, and really… food shouldn’t elicit those feelings. Instead, I try to ask myself “does this craving serve me right now?”. Sometimes, the handful of Swedish fish or scoop of Jenis Ice cream DOES serve me! Sometimes, it’s not worth it—if I’m run-down or just looking to ‘escape’ from myself. In my experience, thoughtfully enjoying ‘treats’ or traditionally ‘unhealthy’ foods has a natural limit, and then my body wants nourishment and whole foods.
What would you say is the key to balancing it all?
I have no idea, but please do share if you do and let me know! For me, balance is about intuition and understanding your own bio-individuality. Life will never look like ‘traditional’ balance. There will always be elements that take up more of our time and focus. There will be stressors, surprises and even tragedy. But we can still take care of ourselves, if we are checked in to what our bodies are telling us. Do YOU know what YOU need when it comes to self-care, regardless of what works for everyone else? Do YOU know what it looks like when YOU are anxious, unusually reactive etc. I encourage every single person to focus less on all of the information ‘out there’ and on wellness ‘gurus’, and to start to turn inward. We are all wildly different. Becoming your own wellness guru is the best tool for maintaining a sense of balance in our lives. Self-knowledge allows you to tweak and course-correct, and it gives you control over your own circumstances.
What is your favorite workout apparel?
Here’s my workout wear breakdown!
1) Leggings: Lululemon. They truly last forever and they’re not see-through! I also think Electric & Rose makes beautiful pieces. I don’t love sweating in them, but they’re great for yoga.
2) Shorts: Champion. I think they’re really flattering, timeless and breathable.
3) Sports bras: Outdoor Voices. I love the high neck/coverage they offer. I also adore the Free People Happiness Runs crop for lower-impact exercise.
4) Tank tops: I get my tanks all over. Target, Lulu, Z Supply, ABLE. I just look for anything that’s soft and breezy!
If you could only pick one exercise or movement to do everyday that would be amazing for your body, what would it be?
Walking. It’s definitely one of the most important ways that I take care of myself mentally, emotionally and physically. It’s moving meditation!
What advice would you give to people to be their healthiest and best self?
Talk to yourself and create thought patterns about yourself based on who you want to be, how you want to show up on the world. Don’t turn your past into the present, and don’t get hung up on your stories. If you begin to practice thoughts that indicate your healthiest, most actualized self, you’ll make choices accordingly.
Please share your favorite healthy recipe.
Oh gosh that’s like picking a favorite child! But, this recipe has been on repeat in my home AND has been really popular with my community, so hopefully your community will enjoy it as well!
Grain-Free Chocolate Chip Vanilla Cake Loaf
Yield: 6-8 slices
1 ½ cups blanched almond flour
¾ cup coconut flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon sea salt
3 large eggs, room temperature
¼ cup (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature (sub melted coconut oil)
½ cup unsweetened applesauce, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ cup coconut sugar
¼ cup monkfruit sweetener (sub more coconut sugar)
⅔ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
Optional: 5 ounces chocolate frosting (I love Simple Mills brand)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line a standard loaf tin with nonstick parchment paper overhanging the sides by at least 1”. I like using binder clips to hold down the sides (you can keep them on during baking).
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together almond flour, coconut flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, butter, applesauce, vanilla, coconut sugar and monkfruit.
Add wet ingredients to dry and stir until evenly incorporated. Fold in chocolate chips.
Turn batter into loaf tin and use a dampened spatula to spread into an even layer. Bake for 45-50 minutes, until a toothpick comes out mostly clean with some small crumbs. Cool in tin 15 minutes, then lift out of tin onto a cooling rack. Cool another 45 minutes before icing and slicing!
Once cooled, leftover loaf will keep tightly sealed at room temperature for three days, the frozen 6-8 months. I don’t recommend refrigerating.