After being diagnosed with a crippling autoimmune disease in 2007, Danielle Walker spent the next couple of years in and out of the hospital—and constantly in pain. While this experience would discourage most, it gave Danielle the motivation she needed to start her very own food blog, Against All Grain.
While learning about how a new diet could help with her symptoms, Danielle soon picked up on the lack of Paleo-friendly recipes on the web. So, she started experimenting with a few recipes of her own using nothing but whole, fresh ingredients, and today, she’s created an empire of healthy eating inspiration, which includes, not one, but two New York Times best-selling cookbooks.
We recently dropped in on Danielle to talk food, business and motherhood, and you can read on to find out about her morning routine, her favorite dish and her family traditions.
Why did you start your food blog, Against All Grain?
After being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease in 2007, and suffering for a couple of years, I started to look into a diet to help my symptoms. There weren’t many websites out there with trustworthy recipes for the Paleo diet, so I wanted to provide people with delicious recipes, and be a source of hope for others struggling with similar issues and who wanted to eat well.
How does living with an autoimmune disease inform your lifestyle choices?
I lost so much of myself when I was sick, and missed out on so much of my family’s life. I was tired of being in the hospital or in bed for most of my life, so when I realized that diet could help, I did not have much of a choice but to change and adopt a new grain-free lifestyle. Besides having to find places that can accommodate my diet, now I don’t have any restrictions and can live life fully.
Tell us about your New York Times best-selling cookbooks, Against All Grain and Meals Made Simple! What was the writing process like, and what’s your favorite dish from the book?
I was in the process of venturing into self-publishing when my publisher contacted me. My blog had started to take off and I was hearing from readers that they would love to have the recipes in print form. Victory Belt also asked me to photograph the book, which I had no experience doing, so I bought a camera and flew down to Los Angeles to take a day-long food photography workshop.
I wrote and photographed both of my books in six months, so it was a pretty crazy season! I would spend all day creating and testing recipes, then photographing them once I got them right. I pulled some of the fan-favorite recipes from the blog to put in Against All Grain, but the majority of the recipes in both books are exclusive. I am continuously amazed at how many best-seller lists they have made.
The first cookbook, Against All Grain (or as we like to say, “the red shirt”), is a comprehensive grain-free cookbook filled with recipes for everything from breakfast and desserts to beverages. It’s very helpful for someone new to Paleo who is afraid that they’re going to be stuck eating plain food for life, or the seasoned veteran who is getting bored with the same old, same old.
The second cookbook, Meals Made Simple (i.e. “the white shirt”), focuses more on meal-time and is about making this way of eating approachable and sustainable by providing meal plans, grocery lists and tips to simplify the process of eating grain-free. Of course, there are a few treats at the end as well.
I like to say that my first book will win everyone over (including the kids and husbands), and my second book is the Mom’s book or the person who provides nightly meals because it will keep them sane and help them stick to the plan!
What’s a typical day like for you?
The morning starts off early with lots of snuggling with my boys, then I pack a quick lunch, make breakfast and send my oldest son off to school. My husband takes him, and I usually take my littlest one on a walk. After we’re back, the baby comes into the office with me. I answer emails, check social media and respond to as much as I can. Then I head into the kitchen to create and photograph for either the blog or my new book due out in October.
I run to the grocery store or do other errands when there’s time and in-between naps, and I have the occasional meeting or coffee catch-up with a friend. I put work away at 4:30 p.m. every day and spend time with my kids, then it’s dinnertime and I’m back in the kitchen! Bedtime is still chaotic with the mix of a 5-year-old and a newborn, and that lovely witching hour. After bed I spend time with my hubby, and then it starts all over again the next day!
What apps or organizational systems do you use to keep yourself organized at home and at work?
Much to my techy husband’s demise, I’m terrible at using things to help make me more organized and productive! We share Google calendars, and I just started using Slack with my employees, but that is about as organized as I get! If you have any apps to suggest, send them my way! And please send someone to implement them as well.
How do you juggle motherhood, your career and time for yourself?
As I mentioned above, I have had to set boundaries. I’ve also had to learn to receive help and delegate tasks, so my time is left free to do what I do best. I leave work in the office when I go into the house, and focus on quality time with my family. My walks in the morning and coffee dates with friends are my little escapes to have time for myself. Thankfully, I work for myself, so I can set my own schedule.
What tips do you have for new moms trying to maintain a healthy diet while juggling motherhood and work?
Try to be as prepared as possible. Keep fresh vegetables and fruit washed and cut up in the refrigerator so you can grab them when you’re hungry instead of a processed snack. Keep ingredients and homemade dressings for salads prepared and stored in the fridge so you can throw together a quick lunch, and utilize a food processor to make chopping up vegetables for dinners quick and efficient. I also love to cook make-ahead and freezer meals to save on time. Here’s a post I did recently on make-ahead Paleo freezer meals, using recipes from my cookbooks.
What’s been the most rewarding aspect of motherhood so far? Most challenging?
The hugs, kisses and voluntary “I love yous” are by far the most rewarding so far. My oldest was a tough sleeper, so that was probably the most challenging. Right now, navigating his emotions and making sure he feels confident and accepted at school is our biggest hurdle.
What are your favorite resources for childrearing and motherhood?
With a new baby, I’ve found myself on Kellymom.com a ton! I also loved the Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child book when we were trying to figure out a sleep solution for my oldest son. I’m about to start reading it again to figure out sleep for this new one! I also follow tons of rockstar mamas on Instagram who inspire me to be a better mom every day.
What are some of your favorite family traditions for the holidays?
For as long as I can remember, we’ve woken up on Thanksgiving morning and cooked a big breakfast while watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and the day usually ends with a football game in the yard. Now that I have nieces and nephews, we have a fun tradition of getting all of the cousins matching Christmas pajamas for gift opening on Christmas morning. And we absolutely love Christmas movies around here. We start watching them in early November just to make sure we get them all in before January!
You have an hour to yourself, how do you spend it?
In reality, probably organizing the house or simply taking a shower and doing my hair and makeup! What I’d like to be doing? Getting a massage or getting my nails done!