In 2014, two small town Texas sisters launched a blog inspired by their love for healthy living. Little did they know, six years later that blog would gain national acclaim and grow to hundreds of thousands of subscribers. Today, we know it as “The Defined Dish,” with recipe developer Alex Snodgrass at its helm and a renewed focus on healthy recipes.
Just a year after “The Defined Dish” launched, Snodgrass tried Whole30 for the first time and became a huge advocate of the program. It completely changed her relationship with food and influenced how she cooked. Through her recipes, Snodgrass places focus on being healthy while not skipping out on the occasional indulgence. While most of her recipes are Whole30/Paleo compliant, all of them are hearty, healthy and delicious!
Snodgrass has turned her blog from a side project into a phenomenon. In December 2019, under her blog’s namesake, she released her first cookbook, The Defined Dish: Whole30 Endorsed, Healthy and Wholesome Weeknight Recipes. She creates a variety of Whole30, gluten-free, dairy-free and grain-free recipes. Her book went on to become a New York Times bestseller. Today, she has more than 400,000 followers on Instagram and partners with big name companies such as Fabletics, Amazon, Tessemae’s and Aldi.
Darling got to sit down with Snodgrass to talk about her food blog and her recipe for success.
When you were a kid, what did you imagine your career life would look like?
There’s no way I would have ever in a million years thought that I would be doing what I am doing now. This has been more of a natural progression rather than me wanting to be any sort of celebrity cooking figure.
In middle school and high school, I went through a phase when I really wanted to be a counselor. I took a career test to see what I would be. I got bereavement counselor.
How did your love for cooking become a job?
I think my love for cooking began as a kid. I grew up in a small town and home cooking was the norm for me because we didn’t have restaurants around town. My love for food and cooking was rooted in me.
I grew up in a small town and home cooking was the norm for me.
I started to cook more in college, and my sophomore year is when it all started. I really just wanted to sit at home and have a meal without having to think about picking up something. I became the girl cooking and testing recipes for my roommates and friends.
There was never a time I thought I would do this professionally. My sister and I started “The Defined Dish” in 2014. It was going to be a healthy living blog. She was a personal trainer. She was going to cover fitness, and I was going to do the food around it.
We did it kind of half-ass for two years. My sister got married and decided not to do it anymore. At that time, I realized I loved this and had a lot of passion for it. I had a family to take care of and to create food content at the rate I was doing it, I knew I had to do it as a business. I rebranded my blog, made sure my photos were professional and shifted it to focus more on food.
To create food content at the rate I was doing it, I knew I had to do it as a business.
After having kids, my sister created her own blog that she started a little more than a year ago. Her content focuses more on motherhood and fitness. We both share a lot of the same interests. I’m sure a lot of my followers would like to see us collaborate again, but she still helps taste a lot of the food for “The Defined Dish” so she is still connected in some ways.
Your book, The Defined Dish, is a NYT best seller. What was the publishing process like?
It was a lot of work, way more more work than I could have ever imagined. You don’t know what all goes into it until you do it. Editing, design and layout, you pour so much energy and time into it. The icing on the cake was becoming a New York Times best seller. Of course, I wanted that but the odds of it happening were slim. I was briefed by my editor beforehand that it was a slim chance and not to get my hopes up.
The icing on the cake was becoming a New York Times best seller.
Where were you when you found out your book was a NYT bestseller?
I was in my apartment when my editor emailed the news. My two little girls were here. I was screaming and jumping up and down. I still don’t think my girls quite understand.
What are some skills or lessons learned from your previous professional experience that have helped with leading The Defined Dish?
I went back to square one when my sister left the blog. It was time for me to go into business mode and think of it as a career. There was the shift for me. When you really set your mind to do something you’re passionate about, you can make whatever you want happen. That’s exactly what I did.
When you really set your mind to do something you’re passionate about, you can make whatever you want happen.
Before I didn’t take professional photos, but to hire a photographer to come in and shoot photos for each recipe didn’t make sense financially. I’d go on Youtube and learn about lighting and the best cameras. You can literally find every photography tip and skill I found online. You can always figure it out and always get good at something if you’re willing to work at it.
I have also learned that I am terrible at organization and having systems in place. I am more the creative type. When you’re in business mode, you have to keep it all organized and in place. I hired my assistant Cady to do that so I could focus on what I’m good at. That was a big lesson for me—realizing what your weaknesses are and being able to outsource them.
What does a typical day at The Defined Dish look like?
No day looks the same. The way that I make money is from brand partnerships. Otherwise, this line of work is not sustainable. A lot of my day is focused on creating content for those posts.
I have a manager who helps talk to brands and brings in offers. I basically say no 85 percent of the time and say yes to the ones that are true to me and my brand. My focus is to develop long-term brand relationships that I can be excited about and create content around that.
My focus is to develop long-term relationships that I can be excited about and create content around that.
I spend a big portion of my time creating content for my blog and showing people how to cook my recipes step-by-step on my Instagram stories. I create fun recipes that people can be excited about and always ask myself: How can I create value out of this and make sure that I am creating fun recipes?
Coming up with recipes doesn’t take long, but filming and showcasing it takes more time. Filming and creating content for social media is really valuable and fun, but it’s very time-consuming as well.
What women have mentored you throughout your career? How so?
My mom has been a huge influence in my life. She is a hard worker and still is. Her work ethic and the lessons she taught about being a woman are invaluable.
She also always had a great relationship with food and her body, which has influenced the recipes I share. Oftentimes, sharing healthy recipes can feel unapproachable. There can be negative connotations around “healthy.” There is often a struggle with women around the topic of food because there are so many different forms of “healthy.” Everyone has their own definition of the word. Healthy is in the eye of the beholder.
Healthy is in the eye of the beholder.
I like to create recipes that are both healthy and indulgent. Whole30 can have a bad light shed on it. It can seem very restrictive, but that’s not how I eat. Whole30 helps me with my anxiety, makes me a more informed consumer and helps me decide what ingredients I use.
My mother-in-law has also been a big inspiration in my life. She is the most caring woman, and her attitude of “what can I do to help you” has inspired me to be better in my work and on my blog. Knowing how valuable she is in my life and remembering her mentality of “how can I be here to serve, help and make your life easier” is helpful for me as well.
What’s the best recipe you would suggest for someone who is trying Whole30 for the first time?
I’d tell them to go to the “Better Than Take Out” chapter of my book and start making some Asian-inspired dishes from there. They are really flavorful and simple. There are also some really cool hacks and healthy tricks in there too. For example, usually you would use cornstarch to thicken up a syrup, but I use arrowroot starch instead. Also, I sub coconut aminos in place of soy (which has gluten). When you taste it, you won’t feel like you have changed much at all.
What’s your go-to quarantine recipe?
I am always making something different. I refuse to have food boredom. Lately, I am always using legumes. My Easy Italian White Bean Italian Stew has been a favorite lately. It is simple and easy to make with anything in your pantry.
I am always making something different. I refuse to have food boredom.
What advice would you give to women interested in following in your footsteps?
You will find your voice as you begin to share. When I first started, I thought I wanted a certain blog, but it changed throughout the first two years while I learned who I was.
My advice would be to put yourself out there. Things will change when you first start out. Experiment with what you share and how you share it. What resonates most with you and your community is most important.
My advice would be to put yourself out there.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Every year, I have a little more improvement in this area—not caring so much about what people think. I have come a long way with putting myself out there on social media.
I would tell myself, “Know in your soul you have good intentions, that you are doing the best you can and that you are a good person. Know who you are at your core.”
I’d shake my younger self and also tell her, “Quit caring so much about what other people think and do you.”
Follow along with Alex’s latest recipes and trick on Instagram at @thedefineddish.
Images via Kristen Kilpatrick