Danielle Brown of Healthy Girl Kitchen on Content Creation, Life Changing Salads, and Introducing Millions to Plant-Based Eating

Danielle Brown, founder, and CEO of Healthy Girl Kitchen joins Elizabeth this week. With her wildly popular brand, Danielle has captivated millions of devoted followers across social media, sharing easy-to-make vegan recipes and insightful tips for healthier eating. In their conversation, Danielle offers some great actionable and easy tips to start eating better, including a few secrets for crafting those stunning and delicious life-changing salads. She talks about content and recipe creation and some fun behind-the-scenes moments while making her best-selling cookbook, The Healthy Girl Kitchen. Danielle's genuine passion for plant-based cooking and dedication to her non-judgemental community help make health more approachable.
Eating choices are so connected beyond just your eating choices. It's your emotional relationships, it's the stress in your life. There's so much more involved.
-Danielle Brown


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Podcast transcript below:

Elizabeth Stein 00:00
Hi, everyone. I'm Elizabeth Stein, founder, and CEO of Purely Elizabeth. And this is Live Purely with Elizabeth, featuring candid conversations about how to thrive on your wellness journey. This week's guest is Danielle Brown, founder, and CEO of the wildly popular plant-based lifestyle brand HealthyGirl Kitchen. The New York Times Best Selling cookbook author shares easy-to-make vegan recipes across social media with her millions of devoted followers who want to learn how to eat healthier, fall in love with cooking, and the secrets to making the best plant-based meals. In this episode, Danielle shares her journey from feeling sick in college to taking matters into her own hands, transitioning with small changes to a vegan diet, and launching her blog. We talk about tips for healthy eating, transitioning to a plant-based lifestyle, how she's dealing with being a new mom, her favorites for a life-changing salad and so much more. As a fellow Institute of Integrative Nutrition alumni, I love Danielle's approach to wellness and her judgment-free, inspiring message for all. Keep listening to learn more. If you haven't had the chance to try our grain-free granolas yet, head on over to Walmart to now find them in the gluten-free Healthy Living aisle and select Walmart locations. Our grain-free granola has crunchy clusters of nets, super fruit seeds, and creamy nut butter all baked with organic coconut oil and sweetened with coconut sugar. They are gluten-free, paleo, and keto certified. Use the link in the notes section to find Purely Elizabeth products at a Walmart store near you. Danielle, welcome to the podcast. It's such a pleasure to connect with you. I'm so excited for our conversation today.
Danielle Brown 01:56
I can't wait to hang out. I was just telling you that the first healthy granola I ever bought when I first started to eat healthy, first started to be vegan, you were like my go-to granola and still are. So, thank you. I'm excited to talk.
Elizabeth Stein 02:09
Well, a perfect segue as you said when you just start to eat healthy, so you were not always healthy it sounds like. So that's why and back to your beginning and your journey when you started to eat healthy and what made you change your diet and go on a plant-based vegan diet?
Danielle Brown 02:28
You're right I was not always healthy or thought I was. I think the definition of healthy has changed over time. There were so many trends. But what my mom thought was maybe healthy at the time when she was giving us is not what today's mom is feeding their kids. We didn't do quinoa. There was no avocado toast. It was like special case cereal with berries was the healthy cereal option and that was healthy over something like cocoa puffs or tricks or something like that
Elizabeth Stein 02:58
Where did you grow up?
Danielle Brown 03:00
I grew up in Michigan, right outside Detroit in Farmington, and grew up there. I was born in New Jersey and was raised in Michigan. Pretty small community. I'm Jewish. I went to Jewish private day schools my whole life. So I always went to schools with really small grades. I've pretty much had the same friends my whole life. I now live in Florida. People always like Wonder they always see me traveling to Michigan but I live in Florida now. I just had to escape the cold. The cold is not for me.
Elizabeth Stein 03:32
Well, I just drive back from Florida too and it was a balmy 97 degrees and it felt so good.
Danielle Brown 03:41
It's hot in the summer I have to say it's not my favorite. But I would take three months of a Florida summer over seven-eight months of Michigan winter, cold weather. But yeah, I was not always vegan. I grew up eating meat, dairy, and eggs typical of standard American family dinners. Every night there would be a protein which was like chicken or fish. We didn't eat that much red meat as a family. Some starch and vegetables. My mom cooked dinner every single night. We always had family dinner and I feel like that's where my love for you know food and sharing food with everyone started. And looking back, I love that about my mom and my family. That every single night no matter what, she'd say,” Turn off the TV. Stop what you're doing. Everyone has to come to the table and eat dinner.” So I'm thankful that my mom did that. And I'm excited to do that with my kids. But yeah, we grew up eating meat, dairy, and eggs. When I was in high school, I went vegetarian. But I was an unhealthy vegetarian. I still eat mac and cheese pizza, all the yummy things that you can eat when you still eat dairy. It wasn't till college that I went vegan. So I switched to a plant-based diet during my freshman year. I went to Michigan State University and they're known for their dining halls. Their dining halls are big Basically like mall food courts. They have everything from all-you-can-eat pasta, all-you-can-eat, and omelet stations, they have these make-your-own ice cream cookie sandwich stations. It was amazing. You could pick your cookies. You could pick your ice cream flavor and make your ice cream cookie sandwich. Soft serve machines in the dining halls. They had everything. And this was fun for a semester. But I noticed I started to feel sick after meals. I would get back to my dorm and I'd have the worst stomachache where I felt super fatigued and would need to sleep for three hours. And after a couple of months of doing this, I didn't like the way I felt. I knew that I had to eat healthier for myself. Because it wasn't about weight. It was just how I was feeling inside. And I had no idea how to get healthy. I think that's probably the number one problem for most people. They don't know where to start when they're on their health journey. And that's where I was. But I knew like all the typical stuff, that I probably shouldn't be eating soft-serve three times a day like I was and I'm not exaggerating. After every meal, I'd like to go to the machine and make myself a cone. So, I laid off the sugar a little bit.
Elizabeth Stein 06:10
Was there anyone who had even introduced the idea to you because I think for a lot of people, they might not even connect, like I'm having brain fog, or I'm tired with what they're eating, and correlate that. So that was a step in college for you to know that.
Danielle Brown 06:28
You're right about that. I feel like no one has asked me that before. And it's true, I think probably the first thing someone would do is go to the doctor, tell them the symptoms, and maybe they'd be prescribed medication or they would just be told that it's normal. You're a college student and you're tired because you're staying up partying and not sleeping and you're studying and all those things. But yeah, somehow I made the correlation that I was gaining a little weight. But I also noticed that I knew I wasn't eating healthy. You know if you're eating ice cream three times a day, and you're having Alfredo every night at the pasta bar, that's not the best for you. So I wanted to make a change and slowly started making changes. I was doing it in a dorm and I had limited resources. I didn't have a car, I didn't have a kitchen. I had a mini fridge and a microwave and I didn't have any money. So that didn't help either. But I started microwaving sweet potatoes in my dorm room. I’d go to the dining hall and I just made the salad bar my best friend. I would make these huge salads and I would just go back a million times and they had chickpeas and all kinds of different seeds. And they even had whole wheat pasta in my dorm. I would ask for that at the pasta bar. I started asking for marinara sauce. They would use some mystery oil to saute all the vegetables. Maybe like a corn or a canola and I would ask them to just steam everything with water. And I just started making these small changes. I should say before I started making those small changes, I had stumbled across the idea of a plant-based diet and I watched a couple of documentaries about it and I thought that being vegan was beyond strange. I didn't get how someone could eat meals without having meat because I didn't even really love meat growing up. But like cheese? I was a big cheese gal. I loved fish too, loved salmon, and loved getting sushi with fish in it. So I was just confused about how to make a meal that didn't contain animal products but I decided to try it and that is what led me to being creative like microwaving sweet potatoes in my dorm room. I'd get those microwave rice packets that I’d heat. I found that in my dorm, they sold almost like chickpeas. It was like vegan Chana Masala that you heat it in the microwave but somehow had like healthy ingredients and I’d find rice in the dining hall and then mix it. I got creative and after four months of eating plant-based like this, I didn't miss meat. I didn't miss cheese. But most importantly I felt amazing. I used to suffer from really chronic chest pain, which was like horrible heartburn. And my digestion was awful. This heartburn started when I was 18 years old and lasted through my freshman year of college. But when I went plant-based, that completely went away. I lost 20 pounds again, I wasn't trying to lose weight but I think my body just somehow like found its balance and I had more energy than ever before. I had to take, I'm not kidding, three-hour naps a day because I was so fatigued. I was getting no energy or nutrition from my food. So I just needed to sleep so much. And so much energy. My skin looked amazing. My hair looked great and I felt like my healthiest self but at the same time, I didn't feel deprived and I felt super satisfied with the food I was eating. And I was doing it without a kitchen and making it work in my dorm room. And I'm like, if I can feel this great eating plant-based with limited resources, I want to teach anyone and everyone how to do this. And I didn't know exactly what my path was going to be. But I knew I had to help people be plant-based, or at least eat more plant-based meals. I know it's not realistic to expect everyone to be vegan, but at least learn how to eat a couple of plant-based meals a day or maybe have a plant-based breakfast. That's how the transition happened.
Elizabeth Stein 10:32
Well, it's such an amazing journey for you, especially being in college and getting so creative. Did you have friends or family who were plant-based or anyone around you? What were they saying about this change? And how supportive were they?
Danielle Brown 10:51
My friends and family are not plant based. And my husband who was my boyfriend at the time was not plant-based. He was eating paleo at the time. So he was mainly focusing on animal foods. He was doing the opposite. He was having his seven-egg omelet in the morning and having meat multiple times a day. And when he was paleo, there were some rules like you can't have chickpeas, you can't have rice, and random stuff like that. So we were just on complete opposites of the eating spectrum. But my friends and family were always super supportive. I think it was like maybe the older generation that asked questions like, “Where do you get your protein? Did you tell your doctor that you're doing this? What about one day when you want to have kids? Like, are you gonna go back to eating meat?” I'm like, whoa. It was overwhelming that all of a sudden, people were so concerned. And it's funny. I was eating so unhealthy and wasn't taking care of myself. And here I am eating so well, eating salads and sweet potato and beans and like whole grains and all these amazing foods, and then people become concerned. That is when they were worried about me. But my parents were always super supportive. My mom, I call her 99% plant-based because she has fish once in a while. But she is primarily vegan. And my mother-in-law is now totally plant-based. My husband is now totally vegan. He's even more intense than I am. But yeah, I think I've helped to influence a lot of my friends and family, which I think I always say it's much harder to change your friends and family than it is to help strangers.
Elizabeth Stein 12:42
Oh, boy, the last ones usually follow. So as you talk about influencing, you're in college and feel the amazing benefits of your lifestyle change and want to start helping people. What were those next steps for you in eventually starting HealthyGirl kitchen? What did you study in school?
Danielle Brown 13:03
I studied psychology and had a minor in health promotion. In the psychology part, I just wanted to understand the human mind more. I feel like eating choices are so connected beyond just your eating choices. It's your emotional relationships, it's the stress in your life that there's so much more involved. And I really thought that understanding the human brain a little bit more would help me with that. And then health promotion, I studied nutrition and kinesiology and all those things. But I knew about halfway through college that I wanted to do some program like a health coaching program or which was popular at the time. And I think still is. But I didn't want to do the whole dietitian thing I feel like a lot of dietitians end up in a hospital setting and you're dietetics training, you're often in a hospital setting. It wasn't for me, I just felt like that wasn't the path. I wanted to do something a little bit more informal if that makes sense. I love school. I always did well in school, but I didn't like doing a call to dietetics hours. I'm like I'm done after this. I just need to be done with school.
Elizabeth Stein 14:17
And so much of that too I feel like probably would have included a lot of promotion of dairy and meat and things that probably weren't aligned with you.
Danielle Brown 14:27
For sure. I never thought about going down that path. A lot of people ask me whether I became a dietitian but I didn't. Long story short, did IIN, Institute of Integrative Nutrition, and became certified as a health coach. I had no idea what I was doing. I liked that they also taught you the business aspect of things like we're learning all about health but then also how to start your practice which still as much as they taught you, it's like when I graduated, I still am like okay, now I have to start my own business. But I did and I started getting clients and I started teaching them how to eat plant-based. And at the same time, I decided to post my recipes on a blog, on Instagram and Facebook. But just for fun, I had no intention of creating a business out of it. I had no intention of monetizing a food career of any sort. I simply like when a client would say, “Hey, Danielle, I need a healthy breakfast idea.” I just wanted to be able to tell them, “Hey, go check out my website, or my Instagram or something, and you can find the recipe.” But within a few months, my website started getting 1000s and 1000s of people, my Instagram started getting more followers, and my Facebook page started blowing up and getting a ton of engagement. And people were just really loving my vegan recipes. And my website had enough people where I could then sign on with an ad company, and then gain revenue from people coming to my blog and gaining money from ads. So that was the moment when my eyes were open to being able to make a career out of it. I'm like, I can make money from people coming to my recipe blog. I have so much fun making recipes. This is the best time and I can't believe I can just post this and then I make money from the traffic that comes to the website. So that was like the first little bit of money I started making. But then small brands started reaching out and I started doing some brand work. Nothing can make a living off of but again, it just opened my eyes. Like I'm talking $20 to post something. I'm like $20, I would have made these brownies either way. But it opened my eyes that you could create a career out of social media and recipe blogging. So, I decided to stop health coaching one on one and decided to pursue HealthyGirl Kitchen full-time at the beginning of 2020. It was just 2020 when the pandemic started. My wedding was canceled because of the pandemic. And I'm like, if I'm going to be at home doing nothing and my wedding is canceled, I'm just gonna pour everything into my business. TikTok had just started. I'm like, I'm going to try to figure out this thing. I don't know what TikTok is, but I'm going to start posting recipes there. And then Instagram introduced reels, which was a huge shift for creators going from picture content to video content. And I should say a challenging shift because it's so different being able to succeed in the world of video versus just taking a picture. And then my reel started to do well. I liked making video content, I think it's much easier to teach someone how to make a recipe using a video tutorial instead of a picture. You can in 15 seconds explain to them how to make a recipe and I think it is a much more approachable and relatable way for people to watch the video and say, “Oh, that's not that hard.” So yeah, it started in 2020 and here we are.
Elizabeth Stein 18:02
Now you have almost 4 million followers or something. Insane at that time. That's incredible. But I think you're so right. I think particularly what you're doing is making plant-based vegan food so approachable, so delicious so creative. I feel like when I look at your salads, for example, it's just like, oh, that's such a great idea. It's so creative. Let me add in all the good things, which is what I love about what you're doing, too. It's not just here's a couple of ingredients, but you're adding in all the good things. And you see that it's simple. I can do this in five minutes. I just need to have the ingredients on hand. I'm curious what your first couple of reels or TikToks were that went viral and started to snowball for you.
Danielle Brown 18:56
There was a couple of them so on TikTok, I wanted to create this safe space, a very community aspect to HealthyGirl Kitchen, I wanted people to feel like when they came to my page or when they watch my videos, or when they follow me, subscribe. However they're interacting with my content, I wanted them to feel like they weren't judged in any way. I had followed a lot of vegan creators that unfortunately were super judgmental of anyone who wasn't vegan and their main goal was to convert people to veganism. And again, that would be like my dream if everyone went vegan, especially I'm an ethical vegan as well. You can do what you want with your health, but in terms of animal cruelty and all that, yeah, I would love for everyone to save the animals and not eat them. But again, it's not realistic. So I wanted people to know that when they came to my page, I'm not judging them. Like whether they're vegan, whether they're not whether they just do a meatless Monday, whether they're eating plant-based 50% of the time, I don't care. I'm just here to show you and inspire you to make easy plant-based recipes and show you how to make tofu taste good, show you how to turn chickpeas into brownies, those kinds of things. So I made a couple of videos, just sharing that message and saying, “Hey, I'm Danielle, I'm a nonjudgmental vegan. And here are a ton of free recipes that I'm here to inspire you with and Healthy Kitchen Tips and meal ideas and wellness advice.” And those blew up. People resonated with that because no one wants to be judged. No one wants to feel forced into any lifestyle. So, for anyone who had maybe been thinking about giving up meat, thinking about being vegan, or vegetarian, this was a way to introduce them in a very gentle way. And I think they felt that it was like a safe space to do so. So that on TikTok blew up first. And then on Instagram, it was my life-changing salad series, that did well. They are life-changing. It was my life-changing salad series that like blew up my following. I think. I think the message behind that blowing up is people want easy recipes. There are so many beautiful food accounts on Instagram. But a lot of the food that's posted, it's beautiful, but it's super complicated. No one has time for a lot of it. And I'll never call myself a chef. I love to cook. I love to be in the kitchen. But I'm also busy, I don't have a ton of time. Just because I like to cook doesn't mean I want to be cooking all day. I like to cook but I also really like to eat. So I want to cook something quickly. And I want to eat something that tastes good. So I think that the salads showed people that you could make easy meals that taste great. And also that salads don't have to be boring or just have lettuce and tomato. I post quinoa salads and pasta salads and tortellini salads and fruit salad and everything in between. I just think that it inspired people to not only eat healthier, but it showed them that they can make filling healthy meals that taste good too. And I have to say a lot of the life-changing salads can go in the fridge and they stay good for up to four days. So I encourage all the videos to make a big batch for the beginning of the week. For example, one quinoa salad, make a big batch of that and then you can eat it for four lunches. So you make it once and then it stays good in the fridge and stays tasting fresh. I think people liked that too.
Elizabeth Stein 22:28
Yeah, I think there are so many good nuggets of helpful tips there in getting people to a) cook for themselves, b) add in better ingredients and be healthy, doing it fast and easy. As we're talking about your life changing salads, for anyone who doesn't know what those look like, what tips do you have for just creating such amazingly delicious salads?
Danielle Brown 22:53
Okay, first you need your favorite lettuce. I think lettuce is a very personal thing. So pick your favorite. I love a mix. I think a mix does the best. Like a kale mix with the romaine just so you have the hardiness of kale but the crunch of the romaine and then a couple of your favorite vegetables and then different textures. I would add a crunch of some kind. So maybe a nut, a seed, some croutons, or tortilla chips. You got to have the crunch in there. Some other texture that's maybe soft like a roasted sweet potato I think is amazing and a salad, some grain. Make them hearty and fill them up. I love quinoa, I love doing brown rice. Then I think the best part is the dress. You could have the most amazing ingredients and then if you have no dressing, your salad isn't fun. I am a huge dressing girl. I like my salad probably like overdressed. I don't know about you but when I go to a restaurant, I need an extra side dressing because it's never enough. So I like just having a really good dressing and I think my favorite dressing lately is probably doing just pesto. I just always keep pesto on hand because it can go on pasta, it can go on a salad, it can go on a bowl, you can saute tofu and add it to it. Like if you've pesto on hand, you can freeze it too. It can just really go on anything I have in my cookbook, HealthyGirl Kitchen Cookbook I have my go-to dairy-free pesto recipe. I think a lot of people love pesto, but they want a dairy-free version. I think it's the best pesto. I use nutritional yeast instead of cheese. And it just makes a really good pesto.
Elizabeth Stein 24:37
Since the beginning, Purely Elizabeth has been committed to the healing power of food. We believe there's a direct connection between the health of our farms and soil and the health of our food. That is why I'm so excited to announce our newest product launching. Our number one selling original Ancient Grain Granola is now available in an 18-ounce value size made with regenerative organic certified coconut oil and coconut sugar. For those who are not familiar with regenerative agriculture, it focuses on improving soil health, which is known to help improve crop yields, biodiversity, carbon emissions, and water conservation. You can find our value size at your local Whole Foods Market or on our website at purelyelizabeth.com. If you're interested in learning more about our sustainability journey and how it impacts the delicious food you enjoy, please visit purely elizabeth.com/journey. Enjoy. I just tried Barnana's bite-size. I don't know what they're calling them, those bite chips. Do you know what I'm talking about? I feel like those would be so good in the salad.
Danielle Brown 25:48
Those would be good.
Elizabeth Stein 25:50
Good flavors.
Danielle Brown 25:51
I was eating popcorn the other day. And I'm like, maybe popcorn can make a good crouton. But then I also don't know if the dressing would make it too soft. That was an idea we'll see.
Elizabeth Stein 26:05
As we're talking about tips, I'd love to hear especially with your IIN experience and how you're working with clients. So as you think about it, I'm sure everybody asks you like, what tips do you have for people going vegan? But I think it's more so than that. How to make a change we talked about having people in your life being supportive. Or what are those tips that are helpful that you find, whether it's working with clients, or just people who have asked you?
Danielle Brown 26:37
I think the number one thing is to take things slow, but also to meet yourself where you are. Let's just say, a fake person, Maggie. She goes to McDonald's three times a day. She has a busy life. All she can do is fast food or she thinks all she can do is fast food, she doesn't know how to cook, she has a super busy job. And that's what she's doing. Then on the other hand, you could have Bob, maybe he's mainly vegetarian, but he wants to be vegan, and he has a salmon salad for lunch. And for dinner, he's having maybe a little cheese on his pasta, but he's cooking and he has more of a healthy lifestyle. I think you have to evaluate where you are in your life because no one's going to have the same starting point. So maybe it would be easier for Bob to just quickly transition to being vegan, taking that cheese off his pasta and adding a vegan one. And instead of salmon on his salad at lunch, he's doing a grilled tofu. But then when you have Maggie who's eating fast food three times a day, the changes are gonna have to be a little slower, because when you just tell her to be fully vegan, it's like she has a lot of work to do. And that could be overwhelming. So I would say though as a general rule of thumb, just start with breakfast and have a vegan breakfast every single day or a plant based breakfast or even just a health-conscious breakfast if you're not even ready to make that jump. But do an avocado toast, learn how to make a smoothie, up Google a chia pudding recipe, or learn how to make overnight oats. Like I think overnight oats are some of the best things that you can have for breakfast because you make it the night before and it's ready in the morning. And you don't have to do anything when you wake up. It's just already there. So, I would say start with breakfast. Then once you conquer breakfast and feel confident about that, you can move on to the next thing. But I would just say start with one meal a day.
Elizabeth Stein 28:34
Love that. What's your favorite protein powder?
Danielle Brown 28:36
You try a bunch of them. I always have six of them in my house. I rotate between them. But in general, I like chocolate or vanilla. I genuinely have seven on hand at one time.
Elizabeth Stein 28:52
Which one do you think is good to change it up?
Danielle Brown 28:55
I have a million of them but I would say in terms of protein, I would just make sure that it doesn't have any weird ingredients.
Elizabeth Stein 29:04
Do you have a preference for peas or soy as the source of protein?
Danielle Brown 29:09
I just like to make sure that it's not an isolate. If it's soy, that it's just soy protein. It's not soy protein isolate. There's this brand Wellious where they have an almond protein. It has four ingredients in the whole protein powder. It's super yummy.
Elizabeth Stein 29:31
All right. One other specific question. Favorite tofu brand or type of tofu to look for.
Danielle Brown 29:38
I have this new favorite tofu. I think the brand is Big Mountain Foods. Shout out to them. Not sponsored or anything. I wish they would sponsor me. I love them. But they have soy-free tofu. I don't avoid soy but it just tastes so good. I think I like it better than regular tofu now. I've been eating it almost every day. It's made from fava beans. So look out for it. I get it at Sprouts. But look at the brands, Big Mountain Foods. I don't know if you want to put that in the show notes. But it's delicious. And it has, I think, more protein than regular tofu. I think it digests a little bit better for me, as well. I don't know if that's soy or something, but it's delicious. It gets crispier than regular tofu. I think the biggest difference is it doesn't have the squeakiness that tofu has.
Elizabeth Stein 30:29
That's a great tip. I just had Dr. Li on the podcast. He just had a book about Eat to Beat Your Diet and had 150 foods to heal your gut and help with inflammation and fat burning and metabolism, etc. But he's a big proponent of soy, which I was excited to hear his perspective on because I feel like it's gotten such a bad reputation over the last many, many years. So, it's refreshing that he's like, “No, so it's great for you. And there's like nothing to fear from soy.” So I'm assuming that's your perspective on soy as well.
Danielle Brown 31:08
100% in my cookbook, because one of the number one questions I get is, “Hey, look, I want to make your recipes. But my doctor told me not to eat soy because of hormones or this or cancer.” And so I wrote a whole section in my book about soy and explaining that it's not the devil and it's not the enemy. It has so many health benefits, it prevents breast cancer, and it helps to prevent prostate cancer. And I explain the best ways to consume soy, for example, having whole forms of soy, or less processed soy like tofu, edamame, soy milk versus having a fake vegan meat that's gone through a lot of processing. And it's using soy protein, like a GMO soy protein isolate. That's very different than eating edamame, or having the whole soybean. So I'm a huge soy fan. I eat tofu all the time. Love edamame. When I go out to sushi, love it as a high-protein snack. So, I would say educate yourself definitely on soy, if you're someone who's scared of it or has maybe heard some wellness noise that isn't accurate because it's such a great addition to your diet.
Elizabeth Stein 32:20
But let's talk about your cookbook, which congratulations on becoming New York Times bestselling author. How exciting was that? When you found out?
Danielle Brown 32:28
Thank you. It's honestly surreal.
Elizabeth Stein 32:32
How do you find out?
Danielle Brown 32:34
The New York Times, I think comes out every Thursday. The publishers find out a little bit in advance. My publisher was like, “Okay, we're gonna talk to you Wednesday night, let's schedule a call for 6:30. Because we'll be able to tell you the news in advance. Hopefully, it's good news. And if it's not, then we'll be on a call with you. And we can console you.” They had a Zoom call with me at 630 and told me that I made the list. And it was published that night. Usually, it comes on Thursday, but then I could look it up. And I saw that it was on the list for that week. And seriously, never would have thought. Again, I didn't intend to monetize this business. I love cooking, I would do it for free. I love what I do. I love the creative work in social content creation, and I love creating recipes and cooking. And I seriously loved creating my book. I just feel like it's such an honor that, they felt my book was worthy. So it's very humbling.
Elizabeth Stein 33:45
Well, I'd love to hear a little behind the scenes of your content creation. But then content creation layered in with writing the cookbook and how you do and did all of that. Walk us through a little bit of scheduling, shooting. Do you eat everything that you make? All those fun things.
Danielle Brown 34:08
It was a lot, but I made it structured so that I could get it done. I'm someone that I get overwhelmed easily. I procrastinate on things that overwhelm me. I knew that I needed to be very organized about how I did this. And they gave me a very short timeframe to write all the recipes. I probably had three to four months to write the whole book and do all the pictures. And my husband did all the photography. It was fast. But I think being someone who procrastinates things, was better for me because I think I probably would have procrastinated the last three months of having to do it anyway. So having that short timeframe was great. I had certain days designated to making my reels and social content. And then I had other days dedicated to doing my Cookbook Recipes. We would back. So we do Monday and then film a bunch of videos for the week for social. And then the rest of the days of the week would go towards cookbook shooting. We converted our office at home into a food photography studio so that we could cook everything here. Once the dish was done, we run it over to the food photography studio and take the picture. It didn't make sense to me to hire it out. Because if I was already making the recipe and like making it look great, it would just be a shame to not take the picture. I just felt like it was very productive. My husband thankfully is a great photographer. And he's talented. And so I'm like, let's just use our in-house resources and kill two birds with one stone. So develop the recipes, make them here, and I would style them. And then my husband would take the pictures. That was just pretty much five days a week for three or four months. So, we just banged it out. But that was the schedule. I think the hardest part about making social content and doing the cookbook at the same time was that I had over 100 recipes in the cookbook, and mostly 90% of them were new. I'm like, how am I going to still come up with ideas for social media that don't overlap with my new cookbook recipe? So I had to get creative and think of things that I wasn't putting in the book. But it worked. I like being a new mom now. I don't know, I would love to and I'm hopefully going to do a second book at some point. But I'm glad I didn't have a kid at that point because it was a lot. And I definitely would need to hire a nanny or something because it was a lot of work.
Elizabeth Stein 37:00
Yeah, that sounds super intense. That was what I was trying to wrap my head around doing all the cookbooks and the content at the same time. How do you or where do you draw your creative inspiration from?
Danielle Brown 37:13
I should say also before I answer that, as I have an amazing assistant, her name is Taylor. I couldn't do any of this without her. She grocery shops for me. She helps me clean up, she helps me come up with ideas. She helps me cook. So we would tag team the cooking and then she would prep the next recipe while we were taking pictures. So I have to say it's not like I was alone in the kitchen. I had someone helping me, which I think is important to note. And anyone who's thinking of writing a cookbook or doing that needs another set of hands. And having someone grocery shop for you is the biggest game changer. I wouldn't get anything done if I was doing all the things by myself. So I have to shout her out. And you also asked me if we eat all the food that we made. We tried. Anything I couldn't eat would go to like my in-laws who live in my building.,they were so happy. Every day to my father-in-law, I'm like, “Do you want a California girl veggie sandwich for lunch?” he's like, “Okay.”
Elizabeth Stein 38:15
They are probably then asking you like, “What's on the menu today? What can we anticipate?”
Danielle Brown 38:19
Yes. He’s like, “I was so sad when you were done doing the cookbook.” He's like, “I had all my meals every day prepped out for me.” But yeah, the maintenance guys in the building would come and fix something in the apartment. I'm like, “Do you want a muffin? I have 12 jars of this hummus that I tested out. Do you want some?” I was giving people food left and right. But I tried not to waste anything. We would just eat it ourselves. And the thing about a lot of food is that it could be eaten fresh because we put the dressing on things for picture purposes. So we had to eat things that day. So we tried our best to eat everything that we made which was important to me. I did not want to be wasting food.
Elizabeth Stein 39:03
What's your favorite recipe in the cookbook?
Danielle Brown 39:06
That's a tough question. I shouldn't say it's my favorite but one of the number one recipes I recommend to people to make are the vegan crab cakes in the book because they're really easy and they taste like crab cakes and they're just an easy dinner. Also, a really easy thing if you have people coming over and you have no clue what to make. They're really good. But honestly, all the pasta dishes in the book are really good. I think pasta recipes next to salads are my favorite recipes to make. There's an amazing creamy Red Pepper Pasta that is so yummy. And I recommend that to people too.
Elizabeth Stein 39:47
What about favorite meals in the book or not in the book that you recommend that if you're like, okay, here is one set day to have breakfast lunch, and dinner if you had a when somebody over to a plant-based vegan diet?
Danielle Brown 40:03
That's so hard. I feel like it depends on the person but for breakfast in my book, I have an apple pie baked oatmeal. That's insane. It tastes like an apple pie. So, I'd probably make that for them. For lunch, I would probably do my vegan egg salad sandwich. I filmed the video with Daphne Oz, and I made her my vegan egg salad and she's not vegan. She's a literal chef. She's a judge on MasterChef Junior. She's a major food gal. And I was so nervous to make this egg salad for her. But she had one portion and she's like, “Can I have more?” I was like, “Oh my god, I'm so happy you loved it.” She's like, “This is so good.” So definitely my vegan egg salad. And for dinner, I would probably, like I said, make the crab cakes. They are amazing. But I have a really good shepherd's pie recipe in the book, that I feel like if someone is a meat and potatoes person, it's very satisfying and hearty. Maybe I would make that or one of the pasta dishes. I also have a really good baked mac and cheese in the book that everyone loves. And then for dessert, because you can't forget dessert, I would probably make them my famous brownies, which are made with chickpeas. Sounds so good.
Elizabeth Stein 41:33
We're gonna circle back to the beginning of the conversation when we first were talking about health, which is not just what we're eating, but all the other things in our life. And in the IIN language, some of our primary food. I'm curious to hear now for you, as you are also a known new mom, how you think about your health and wellness today and what you do in your life to feel your best self.
Danielle Brown 41:59
I have to say I give so much credit to moms because you have a limited amount of time to take care of yourself. Because all of your focus is on your kid/kids, their needs and changing their diapers, and taking care of them when they're crying and when they're hungry. And you're the last person on the list. But it shouldn't be that way. My husband's been great. I'd say lean on your partner if you can. If you can, hire someone, even if you could hire someone for an hour a day to watch your kid. So you could get some self-care things done and prep meals for yourself. Or even while they're napping or something like take advantage of one nap and do some meal prep. I have not been able to do everything that I used to do. But the things that have stayed consistent for me that are like non-negotiables are just eating healthy in general. It's not like because now my mom I'm like getting fast food and takeout every second. I try to be great about my meals. I'm not getting workouts in. I'm doing some walks, but I am like transparent. I'm not getting workouts and I barely have time to shower in a day with a new baby. So working out is not happening right now. It'll happen eventually. But that's okay. But having healthy meals is important to me. So I can take five minutes and make a smoothie because I'm finding smoothies are the easiest thing to make. I don't have to cook anything. I don't have to chop anything. No saute is involved.
Elizabeth Stein 43:39
So fast.
Danielle Brown 43:40
So fast. Do that pretty much every single morning or I find overnight oats. Such an easy breakfast. I sometimes buy them if I don't have time. Trader Joe's has overnight oats just ready to go. A bunch of grocery stores have the mush. I'll do that. But most of the time I make my own and it's ready to go in the morning and I don't need to make anything. Then for lunch, I've concluded that wraps are the easiest lunch next to meal prep salads that I make. So I have my meal prep salads. Sometimes I'll just make one or two or three for the beginning of the week. But with wraps, you don't need to cook anything. Everything's already ready. So I'll just get a sprouted whole-grain wrap. Like I've recently found this vegan Turkey that's healthy for me. I think it's like a cedar pea protein but it's like super clean ingredients, no additives. So I'll do this plant-based Turkey, pesto, a green tomato, and avocado it's five minutes. I don't need to cook anything and I can just throw it together while the baby's on his play mat or something. That's been the best. And then for dinner, I've been loving doing a possible. So again pasta, boil it for 5-10 minutes. Throw in spinach. I'll drain the pasta, then put it on the spinach, add a jarred marinara sauce, and have some sauteed tofu on the side. And it's like a 10-minute dinner, that's super easy. So, I've tried to stay consistent with my meals and eat healthy. And then I think the only other thing that I'm trying to stay consistent with my wellness is getting outside a little bit every day, even if it's just for five minutes. But also, to me, this is part of my wellness. It's not like eating or anything but doing my skincare routine every morning and every night. Like that's a piece of me that I can't lose. I love doing my skincare routine. It's like my 3 to 5 minutes of self-care that I just feel really good. It is meditative too. And even though I have to do things much faster now and rub up my moisturizer quickly, I have to do my skincare morning and night. And that just makes me feel like me.
Elizabeth Stein 46:03
I love that. Well, as I started saying that wellness or feeling your healthiest self isn't just about food, it's other things in your life. But at the same time, it does start with food. And if your food piece isn't there, I think the rest of it just falls. So it's that foundation that's so critical. So it's great to hear that that is non-negotiable for you. All right, we're gonna move into some rapid-fire q&a. Hop ingredients to always have on hand for a healthy meal.
Danielle Brown 46:41
I would say some kind of whole grain, but I would say frozen rice. I love the frozen rice from Trader Joe's and you just microwave it for three minutes, because it's so fast. And tofu. And I would say greens because that's what I'll do pretty often. The greens that are pre-washed and pre-cut, like baby spinach out of the bag or throw in a bowl, saute tofu for five minutes. Then I'll just drizzle a pesto overtop and it takes two seconds. I should say also canned chickpeas because that can also be added to that bowl. Just like rinsed off, they're already cooked. Again, I'm usually all about easy. So anything that's pre-washed, precut, especially greens, I don't have the extra 15 minutes to cut and put my lettuce in a lettuce washer. It's just too much but I would say can beans, tofu, pre-washed greens, and then some sauce on hand. And I would say frozen fruit too so you can make quick, easy smoothies.
Elizabeth Stein 47:52
Favorite kitchen tool.
Danielle Brown 47:53
I would say having a great blender, because you can make smoothies in the morning, you can make sauces, soups. I love my Vitamix, that's my favorite. The best blender I got when I was in college, spent all my money on this thing. But I've had a since then. It's lasted me a long time.
Elizabeth Stein 48:12
I've had mine since I went to IIN which was 2007. So that's a pretty long-lasting blender.
Danielle Brown 48:18
I’m telling you, the Vitamix lasts forever. So I would say invest in a great blender.
Elizabeth Stein 48:25
A favorite business moment so far.
Danielle Brown 48:26
I would say making the archives.
Elizabeth Stein 48:29
A favorite book or podcast for growth.
Danielle Brown 48:33
That's such a good one. I love Jay Shetty’s book. I think it's called Think Like a Monk. I think that's a great book to do self-reflection, learn about meditation to learn about the deeper meaning of life and what matters to you and prioritize yourself and positive relationships. I think that's a great book. And honestly, I didn't like reading it all the way through. I've read a chapter here and there. I'd like to skip around. It just has some really good gems in it. And in terms of a podcast, I love the Skinny Confidential Podcast. I love the interview. Every guest and person under the sun, there isn't one type of niche that they go for. It's like one week, there's a skincare expert, and one week there's an expert on clean wines. And one week, they just posted one, I think the founder or the CEO of the Environmental Working Group, and talked about toxins in your products. I always learned so much from that podcast.
Elizabeth Stein 49:31
Three random things that you're currently loving. It could be a product, TV show, et cetera.
Danielle Brown 49:38
Okay, three random things. This is super niche but I'm breastfeeding. So this would just be for anyone who's breastfeeding right now. I have a lot of milk and when you breastfeed on one side, the milk starts to come out the other side and you have this letdown. So there's this thing called the Haakaa Ladybug that you attach to your boob and it catches all of your milk let down. Then if you have enough, you can save it and make a bottle out of it. So you don't even need to pump the other side. It just catches. And I told my husband, “I've been using this thing 12 times a day. It's my most used product right now. I have to tell everyone about it.” So that's a really niche thing. But it seriously has been a lifesaver, because otherwise you just leak all over the place. I just got a new coffee maker that I’m loving. It's called a Terra Kaffe. And it makes amazing lattes, cappuccinos. I was going to Starbucks every single day. It's embarrassing to spend that kind of money on coffee, but I was. And I would get my soy latte. And we're like, we can't keep spending like this money on a coffee every day. So we got this machine. They have the best soy latte. But now I can make even better soy lattes at home. It's called Terra Kaffe. And in the end, it's just worth it because you don't need to go buy your coffee anymore. You can just make it at home. And then the third thing I'm loving, I'm torn but I should say this isn't food related at all. But it's a barefoot dreams robe. = It’s the comfiest thing in the world. If you just want to invest in a great robe and have something for self-care laying around, it's the comfiest, coziest thing ever.
Elizabeth Stein 51:24
Love that. If you could only pick one, what would your signature dish be?
Danielle Brown 51:29
That's a hard one. I would say I have a really good vegan lasagna that's just amazing. I had a lifestyle shoot for my cookbook, where we shot the cover. And anytime you see a picture of me in the cookbook, that was for my lifestyle shoot. We made a couple of my recipes during this shoot. And one of them was the lasagna. And of course, when we were done, the whole crew who was there, the videographer and photographer, everyone who was there. The stylists, they were starving. And I'm like, “You guys can eat the lasagna.” They ate and they're like, “I thought this was a Vegan Cookbook.” I'm like, “It is.” They're like, “But then what's the cheese in here?” “Well, it's tofu”. “What do you mean?” “I made the ricotta out of tofu.” And they're like, “This is the best lasagna ever. Being vegan aside, we would have no clue that this was vegan.” So I think for me, that was like a big moment. Because usually, cooking for my husband and maybe my in-laws and they're always nice to my recipes. But when you have people who aren't vegan whom you're cooking for and if they were unbiased about it, that made me feel pretty good. And I'm like, I have a pretty damn good lasagna. And that's in the cookbook, too.
Elizabeth Stein 52:45
That's awesome. Are any favorite food trends that you're loving or not loving right now?
Danielle Brown 52:49
The jury's still out about the whole sea moss thing. I feel like I keep seeing that everywhere. I want to try it but it just doesn't sound fun to me. Have you tried it?
Elizabeth Stein 53:06
I have some in my fridge. And I used it once.
Danielle Brown 53:10
There you go. Yeah, they're just random things. I feel like I never really liked doing a food trend. I'm always pretty consistent in what I'm doing. I would say though, instead of trends, every time I go to the grocery store, I try to find a new snack or something I've never seen or even a new vegan meat. I'm always picking up new stuff to try. That's how I found this soy-free tofu because I'm like, oh my God, I've never seen this before. It was in this cute hot pink package. I gotta try this and now it's my favorite tofu. But I think like probably the most consistent wellness trend that's been around for a while is I love green juice. I can't have caffeine It makes me sick. So anytime I need a little more energy or if I'm traveling or feel fatigued or I just need a little boost, I do love green juice. I think it does wonders.
Elizabeth Stein 54:09
Love that. All right. Last one, what's your number one nonnegotiable to thrive on your wellness journey?
Danielle Brown 54:16
I would say setting up your space for success. That could be different for different people. But I would say overall just make sure that your place is organized, meaning that your kitchens are organized. If you have expired stuff, you're not eating stuff, you don't like. So if you wanted to clean out your fridge, or your pantry, make sure it's all fresh with healthy food. I would say set yourself up for success at the grocery store too. So have a day of the week you go to the store, two days a week you go to the store and make a list in advance. I wouldn't just aimlessly roam around the store if you're someone who is struggling on your wellness journey a little bit or struggling on your healthy eating journey. So whether that's finding recipes for the week, writing out those ingredients and shopping exactly for those ingredients, or having meal ideas, have some concrete list of what you're going to buy. Because if you're buying random things, they're just going to sit in your fridge because you don't know how to pair them together. So make sure you have some inspiration for the meals and recipes you're going to make for the week when you go to the store. If you're organized, and you have fresh food every week that you're putting in your fridge in your pantry, I think that's the best thing you can do. Because your home is your environment. So in your environment, it is either gonna make or break you. So I would just say you set yourself up for success in that way.
Elizabeth Stein 55:39
Those are such good tips. Danielle, in closing, what's next for you?
Danielle Brown 55:46
That's a good question. Raising my son and I think just trying to find a work-life balance is going to be next which I think is probably the struggle for a lot of people in general. Not just once you have kids but trying to figure out how to balance my personal life and having a family and also running my business. But if you don't already have the HealthyGirl Kitchen Cookbook make sure you get the book. I'm hoping the second book is sometime soon in the future. Gotta get working on that. I've been on like a bit of maternity leave. So next would be just making my way back into the working world. I have a ton of batch content, which is what's been going out but yeah, that's it for me.
Elizabeth Stein 56:40
Awesome. Well, Danielle, thank you so much for being on the podcast. It was so great to connect.
Danielle Brown 56:46
I know. Thank you so much for having me. Bye.
Elizabeth Stein 56:52
Thanks so much for joining me on Live Purely with Elizabeth. I hope you feel inspired to thrive on your wellness journey. If you enjoyed today's episode, don't forget to rate, subscribe, and review. You can follow us on Instagram @purely_elizabeth to catch up on all the latest. See you next Wednesday on the podcast.