Ever wondered how the healthy recipes here on Wholesome Yum come about? (Over 1000 of them and counting!) Today, I’d like to share more about the process with you. There’s actually a lot that goes into it!
I’ve come a long way from the early days of food blogging, when I worked on this little project all by myself and thought I could just make a dish once before throwing it on the website. Not anymore!
For many years now, a lot of careful planning and testing has gone into my recipes, and I try to be thoughtful in writing notes to help you make them successfully. I also update recipe posts often to add any new information I discover when making them again.
Today, there are 9 of us on the Wholesome Yum team (learn more about me and the team here), and I have a few cookbooks (including a USA Today Best Seller), a small zero sugar food product line, and a mobile app. But my recipes are still the cornerstone of it all.
How I Select Recipes
There are six main aspects I consider when deciding what recipes I will develop:
I draw inspiration for recipes from many different sources. Here are some of the different ways that I come up with recipe ideas:
- Travel – I love to travel and experience the cuisine of different cultures. My husband and I try to do a local food tour whenever we visit different places in the world. I also completed some local cooking classes in a few European countries, including Italy, Spain, and France, which was so much fun!
- Childhood – Food has a way of bringing me back to memories of being a kid. Both of my grandmothers were amazing cooks and made foods from scratch. Unfortunately I don’t have many of their recipes, but do my best to recreate what I remember. My parents worked a lot when I was growing up, so my mom cooked mostly quick and simple meals… which happen to be the kind of thing I enjoy creating myself as an adult. You’ll see these types of meals here on Wholesome Yum the most! I also picked up some experience with American dishes from my childhood best friend’s house, as her dad was a chef.
- Restaurant industry – I worked as a server at numerous restaurants in high school and college. While I was not personally cooking the food, working in the restaurant business actually meant I spent a lot of time back in the kitchen, watching what the chefs did. And because I found it interesting, I picked up as much as I could about their techniques from this experience. Many of my dishes are inspired by having worked at American, Mexican, Greek, and Italian restaurants.
- Books – I’ve had many cookbooks over the years, but the three that have helped me the most are take an informational approach to cooking and why things work the way they do. (I always have to know the why!) I learned a lot from this one about flavor pairings, this one about the science of cooking, and this one about writing recipes properly.
- Pairings – Sometimes, when I am making a recipe, I realize that it would go very well with something else that I don’t have a recipe for yet. This makes me want to create the one that’s missing!
- Friends & family – If a friend or family member tells me about something they tried in their own kitchen, I often want to try it, too! I tend to change it up and put my own spin on it, but sharing ideas is what cooking is all about. I also get inspired by my kids when they try a dish somewhere and ask if I can make it, so naturally I try to make my own original version of it.
- Reader requests – I love hearing from my readers and learning what you like to see! When I get enough requests for a certain type of recipe, I try to make one.
Whole Foods, No Refined Sugar
I’m devoted to eating — and creating recipes with — whole, real food. I just don’t believe that our bodies were intended to eat the heavily processed packaged foods on the shelves these days. And I find it a lot of fun to figure out how to make traditionally more processed dishes healthier! So, I always prioritize:
- Fresh produce – This is the foundation! I think we can all agree that we could use more vegetables, so most of my healthy side dish recipes feature different kinds of veggies. I incorporate them into virtually every meal! I enjoy fresh fruit as well, but cooking vegetables in a delicious way is kind of like my food love language.
- Unprocessed proteins – I create a lot of recipes with different cuts of chicken (chicken breast, chicken legs, etc.), fish (like salmon and cod), and grass-fed steaks and ground beef.
- No white flour – In fact, my entire website is gluten free, and many of my recipes are low carb. There are plenty of more nutrient-dense alternatives, like almond flour.
- No refined sugar – I’m fiercely passionate about this one! Sugar can cause so many issues for people, and it has gotten so bad here in America that the FDA updated their guidelines to limit added sugar. My recipes use zero added sugar. Instead, I take advantage of the natural sweetness of fruits and vegetables when I can, but for those times that I want a sweet sauce or healthy treat, I use my natural zero sugar honey and zero sugar maple syrup.
What’s In Season
I strive to buy what’s in season as much as I can, and to publish recipes using seasonal produce. Vegetables and fruits at their peak are simply better tasting, more fresh, and more cost effective. For example, I make asparagus in the spring, zucchini in the summer, butternut squash in the fall, and soups in the winter.
The truth is, though, it takes a long time to develop a recipe, photograph it, write out all my tips and tricks to make it, and for my team and I to cross all the i’s and dot the t’s that it takes to publish it. This means that I develop recipes 2-3 months before they publish, and photograph them at least 45 days out. Often that forces me to buy produce before it’s in season, which is certainly challenging at times. (Have you ever tried to find an acorn squash in July?!) Sometimes I have to test and photograph almost a whole year in advance to get quality veggies.
The good news is, each recipe gets published at just the right time for you to enjoy it when it tastes best! And luckily, many ingredients are versatile enough to use year round.
With each recipe I create, I first decide what flavor profile I want it to have. Will it be Italian, Asian, or Mexican inspired? Or is it just an American dish? This helps me brainstorm which ingredients and seasonings will pair well together.
Make It Unique
My cooking is simple, and I don’t try to reinvent the wheel, but I do like to come up with an original twist on recipes people might be looking for. I love the opportunity to create my own (healthier) versions of classic dishes.
That being said, I also enjoy creating tutorials for basic ways to cook various foods. In those cases, I incorporate the tips and tricks I learned from my experience making them. My goal is always for you to learn something new and get a flavorful result you want to make again!
Easy To Make
If there’s one thing I hear from readers over and over (and over), it’s that you want easy recipes without too many ingredients. And I feel the same way!
That’s why all my recipes use 10 ingredients or less. In fact, it’s a fun challenge for me to take a dish that normally needs many ingredients and bring it back to the basics with fewer ingredients. I try not to make fussy, complicated recipes with too many steps, either.
My Testing Process
Before I ever get in the kitchen to test, I sit down at my laptop and brainstorm what might go into the recipe I want to create. I take into consideration all the factors above to decide on the main ingredients, flavor profile, and cooking method. Then, I make notes for what aspects I want to test:
- How much of this or that ingredient?
- How long does each step take?
- What size and material of pan works best?
- Is something missing that I might want to add?
Finally, I do my testing. I have a kitchen assistant that helps me prepare, usually a day or two beforehand. She gathers the ingredients I’ll need, thaws anything frozen, and chops whatever can be cut ahead of time. The day of, I make the recipe myself and write out any notes I discover while making it — adjustments to amounts, cook times, anything I decide to add, and so on.
More often than not, I test my recipes by making them for dinner for my family and friends! That way, I can get their feedback and not rely solely on my own taste buds. If something doesn’t turn out as expected or my taste testers are not thrilled with it, I make it again another day, as many times as it takes to get it just right.
Sometimes, I schedule out long testing days where I test multiple recipes in one day. I usually do this with recipes where it would be more helpful to make them a couple times in a row and compare the different results.
Once I am confident that a recipe meets my high standards, I make it a final time just to make sure I get a consistent outcome.
Delicious recipes are a must, but we eat with our eyes first, so I aim to take photos that showcase the texture of the food and help you imagine what it will taste like before making it. It has taken years of practice to learn what it takes to achieve that, and it’s always a work in progress.
I typically schedule an 8-10 hour photo shoot at least once a month with my kitchen assistant, who helps me with measuring out ingredients, chopping, and cleanup. Those are very long, tiring days, as I make and photograph 8-10 recipes in one day. This includes not only the final dish, but also a shot of all the ingredients and one of each step, so that you can see exactly how the process looks.
I take my recipe pictures using a Canon 5D Mark IV camera. Because these are long shoot days that are planned far in advance, I can’t rely on natural light. I use a flash inside this softbox and a transmitter that fires the flash when I click the shutter. Having reliable lighting has been incredibly helpful in getting consistent photos.
Have More Questions?
I hope this was helpful to see a peek behind the curtain!
The number 1 reason I create these recipes is for YOU, my readers. It’s humbling and gratifying to see my work being a part of the special moments in your life — and to hear that they help make your hectic, busy days just a little bit easier and healthier.
If you have more questions, you can contact me and my team here. I love hearing from you!