Hey y’all! I’m Laura Lea, a Certified Holistic chef, recipe developer and writer. I’m rooted firmly in my hometown of Nashville, TN, and in my opinion, this is the best city on earth.

10 years ago, I couldn’t have dreamed that those sentences might apply to me. By then, I had graduated with a B.A. in English Lit from the University of Virginia and been swept along in the mass-exodus to New York City. Very quickly, I found myself listless and enormously anxious, slogging away at a corporate job that I didn’t enjoy. I also became disillusioned with the social routine of late nights and hungover, greasy brunches, which seemed to get so many people through the workweek.

I decided to OPT OUT of the way I’d been living my life in the city. And I found myself alone all of a sudden…a lot. I hadn’t quite mastered the art of “table for one”, and my wallet wasn’t fond of dining out anyhow, so I started to occupy my time with cooking. Food had always been a joyous, comforting and steadfast part of my life. My mother is a fabulous cook and I grew up with family dinner over cozy from-scratch meals. In my NYC loneliness, cooking felt like the perfect way to fill the void.

On a tight budget and surrounded by gorgeous farmers’ markets, I started making vegetables the main attraction in my meals. Proteins and healthy fats were essential elements, but they often took the form of beans, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Over time, I began to notice my emotional and physical health improving. I had more energy, a clearer head, and my anxiety had reduced dramatically. Though I wasn’t (and am not) vegetarian, I was fascinated by the far-reaching, holistic benefits of plant-based food.

One day, I quite nearly stumbled upon a school called the Natural Gourmet Institute in NYC’s Chelsea neighborhood. A nationally certified culinary school focused on health-supportive cooking? No folks, it wasn’t too good to be true! As soon as I stepped inside, I knew I’d found my future.

I hustled and finagled my work situation to accommodate their part-time school program, and then I hustled and squeezed every bit of experience from my year at the Natural Gourmet. Besides saying YES to my husband, choosing NGI was the best decision of my life. During their 11-month program, I was trained in classical knife skills, sanitation and safety, but I also took extensive classes on the relationship between food and healing.

When I graduated in July, 2013, my heart and mind were full and determined to spread the world of holistic health in my hometown of Nashville. My family goes back in Nashville for generations, and my ancestors founded several institutions that still exist today. This city is in my blood, and I knew I needed to start with this community in sharing my food.

Nashville is a growing, thriving metropolis, but it’s also still a small town that holds tight to tradition…including biscuits, gravy and a lotta pork. Don’t get me wrong—the goal of LL Balanced is NOT to uproot or diminish the biscuit/caramel cake Nashville of my childhood. Goodness, no!!! Instead, my goal is to offer healthier versions of Southern classics and introduce new ideas about food, so that we can have our caramel cake and eat it too. As a fiancé to the love of my life and a career-woman, I know how difficult it is to provide balanced meals for yourself and your family. It’s easy to default to packaged, processed food, but that is only going to take you further down the rabbit hole of ill health and away from simple, wonderful REAL FOOD.

You need somewhere to start, and you’ve found it. On LL Balanced, you will find affordable, comforting, often make-ahead meals that are packed with nutrients and flavor. My hope is that my recipe will impact every aspect of your health, from weight goals to managing allergies to improving your relationships. Better yet if they inspire you to get out there and start creating some delicious, satisfying real-food dishes of your own!

There is a way to enjoy nutritious food without feeling deprived, stressed or uprooted from your childhood favorites…and it’s right here! Thanks for stopping by LL Balanced, I hope y’all stay a while!