I was blown away by Megan’s story – both in the health improvements her family had through dietary changes, and by the way they have brought real food to their community. Megan and her family now not only eat delicious nourishing food, but they have recovered from a wide variety of health issues since changing their diets. I hope you find her story as inspiring as I did!
Megan has a beautiful blog sharing lovely grain-free recipes, but she and her husband also own a Traditional/Paleo Cafe, and she has recently written a beautiful grain-free cookbook. (You can get her hardcopy via my affiliates Amazon, EAT BEAUTIFUL: Grain Free, Sugar Free, and Loving It, or get the eBook copy here). This lady has a lot of real-life experience to bring, and I am so thrilled to have her sharing with us here.
Q: When did you get interested in cooking?
Megan: I took my first gourmet cooking class when I was 12. I still have those recipes. The love I had for cooking came from my mom, who cooked from scratch, mostly authentic Mexican and French food. Her food was always gourmet, but unpretentious. So my interest sprang from her example. After that first cooking class I started innovating recipes and mailing them in to adult cooking contests. (I never won and was always surprised, lol.) But the love of cooking never ceased. It is woven into me, instinctual and usually effortless, unless I am tired at the end of a day!
Q: I understand that diet and healing food has been an important part of your family’s journey in recovering from a variety of health issues. Can you tell us about that?
Megan: Sure, I’d love to. Our family was practicing a Traditional diet in the early 2000s, making homemade gluten-free sourdough, fermenting veggies and loving kefir. (We were trying to improve the diet we formerly had thought was healthy: lots of granola, whole wheat bread and standard American foods like lasagna, yogurt and plenty of Ben & Jerry’s.) My kids were all born with, or soon after developed, serious health issues: asthma being the worst, in addition to eczema, dyslexia, and constipation. I personally had been diagnosed with heart disease, that I was told was terminal. I also had a rash all over my face, an autoimmune disease, arthritis, extreme pathogen overgrowth and leaky gut, and a bladder disease, called Interstitial Cystitis. I am amazed even now looking back at that list!
By 2010 we were in bad shape, loving life and each other, but definitely desperate and willing to do what it would take to get well. A friend told me about the GAPS Diet and we literally started the very next day.
It was hard! I fed fatty soup and connective tissue to three kids and myself all day every day, trying to win them over to the purpose. We drank ginger honey tea between meals with relish! My pathogen overgrowth was starving for the sugar I had been eating daily up until that point; and I was basically knocked out with what’s called The Herxheimer Reaction, or die off. I was in bed with no strength for two weeks. My sister came as often as she could to take care of our kids while my husband filled in for me at work. Those days are all blurry now: fatty broth, not being able to get out of bed and persevering kids is all I remember!
We got through the worst transition. I learned to make delicious soups; and at various points in the process, to make a long story short, we healed ourselves, or put our diseases into remission. I am still figuring out my Hashimoto’s (which is actually the third of three autoimmune diseases I’ve had), but have seen tremendous improvement with it. I have loved seeing my energy and ability to sleep well restored! My daughter’s asthma is indeed in remission. We’ve seen huge strides in my son’s dyslexia. And there are no constipation or rashes to speak of. My bladder disease went into remission about a year and half ago, when I went onto the GAPS Introduction diet for the second time. My heart is well and turned out to be a misdiagnosis (such a scary and horrible one!) of an esophageal expression of leaky gut. My other two autoimmune diseases are in remission as well.
Regular bone broth consumption, eliminating grains, and foregoing refined sugars are the key points of our healing diet. Including food-sourced probiotics with every meal, being willing to give up certain trigger foods, and learning what choice supplements we needed were all instrumental to our progress as well.
Q: Your story is amazing! Thanks for sharing it with us. Many people think of being on a healing diet as restrictive and horrible, but you describe your family sitting down to three feasts every day. Tell us more about what your daily eating habits look like.
Megan: Yes, we really do. But as I mentioned above it didn’t start out that way. In the beginning our soups were always brothy. I learned instead to make bisques with bone broth and to use good sea salt, fresh and dried herbs, as well as healing ingredients that taste great like fresh ginger and grass-fed butter or coconut cream. Broths are lovely; but one can’t have a sloshy belly after every meal. We need stews, substance, pith. We need to feel satisfied.
I also started baking. One major pitfall for those who try the GAPS diet is eating too many baked goods! We succumbed to this as well. But my belief is actually that this process helped us. While I knew it wasn’t ideal long term, it helped win my kids over to the diet, while our sugar addictions faded, to have alternatives. They needed those baked goods emotionally. We all did, so we wouldn’t feel like we were starving.
Eventually, we were able to transition into our current diet, which is much more balanced. We love baked goods still; but we’re careful to rotate the kinds of treats we eat so we’re not getting too many nuts, for instance, or too much coconut flour.
Most importantly, by emphasizing seasonal produce and trying to buy it locally, the beauty of the savory food comes through.
We get excited about local salmon, venison my husband hunts, a lamb from a friend’s farm. We delight in summer tomatoes and peas. The kids help in my mom’s garden, harvesting cantaloupes, and heirloom honeydews. When we sit around the table we look at the food, feel in awe of its beauty, and talk about it while we pass the dishes of alluring meat and produce.
A lesser known secret about healing diets is that after you have stripped down to the basics, the beauty of whole foods becomes more pronounced. Foods sweetened with refined sugar, and convenience items from Trader Joe’s freezer section, will never make us marvel. When we take away the tongue thrill and short-lived energy surges that come from too much dessert, and we take away the convenience of factory-made foods, we are left with whole foods: grapes, olives, cheese, cream, raw milk, fresh herbs, edible flowers, winter squash, sausages, prosciutto, garlic and the list goes on and on.
These are all healing foods, depending on each individual. A gorgeous loaf of bread or grain-free muffins can be a welcome addition. But when you focus on the bounty that nature creates, you no longer feel deprived.
Our kids get really excited about pancakes, waffles, all fresh fruit etc. They love treats. But they have a negative interest in factory made candies, bakery cakes or sugary confections. The GAPS diet has given us that gift. We still love dessert. But we have a new perspective. We don’t feel like we’re missing out. We genuinely love our diet and the treats within it that bless our bodies.
Q: What is your absolutely favorite food to eat?
Megan: Raw milk ice cream. I like it best for breakfast, served on top of a high-protein waffle. For about a year now I’ve flourished drinking raw milk. I make homemade ice cream often, probably 3 times a week, sweetened with honey. My favorite flavors include decaf. coffee, lavender and mint chocolate chip.
(It’s hard for me not to add… I also love leg of lamb slow-cooked stew, barbecued quail, oven-roasted vegges, and warm custard poured over grain-free cake!)
Q: Tell us about your new cookbook! Who would most benefit from it?
Megan: The cookbook is called EAT BEAUTIFUL: Grain Free, Sugar Free, and Loving It, which is, of course, our family’s story. It’s a book of alternatives. So someone who is trying to eat healthier or to succeed on a healing diet will find inspirational recipes.
It is primarily a book of treats, because they’re what got us through in the beginning and because we all need good alternatives to old favorites, either to lessen our overall refined-sugar intake, or so we don’t sabotage a healing process.
I wanted the treats to taste classic: chocolate chip cookies, apple pie, blueberry muffins. I also wanted them to digest well. I came up with a new grain-free baking technique that doesn’t use almond flour, meal or butter (which can be high in antinutrients and omega-6s) and doesn’t rely on coconut flour. We loved the recipes I created so much and did so well on our diet that I wanted to share our methods and recipes.
The book does have savory foods as well: casseroles, pizza, meat muffins and excellent bread recipes.
Anyone who enjoys substituting maple syrup, coconut sugar, honey or stevia for refined sugar will enjoy the book’s variations. Anyone who has food intolerances will appreciate the many recipes: some dairy-free, some nut-free, some coconut or egg-free. In addition to those who follow GAPS and AIP diets, those who love Traditional and Paleo recipes will enjoy this cookbook.
Q: I love that you also bring real food to your community in a variety of ways – including through a frozen yogurt shop! Tell us more about those projects.
Megan: It is gratifying to meet with people in our community who need healing, too! I teach cooking classes from our cafe. They started with an emphasis on Weston A. Price foods: sauerkraut, homemade yogurt, sourdough and fermented beverages. When we switched our own diet to grain-free and sugar-free, I shifted my classes to teach bone broth, soups, juicing and grain-free baking, while still continuing to share fermented vegetables and yogurt.
Our current cafe is actually the third location we opened. It’s the one we are the most passionate about, because it helps people while also providing great victuals! We started our business, called Vanilla Jill’s, as a kefir-based soft-serve frozen yogurt shop. It was so much fun to serve beautiful homemade kefir from machines that had once been used by TCBY! We also sold vegan soft-serve flavors made with creamy cashew milk that we made ourselves or coconut milk. Those were fun days; (but I ate our product too often and it was sweetened with organic sugar). We also offered kombucha on tap just as people were beginning to discover it.
As we changed our diet we opened our second location which served the same treats but with an added, new emphasis on refined sugar-free options like spirulina smoothies and honey-sweetened flavors. Our final location brought soups, stews, bone broth and Paleo sandwiches to a different part of town, as well as 24 flavors of grass-fed ice cream and frozen yogurt, including vegan and creme fraiche flavors. Many of these are honey or maple syrup sweetened.
My cookbook was, in part, an answer to customers’ requests. They wanted the Paleo sandwich bread recipe or the Avocado Berry Pie recipe or the Chocolate Ganache recipe. They wanted to know how to make Carrot-Cinnamon Frozen Yogurt.
We ended up closing our first two locations because we were stretched too thin. I home schooled our three kids, worked at all three locations, was writing the cookbook and my husband was working really long hours. We chose the location that promoted health and healing the most, the one with an affordable rent, the one that had the most potential, to pour our efforts into. This consolidation has allowed us to keep enjoying our work!
I am, finally, a Recipe Consultant. This means I meet with patients referred to me by gastroenterologists and naturopathic doctors, who need help implementing their healing diets. I share recipes, ingredients, insights and my own experiences with supplements about which they can then ask their practitioners. It is a joy to help those who feel stuck and need someone to point them to their next steps in getting well or in finding contentment.
Thanks so much for sharing with us, Megan!
Megan: Thank you, Kimi! It’s been my privilege to share.
I know that many of you will also love her cookbook, so check it it out! Look at the hardcopy here,EAT BEAUTIFUL: Grain Free, Sugar Free, and Loving It, or get the eBook copy here.
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