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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Simply healthy: Chef Carly Paige’s everyday cooking method works

With the rise of vegan and plant-based shops and restaurants everywhere, many people’s eating habits have become a push-pull kind of mentality. Some link healthy eating with deprivation and diet, while others try to decipher between vegan and plant-based foods.

“Are all vegan foods healthy?” That’s a popular question. And the answer is no. There’s a lot of vegan junk food out there. So, beware! It’s like people trusting food labels just because they say “Organic” or “Gluten Free,“ thinking it’s good for them. “Not necessarily the case,” says Carly Paige, chef, and author of Simply Swapped Everyday.

According to Paige, 32, healthy eating doesn’t have to be difficult. It doesn’t need to be restrictive. It doesn’t have to be boring. But, it does need to be an everyday affair. In her cookbook, released in the fall of 2019, she explains how her “swapped” method works. In a nutshell, it is a simple guide to healthy eating. It does not focus on today’s trendy vegan foods, and for many, it is more than just a dietary restriction, it is a lifestyle.

The Simply Swapped method is not about “what not to eat,” but rather, it is about enhancing the quality of food, that over time, will crowd the other things out and change your cravings. With more than 75 plant-powered recipes that incorporate different foods into your day, and into your diet—Paige’s cookbook inspires people to find small ways to add nutrients to their plates and even a big bang for their buck!

Chef Carly Paige’s everyday cooking method works
Cover of the book by Chef Carly Paige, “Simply Swapped Everyday”

The CEO and founder of Fit Living Eats, started her company in her hometown of Orlando, Florida. Her brand has grown in status, if not in size, and that’s okay by Paige. She enjoys balancing her day with her plant-based customized chef service, cooking classes, and workshops—serving people weekly meals or teaching people how to cook delicious foods and “being present with those around you.” While she attended Palm Beach Atlantic University, where she received a bachelor’s degree in marketing and communications, she learned the art of finding true business success—by listening to people’s needs and wants. This is what led her to write Simply Swapped Everyday.

Her cookbook is beautiful, the perfect cocktail table book that displays the recipes with well-designed pictures. But unlike many of its kind, this cookbook is to be used every day. The key, the author observes, is consistency, not perfection.

The book’s front matter is illustrated like a guide. Paige gives you tips for shifting to plant-based meals and shows you how to balance your plate so you can fuel your day for real. She lists fibers, healthy fats, and proteins, and describes how these levels work to increase your immune system. But perhaps one of my favorite sections aside from the simple, plant-powered recipes found in the rest of the book is “The Great Sugar Swap” on page 23. Here, she explains how to incorporate more nutrient-rich foods into your day naturally while crowding out those unhealthy processed sugary foods, like donuts, pastries, and cakes . . . you know, the things we shouldn’t have, but crave!

Her “Seasonal Produce Guide” is another helpful section, where she divides fruits and vegetables by seasons and those that are usually available, like garlic, onions, and mushrooms. This is followed by a chapter called “Shop Like a Grocery Store Pro,” where she instructs her readers on three things: 1. Never shop hungry. 2. Shop prepared. And 3. Save your pennies with some great money-saving tips.

And then there are the recipes. . . every day is an adventure with Simply Swapped. One of my favorite recipes is the Simple Veggie Skillet Frittata on page 93 and the Zesty Lemon Energy Bites on page 159. Delicious, every bite.

Paige is a Sunshine State native who has never lived outside of Florida, except for the time she attended culinary school in Los Angeles, California. “I love it here. My family is here. I like being close to home,” she says. And that’s where we found her this summer cooking up a storm in her kitchen.

When did you get inspired to write the book?

Business experts always say that you will be successful in business if you’re listening to your customers, clients, or your target market, versus putting something out there that you think they need, but don’t think they need. So, I listened to the people. I had so much information in so many different places, and my diehard followers and fans were saying, “Can you just put it all in one place so that I can print it and digest it?” So, I did.

How was the book production process?

It was actually very quick and seamless. I had most of the content that is in the book. It was just a matter of reorganizing it and creating some brand-new recipes. I self-published my book. I worked together with my graphic designer and we released it three months later.

What is your favorite recipe in the book?

I would say it is my front-runner recipe across the board, and what people choose at cooking classes the most—Black Beans and Spinach Enchiladas. They are really easy to make and every time we make them in my cooking classes, people always comment: “I don’t even miss the meat or the cheese!” They are so satisfying and good.

Chef Carly Paige’s everyday cooking method works
Enchiladas as prepared by Chef Carly Paige (Photo courtesy of Carly Paige)

Did you always grow up eating healthy?

I grew up with my mom making most of our meals at home. However, they were not all very healthy and nutrient-forward. Back then, I thought that if a meal ended up on the table, it was healthy and delicious for me because it was homemade. And so, it didn’t matter if it was chicken baked in cream of mushroom soup or homemade pizza made with Pillsbury Crescent Rolls dough! [she laughs] Delicious! But, not necessarily healthy and good for you. Because my mom really valued home-cooked food, we spent a lot of time in the kitchen together and many of our memories are of the two of us in the kitchen.

What was your first recipe?

I created my own recipe when I was 10, and it was Confetti Pasta. It’s a beef and vegetable dish.

Cooking has always been a way to connect with other people. Whether it was with my mom, my grandmother, friends, or family. . . we always came together around food. That’s why I love doing what I do because it is a way to bring people together and share that memorable space with them. A lot of those recipes in my book were inspired by those comfortable foods with which I grew up. Giving old familiar recipes a healthy spin to make them more nutritious is what I do.

How can food make a difference in people’s lives?

I believe in the power of food. Not only to heal your body from the inside out but also to bring more awareness to your lifestyle as a whole. For me, that’s how my own shift came to be. I grew up with really severe acne, and I had pretty debilitating anxiety. When I started to shift my diet, not only did I start feeling better and looking better, but I started paying attention to what was on my plate and how that food was making a difference in how I felt. It also led to an awareness of other things that were contributing to those issues that I was experiencing and coming up against.

Many times, people don’t know what to do, particularly with plant-based foods. So, how is your book helpful?

Many people think of vegetables but only a couple of veggies as sides. But, there’s so much power in learning how to unlock different ingredients and combine them together. My book teaches people how to make it simple. I help them go back to the basics and make cooking uncomplicated and fun!

You may follow Carly Paige @fitlivingeats on social media. For more recipes and content similar to what’s in the cookbook, visit: www.fitlivingeats.com

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