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Friend That Cooks issues challenge to food service industry

It’s time for paid maternity leave

by Brandon O’Dell, Founder Friend That Cooks

Friend That Cooks Personal Chef Service has added paid maternity leave to the benefits package for our personal chefs in Kansas City, Chicago, Milwaukee, Wichita, Omaha, Des Moines, St. Louis, Minneapolis, St. Paul and Denver in an effort to pressure the food service industry to adopt paid maternity leave as a standard benefit.

The food service industry has a long history of using up and burning out employees. I’ve been there myself. I worked the 60+ hour weeks as a low level manager, and 80-100 hour weeks as a general manager. I’ve spent years consecutively missing Easter celebrations with the family, and other holidays. As a food service consultant, one of my primary focuses in helping food services has been teaching them how to get the most out of their employees by giving the most to their employees. It only made sense when I started Friend That Cooks that I practice what I preach when it comes to my own employees.

Benefits in a small business are very difficult to budget for. We don’t start out with the economy of scale our larger counterparts have, and government regulations like The Affordable Care Act create a large hurdle for companies looking to transition from small businesses into large ones. They create a “barrier to entry” making it so expensive to be a big business, that it becomes impossible for most small businesses to get there. We small businesses compete with those same companies for employees though, so it is very important for us to pay as well or better, and to offer comparable benefits if we want to compete for those employees. For companies like mine, it means starting out offering what benefits we can, then improving them as you can afford to.

From the day I started Friend That Cooks I treated our company like it was going to become a large business. I created our services with a 8-5, weekday work schedule in mind for myself and our future chefs. I wanted cooks and chefs to have an option if they didn’t want to sacrifice their personal lives for evening, weekend and holiday hours that are mandatory with most restaurants, caterers and other food services. I knew we were going to have to offer benefits as we grew to keep those employees from leaving to work for other food service companies, so as we’ve been able to afford it, we’ve added a healthcare bonus to help pay for health insurance. We added flex hours without restrictions so employees could decide whether to use them for sick days, holidays, personal days, or just to pad a light paycheck. We added a fuel supplement because our employees work off-site at our client’s homes. Most recently, we’ve added paid maternity leave for both female and male employees and a retirement plan. I also came up with a pay scale that allows our cooks to earn around 50% more per hour than they can on the line at a restaurant, caterer or meal delivery business.

No matter how big or small you are, all the businesses within a sector, like food service, are competing for the same employees. Usually the big names get the top talent, and the rest of us have to spend more money training to create talent. Within the food service industry though, employees at both big and small companies have to sacrifice a lot to have an actual career, missing dinners with friends, birthdays and holidays with the family. Usually without benefits.

Friend That Cooks does NOT accept that employees have to sacrifice their personal lives to have a career in the food service industry. We do NOT accept that holidays are just another mandatory shift, nor Friday night or Saturday night. We do NOT accept that the best employees should have the most work put on them, making up the slack of less productive employees, nor make the same pay as less productive employees. We do NOT accept that our industry is one where you shouldn’t expect benefits. We do NOT accept that mothers and fathers in the food service industry with new children shouldn’t have a few months to bond with their children before choosing to return to work, just as they do in some other industries. Most importantly, we do NOT accept that government force should be required to make the food service industry adopt employment policies that are beneficial to itself if done voluntarily, because they can be very detrimental when done by force. That’s why we’re going to apply some pressure to the industry organically by offering more ourselves.

We are challenging our food service industry counterparts to do the right thing. Consider the needs of your most valuable asset, your employees. We challenge you to start with an inexpensive and easy to implement benefit, then build off of that. We are challenging you to offer paid maternity leave of some sort to both female and male employees.

Paid maternity leave is a huge benefit for an employee. As a two-time father, I realize how important it is to have time to bond with your new son or daughter. You can never have back those first few months to build the foundation of your relationship with your child. Especially in a job where 60+ hour weeks are mandatory like most food service management jobs, and missing your family is expected.

For an employer, paid maternity leave is not a huge expense. It’s really fairly affordable. It’s maybe 1/2 or 2/3 pay for one, two, or three months. It can even be extended to indefinite leave beyond that without pay or cost, as long as it’s also without penalty. Consider how few times you have an employee welcome a new baby. It’s rare. If you don’t retain that employee, or others that leave for better benefits, you have to hire and train a replacement which might mean $250 in help ads, $100+ in new uniforms, and several hundred in training labor expenses. Not to mention the hundreds or thousands of dollars in lost productivity until that new employee is as good as the lost employee. I think we all know that it’s cheaper to retain help than it is to replace them.

Even if they don’t include maternity leave, your benefits are one of your most valuable tools to retain employees. Your food service employees want a quality of life they see other people enjoy, and that doesn’t always mean more pay. In the food service industry, especially full service restaurants, many employees already enjoy good pay. But what happens when they need time off? Especially extended time for something like having a baby?

Friend That Cooks recently experienced this dilemma when we faced our first occurrence of an employee planning a birth. We decided that the right thing to do for both the employee and for ourselves was to offer paid leave. Our employee got 2/3 of their average paycheck for the first two months after their leave started. They got 1/2 of their average paycheck for a third month, and began light duties part time to ease back into work and maintain more pay. Our employees also have the opportunity to have indefinite unpaid leave after that, without penalty, and we will hold a position for them for as long as they need.

From our employee’s perspective, this is a safety net. It provides stability for a new parent during a time that I personally know is incredibly crazy. It provides piece of mind to know there is no chance of losing their job, their seniority or momentum in their chosen career. From our perspective, we save the cost of replacing a valuable employee. In some instances, we will likely have to hire a new employee to pick up some of the extra work, but it won’t be because we lost someone good. We also won’t have to pay for help ads, uniforms and training for the next new hire because we will have one returning to us from maternity leave within a few months.

This is my challenge to the food service industry, both large and small businesses. Reconsider what you are offering for benefits. I know that health care plans have skyrocketed in the last few years, so you can only do so much on that front. There are many other things important to employees though, and many benefits you can offer that truly are affordable. Stop thinking in terms of “This is just how it is in the food service industry”, and think of non-traditional perks you can offer employees, or different ways to offer traditional perks. Create a small budget and build on it as you can. Do the small things until you can afford the large things. Offer paid maternity leave as a start.

Friend That Cooks is still a fairly small, but growing operation. We aren’t 100% where we want to be with our benefits program yet, but we are close and we have a plan to get the rest of the way. In the future our healthcare benefit will increase, eventually to a full blown group health plan when possible. For now, we do what we can until we can do more. The rest of you should do the same, and a HUGE pat on the back to those of you who already do.

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Chef Spotlight | Jillian Mahl

In out Chef Spotlight this month

…we introduce you to Jillian Mahl, a Friend That Cooks personal chef servicing clients in Des Moines, IA.

jillian bio pic
Jillian Mahl, Friend That Cooks personal chef in Des Miones, IA

Chef Jillian Mahl has been cooking professionally for 13 years.  She started out, as all good chefs do, at the bottom of the proverbial food chain in a fine dining restaurant in Omaha,NE and worked her way up from there. She graduated top of her class in Culinary Arts at the International Culinary Center, New York City in 2010 and went on to work in several NYC restaurants such as Restaurant Allegretti and Bergdorf Goodman.

She returned to the Midwest after several years on the coast to pursue a personal business venture.  In 2015, she joined the FTC family in Omaha, NE.  She now cooks for her clients in Des Moines, Iowa.

When she isn’t working, Jillian enjoys playing with anything involving yarn and needles, reading about all sorts of real and fictional things, practicing Tae Kwon Do and yoga, and visiting with her gentleman friend.

Watch our Chef Spotlight every month to learn about another Friend That Cooks personal chef. Visit to learn more about weekly meal prep from Friend That Cooks.

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Personal Chefs vs Meal Kit Delivery

personal chef vs meal kit delivery

Top 5 reasons Friend That Cooks in-home meal prep service is better than meal kit delivery

The new meal kit companies use phrases like “meal prep” or “home chef” to try and fool busy families into believing they provide chef prepared meals. The truth is, their ingredients are packaged in large production facilities by under paid and overworked factory workers who have no culinary background at all. They are mass produced, impersonal, and leave all the real work to the customer. So ditch the “apron”, think outside the box, and read on about a better way to put healthy, delicious meals on the table.

Here are the Top 5 Reasons why using a personal chef for in-home weekly meal prep from Friend That Cooks is a better value than any of the meal kit delivery services:

convenienceReason #1 – Convenience

Friend That Cooks provides real “meal prep“. Meals are prepared by professional chefs. They are simply reheated, attaining their optimal state after reheating, with almost no work for the customer. We plan the menu, shop, cook, clean up and stock the fridge with food for the whole week.

Meal kit delivery services ship the ingredients with recipes and leave customers with no culinary expertise to do the cooking themselves. 30-minute preparations and 15 more minutes of clean up every night means you’ll invest hours every week to use a service that is supposed to be convenient.

better ingredientsReason #2 – Better Ingredients

Friend That Cooks chefs hand pick every single ingredient from your local grocery store, making sure you only get the best tomato in the pile, and can take advantage of local and/or organic ingredients. Every piece of meat or produce is the absolute best of what’s available or we don’t buy it.

Meal kit delivery services buy ingredients in bulk. They have to use every tomato in the pile to make money, meaning only one meal will get the best tomato, while everyone else settles for lesser ingredients, and you won’t find anything sourced locally.

more menu optionsReason #3 – More Menu Options

Friend That Cooks chefs have huge repertoires of ethnic and classic dishes they can make from scratch. By cooking from scratch, we can tailor all of our dishes to meet the specific tastes and dietary needs of every family individually. We take requests, invent new recipes, and tailor our service to your tastes. We make the foods that you want to eat without limiting you to a set menu.

Meal kit delivery services offer limited selections. You choose from a small list of dishes and any dietary need has to bend to their menu instead of the other way around. Vegetarian? Paleo? You’ll be lucky to have any choices.

professional chefsReason #4 – Professional Chefs

Friend That Cooks carefully recruits, screens and trains only the best cooks. We test their knowledge, cooking ability, and even do background checks. Our chef’s skills are well beyond not only home cooks, but most professional cooks too.

Meal kit delivery services use underpaid, overworked factory employees with no culinary experience to package your meals into boxes and mail them to you. You have to do the cooking yourself and the meal kit company has to make sure the recipes are fairly basic to suit the skill of a novice cook.

more for moneyReason #5 – Better Value For The Money

Friend That Cooks quality of service is well above that of the delivery services, yet the price can be similar or even less. For example, a family of four in Kansas City uses 4.5 hours of service ($166.50) and has a grocery bill of $100 per week (an average cost for clients in this market). This family would typically get 24-28 total meals yielding an average cost per meal of $9.50 to $11.10. Depending on the menu, our clients have seen meal prices as low as $7 per meal and even menu items with more expensive ingredients rarely average more than $15-20 per meal. With Friend That Cooks, you have complete control over the number of meals and the grocery budget every week.

Meal kit delivery services charge $9.95 and up for their meals. For moderate to premium ingredients, you’ll spend $15, $20 or even more than $30. And not only do you have to cook them yourself, but you won’t have the culinary training and experience to get the most out of those expensive ingredients.

About Friend That Cooks

Friend That Cooks Personal Chef Service offers in-home weekly meal prep for busy families and couples. We send a talented professional chef to the homes of our clients every week for a half day to shop, cook, clean up and stock their refrigerators with a week’s worth of healthy, prepared meals to reheat. We charge an affordable hourly rate plus the cost of groceries.

Click the button below to set up a free consultation with a Friend That Cooks chef about weekly meal prep in your home:

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Autumn Flavor Ideas | The Apple

The Apple

Autumn Flavor Ideas
Autumn Flavor Ideas
The first iconic flavor of Autumn, until pumpkin spice came to town. But we want to bring back the apple. Because it’s not just for pies, although it does make one heck of a dessert. With thousands of varieties to choose from, you are sure to find the right one. And if you don’t want to find a local orchard and pick your own, you can usually find about 10 different options at your local grocery market. They look great, taste great, and pack quite a nutritional punch with vitamins A and C and antioxidants. Weather you eat ‘em or drink ‘em, you know the old saying. “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.”

Looking for a new way to mix apples into the menu? Try some of these ideas!

  • Grated or julienned apples in a classic slaw
  • Diced with black beans, avocado, jalapenos and lime juice salad
  • Cored and sliced, roasted with pork tenderloin, onions and rosemary
  • Swap out the beer or red wine in your Sunday beef roast for Apple Cider or Applejack
  • Add diced apples the last 5-10 minutes when roasting Brussel’s Sprouts
  • Add grated apples to braised red cabbage or homemade sauerkraut
  • Instead of raisins, add small diced apple on peanut butter and celery boats for a tasty and fun snack
  • Thinly slice apples and fennel bulb for a vibrant and light salad
  • Add apples to your butternut squash soup recipe
  • Dice an apple and add it to your oatmeal for a hearty and warming breakfast
  • Add small diced apples, or applesauce, to pancakes and crepes
  • Add sliced apples to the bottom of a pumpkin pie. Best of both worlds!
  • Peruse the blog and find more recipes and fun ways to use great ingredients! Check out our website to learn more about weekly meal prep.

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What’s easier than meal delivery St. Louis?

In-home weekly meal prep, that’s what!

easier than meal delivery
In-home weekly meal prep is easier than meal delivery

Meal delivery services are saving some time for busy moms and dads, but there is something much better, and it costs about the same.

In St. Louis and several other cities, busy families, couples and people with special diets are taking advantage of Friend That Cooks Personal Chef Service’s in-home weekly meal prep. Instead of getting online, ordering food, unpacking it, disposing of boxes, then still having to cook and clean up, Friend That Cooks’ clients can literally have food prepared with no more effort than taking a debit card out of their pocket and laying it on the counter.

Easier than meal delivery

Personal chefs from Friend That Cooks travel to the homes of our clients every week. We plan a menu, utilizing any ingredients you already have to limit waste. We shop for the rest of the ingredients. Bring them back to your home. Prepare incredible meals with the technique, speed and efficiency that only experienced professional chefs can. Then we clean up your kitchen, leaving you with a refrigerator packed with healthy, delicious meals to reheat the whole week long. Not only is our service easier than meal delivery, it’s better. Our food is higher quality. We use professional chefs. Menus are unlimited and customized to your family’s tastes.

Relationships and fair pricing

We believe the food service industry has it wrong in how they charge you for your food. Caterers, meal delivery companies and most personal chefs buy food then mark it up 400-500% and resell it to you. Instead of selling you food, Friend That Cooks rents you a chef that you share with 7-9 other families. We charge a reasonable hourly rate and you provide grocery money for the chef to do your shopping. No markup. Your chef returns every week, allowing you to provide personal feedback. They will adjust their cooking style and select dishes to fit your family’s very personal tastes. No limited menus to select from like a meal delivery service, and only well compensated, professional chefs doing ALL the cooking. The average family of four in St. Louis spends $140-190 per week on Friend That Cooks’ service. Our chefs usually save them money on groceries too.

How do you learn more?

Friend That Cooks offers free in-home consultations with our personal chefs. Our chef will come to your home to talk about your family’s tastes and dietary needs. They will help you decide how much food you need to make it through the week and guide you through the service choices that will give you the best possible value. Our clients are our Friends. We treat them that way.

To contact Friend That Cooks, visit our website and fill out a contact form by clicking here.

We’ll send you a chef and make your evenings a dream.

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Breaking It Down: A Guide To Cutting and Cooking Large Winter Squash

Butternut and Spaghetti Squash
Butternut and Spaghetti Squash

It’s fall, and winter squash season.  Everywhere you look there is a tasty new recipe for butternut, acorn, spaghetti and pumpkin.  You Pin them on Pinterest.  You print them off.  You see them piled high on the shelf at the supermarket and……you keep walking.  YOU DON’T KNOW HOW TO BREAK THEM DOWN, and it scares you.

Well, we are here to tell you, and show you, how easy it really is to cut up and clean up those big winter squashes so that you can prepare that healthy and tasty recipe.

You will need:

1 large cutting board, either plastic or wood (glass is not a cutting board- it is a serving platter), secured with a wet towel or paper towels to keep it from moving on the counter;

1 large chef’s knife, sharp;

1 squash;

1 kitchen spoon and bowl.

The hardest part about breaking down a large squash is keeping your fingers out of harm’s way while keeping the squash from moving on the counter.  If it works better for you, slice a small portion off the side of the squash, to make a flat spot.  This will keep it from rolling around on the board.

First, rinse off the squash under cool water.  Dry it off with a paper towel.

Slice the ends off of the squash to expose the meat.
Slice the ends off of the squash to expose the meat.

Second, slice off the ends of the squash.  This will expose the interior meat of the squash.  Using a sharp knife is key.  Don’t push straight down on the knife.  Let the blade of the knife do the hard work and rock the blade forward and back, like you are slicing.  If your squash is particularly big, use your other hand to secure the blade of the knife.  But be sure to put a kitchen towel between your hand and the blade in case you slip.  Stitches are NOT part of the recipe!

Turn the squash on end and slice in two.
Turn the squash on end and slice in two.

Third, turn the squash on end and cut in half.  If you are cutting a butternut, cut the squash where the bulb meets the neck.  It is easier to peel and deseed this way.

Fourth, for spaghetti, acorn and similar squash, remove the seeds using the edge of a kitchen spoon.  Discard the seeds.  For butternut, peel the thin skin using either a vegetable peeler or a knife.  Be careful not to remove too much of the meat with the skin.  Remove the seeds from the bulb as described and discard.

Remove the seeds from a spaghetti squash with a kitchen spoon.
Remove the seeds from a spaghetti squash with a kitchen spoon.
Peel the thin skin from a butternut squash using either a knife or a vegetable peeler. Remove the seeds from the bulb.
Peel the thin skin from a butternut squash using either a knife or a vegetable peeler. Remove the seeds from the bulb.

Next, for spaghetti and similar squashes, it is time to cook them.  There are several ways to do it, but the easiest and most basic is to steam them.  Lay them cut side down in a baking pan and add about 1/2 cup of water.  Cover with foil, bake at 375 until tender, about 30 minutes.  For butternut squash, dice the squash to desired size.  If you are using it in a soup, simply rough chop the squash into large pieces.  To roast and add to a salad or as a side dish, dice into smaller pieces.

Dice butternut squash to roast as a side or for a salad.
Dice butternut squash to roast as a side or for a salad.

So next time, don’t pass up that big pile of squash at the grocery store.  Be brave, and pick one out with few blemishes, and feels heavy for its size.  Then take it home and cut it up, because you know how now!  If you don’t use it right away, keep it in a cool dark place for up to several weeks.  But don’t wait too long, because you have a lot of delicious recipes to make!

Friend that Cooks personal chefs in Wichita, Chicago, St. Louis, Omaha , Des Moines and Kansas City offer weekly meal prep for families with busy schedules, food allergies or special diets. Learn more at

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What do Celiac Disease and Egg Yolks Have In Common?

For most celiac sufferes, going gluten free isn’t really a problem anymore.  With new products popping up on shelves everyday, it’s easy to find a suitable substitute for bead, pasta and other gluten containing ingredients. 

But what if you could take a pill to ease the symptoms associated with gluten intolerance and celiac disease?  One researcher may have found a way to do just that.

Check out this article and tell us what you think.

Friend that Cooks personal chefs in Wichita, Chicago, St. Louis, Omaha , Des Moines and Kansas City offer weekly meal prep for families with busy schedules, food allergies or special diets.  Learn more at

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Blueberry Vinaigrette

There are 4 important components to a good salad.  Texture. Color. Flavor.  Dressing. 

So what happens when you don’t have any dressing?  You make one.  6 ingredients, 2 minutes, and a blender is all it takes to make this tasty blueberry vinaigrette.  And it doubles as a sauce for pork and chicken! 

Blueberry vinaigrette

1 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen (or a combination of mixed berries)
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup water
Pinch of salt
1 tsp sugar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1.  Add berries, vinegar, salt, sugar and water to the blender.  Blend until smooth, about 30 seconds. 
2.  Slowly stream in olive oil and blend until emulsified, about 30 seconds. 
3.  Transfer to a storage container and clean out your blender. 

Blend until emulsified

The easiest way to clean a blender is to rinse it out, fill half way with hot water and a dab of dish soap, and run the blender for about 20-30 seconds or until clean.  Rinse with clean water and air dry.  Works every time!

Cleaning the blender

Salad saved! 

Spinach, roasted red beet, goat's cheese, red onion, bell pepper, blueberry vinaigrette

Friend that Cooks personal chefs in Wichita, Chicago, St. Louis, Omaha , Des Moines and Kansas City offer weekly meal prep for families with busy schedules, food allergies or special diets.  Learn more at

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Father's Day Gift Ideas

Father’s day is this Sunday!  Have you thought about what to get your old man?  Well, if your dad is anything like mine, he probably already has an assortment of bad ties and every tool for every project ever made. 

So what do you get the man that already has everything?  Get him a gift certificate from Friend that Cooks for a steak dinner, or some grilling lessons if he’s a do-it-yourself kind of guy. 

Maybe he needs some new grilling gadgets.  Check out the line if grilling and smoking thermometers from Apple iGrill.  The Bluetooth technology makes checking the smoker and meat temperatures while watching the 8th straight hour of Muscle Car a cinch. 

No matter the gift, dad’s are just like moms.  What they really want is a quiet relaxing day spent with family and good friends.  Remember to tell your dad how much he means to you, and be sure to thank him for all he’s done for you.  It’s the best gift money can’t buy. 

               HAPPY FATHER’S DAY!

Happy Father's Day
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Macadamia Coconut Halibut with Pineapple Pepper Quinoa

I just made this recipe up today.   And if I do say so myself, it was pretty great!

Part of what we do is use ingredients you already have in your fridge and pantry.  Today, my client had macadamia nuts, coconut flakes, quinoa and coconut milk.  The pineapple, macadamia nuts and coconut were an obvious combination.  But the orange bell pepper really made it different.  It took the dish from being too sweet, to being just right!  And who doesn’t love Halibut?!  It’s in season, so we can usually find it for a good price.  And we want to use it while we can get it fresh.  It’s a mild, white flaky flatfish found in the cold waters of the northern Pacific Ocean.  It goes well with anything, and can be prepared a zillion different ways.  Try it out this week for a different take on familiar favorites.

Don’t want to pay for Halibut?  Try using cod.  It’s just as flaky and mild.  Don’t know how to cut up a fresh pineapple? Use canned.  It’s ok, just make sure it’s packed in 100% pineapple juice instead of syrup.  Want to use different vegetables?  Go for it!  The bell pepper, zucchini and English peas spoke to me at the store.  But you can pretty much put just about anything in this and it will taste great!  To keep the recipe from blowing up in the pan, stick to just 3.  And go for a variety of colors for maximum nutrition.

For picky kiddos that don’t like veggies, cut them up extra small.  The quinoa and coconut milk will hide them and make them sweeter.  Kids don’t like their foods mixed?  Leave the veggies out and put them on their plate separately.


Here’s the recipe. ENJOY!!

Macadamia Coconut Crusted Halibut, Pineapple Pepper Quinoa

Yields 2 servings

1/2 pound fresh English pea pods, shelled, or 1/4 cup frozen peas

1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed

1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth

1/2 cup coconut milk

1 orange bell pepper, chopped

1 small zucchini, chopped

1 cup cilantro leaves, chopped

1/4 cup diced fresh pineapple, or more if desired

1/4 cup plain Macadamia nuts

1/4 cup unsweetened coconut flake

10-12 oz fresh Halibut filet, skinned, cut into 2 (5-6 oz) portions

Kosher salt, fresh cracked black pepper, extra virgin olive oil, ice water bath for peas

1. Preheat convection oven to 350 degrees.

2. Bring a small pot of water to a rolling boil. Season well with salt.

3. Shell pea pods and rinse peas under cold running water. Blanch in the boiling water for 2-3 minutes or until tender-crisp. Remove from boiling water and cool in ice bath. Discard salted water.

4. To prepare quinoa, in the same saucepan used for the peas, combine quinoa, broth and coconut milk. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Continue to cook until the liquid has evaporated and quinoa has sprouted. Season with salt and pepper.

5. Meanwhile, prepare the fish. In a food processor, combine the Macadamia nuts and coconut flakes. Pulse until it resemble course crumbles. Transfer to a small bowl and add about 1-2 teaspoons olive oil and combine to make a paste.

6. Transfer the fish to a prepared rimmed baking sheet lined with foil or parchment paper. Season the fish with salt and pepper, and cover with the coconut mixture. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until crust is golden brown and fish is tender and flaky.

7. In a medium skillet, heat a small amount of olive oil over medium high heat. Saute bell pepper and zucchini until tender, about 2 minutes. Transfer vegetables to the quinoa and stir to mix. Fold in about 2/3 of the cilantro, blanched English peas and diced pineapple.

8. To plate, add half of the quinoa and vegetables to the center of each plate. Top with the fish, and finish with a sprinkle of the remaining chopped cilantro, if desired.

(The vegetables used in this recipe can be substituted for almost any combination of vegetables desired.)

Friend that Cooks personal chefs in Wichita, Chicago, St. Louis and Kansas City offer weekly meal prep for families with busy schedules, food allergies or special diets. We send a talented chef to your home for a half day every week to shop, cook, clean up and stock your refrigerator with a week’s worth of healthy prepared meals to reheat. Learn more at

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Basic Nutrition: Athletes v. Everyone Else

The purpose of this article is to outline basic information about nutrition and the body’s minimum requirements for daily use.  I will also discuss the nutritional needs for athletes and how they may differ from the average, mildly active adult.  This information is to be used for educational purposes only and should be used in conjunction with supervision and support from your physician.  It is not intended to be used to diagnose or treat any medical condition.  

You are not a Bromiliad.  This is a Bromiliad.


It is a plant that gets it’s nutrients from the air and water.  You are a human being.  And you require nutrients from the foods you eat.  Some individuals require more nutrients than others due to higher levels of activity.  Others require less.  Nutrition is a science, but for the most part, we succeed in finding our optimal diet by trial and error. What works best for one may not work at all for someone else.  And it is important to remember that the human body is a complicated system and there is no one size fits all diet.


The first thing we need to talk about is the calorie.  You’ve seen this word before.  It’s on the back of every food label in the United States.  Every diet mentions it and every 80’s mom became obsessed with counting them.  But what is a calorie really?  By definition, the kilocalorie is the amount of energy needed to raise on kilogram of water by one degree Celsius.   But that doesn’t really mean anything to anyone in the real world, so let me break it down to you like this.  Basically, 3500 kilocaloreis, (or calories for short), is about 1 pound of body weight.  So if you eat 3500 calories, you will gain 1 pound of body weight.  For someone wanting to maintain their body weight, calories in should match calories out.  That means if you eat 2000cal/day, you need to burn 2000cal/day.

How do you figure that out?  Ok…..this is how it works.  Keep in mind this is for an “average” adult.  I will get into more detail later.  The average human body has basic functions, like breathing, heart beating, eyes blinking, etc.  If you sat in a chair or laid in a bed all day every day and did absolutely nothing else, you would require a minimum of 1200 cal/day.  But for most of us, we do a little more than that.  We get out of bed, go to work, get the kids to school, do laundry, file TPS reports, take the kids to soccer, walk the dog, brush our teeth, etc.  And all of that, on average, requires about 800 calories.  So…1200 for basic bodily function + 800 for daily activities = 2000 cal/day.  But some of us eat more than 2000 calories and do less work, and others eat less than 2000 calories and do more work.  Which is why we gain and lose weight at different rates.

Athletes, on the other hand, have different requirements.  Basically, they require more because they, or you, presumably, are doing more work.  You need to take in more calories than the average Joe because you are burning more calories.  So if you want to maintain your body weight, then you need to figure out how many extra calories you are burning during your workout and then eat that many more.  The best way to do this is to wear a heart rate monitor.  If you have a professional trainer, he or she can guide you to figuring out the averages for the type of workout you do.

Most people working out do not want to “maintain“, however.  You are in the market to either lose weight, like most adults between 20 and 80.  Or you are in the market to gain weight, think professional athletes and bodybuilders.  So, to lose you have to eat fewer calories and to gain you have to eat more.  But it’s not that simple.  Quality of calories matter, meaning, the type of foods you eat will determine how you gain or lose the weight.  The human body doesn’t require just any calories.  It requires specific calories from specific foods with specific nutrients.  Which means if you are trying to lose weight, you can’t just binge on junk food and cut out all of the healthy stuff you don’t like.  And if you are trying to gain muscle mass, you can’t just shove a bunch of meat into your mouth and expect it to land on your biceps.  Remember when I said that the human body is complicated?  Here’s why.

Macro Nutrients

There are three macro nutrients the body requires: protein, carbohydrate and fat.  Micro nutrients are vitamins and minerals….but those are for a different discussion.  The following is a breakdown of the three macro nutrients and their role in overall nutrition for athletes.


This may be the single most important nutrient, aside from water.  Its presence in the diet in adequate amounts is crucial for many important functions, not just muscle development, like hormone synthesis, enzyme reactions, structural development, immunoproteins (think immune system) and transport proteins (think red blood cells).  There are two major sources of protein, plant and animal.  Animal protein is the most common form of protein.  It’s meat.  It’s abundant, it’s easy, and most importantly, it’s complete.  Plant protein, is well, different.  Plants have protein too.  But it’s not the same.  And most plants do not contain complete proteins.

What is a complete protein?  All proteins are made of chains, different combinations of amino acids.  There are 20 amino acids in total.  9 of them are essential, meaning your body does not synthesize them.  So you have to eat them.  A complete protein contains all 9 essential amino acids.  Very few plant protein sources are complete.  Quinoa is an exception.  It is the tiny seed grain reintroduced from ancient Incan practices.  Most other plant protein sources need to be eaten in combination, however, to make complete amino acid chains.  For example, peanut butter and bread, beans and rice, pasta and peas.  Basically, what one source lacks, the other makes up.  There is debate about whether or not protein sources should be consumed at the same time.  The theory is that two different protein sources can combine when eaten at different times to form a complete protein.  The other side of that argument is that when one source is eaten at an earlier time, the amino acids are digested and then used or stored and cannot be combined with others eaten later to form the complete protein.  Therefore, some proteins may never form creating a deficiency.

So how important is protein and does it matter how much you eat?  Let’s talk about the importance of protein as it relates to fitness and sports first.  The most important function of protein as it relates to this topic is its role in structural support and movement, i.e muscle tissue.  Different sports and levels of fitness require different types of muscle tissue.  For example, a long distance runner needs to be as light as possible so she can run for long periods of time and use as little energy as possible.  So her muscle tissue will be lean and light.  Also, because her activity is highly aerobic, the type of energy her muscles use is different.  She will likely use all of the available blood glucose and rely on the glycogen stores in her muscle tissue for energy.  While her ideal diet is carb heavy, she will rely on protein for muscle repair and to prevent atrophy.  On the contrary, a sprinter will rely on a high protein diet to build and maintain dense and heavy muscle tissue.  The sprinter’s muscle composition is thicker and shorter fibers.  He needs strong muscles that can push him off the starting block quickly and only need to run for short periods of time.  He will also rely on carbohydrate as a fuel source, but in a smaller ratio to protein.  A weightlifter will have the heaviest and most dense muscle tissue.  His diet will consist primarily of protein for maximum muscle tissue repair and growth.

The average protein intake requirements vary depending the type of activity.  But the standard is .8g/kg, or .36g/lb of body weight.  For a weightlifter, the standard goes up to 2.4g/kg.


The great and powerful carbohydrate… you’d think it was hiding behind a big green curtain at the end of a yellow brick road.  It may not be the wizard, but it is complicated.  There are good carbs, bad carbs, simple carbs, complex carbs.  Let’s break down the different types of carbohydrates and how they are used for energy, and then discuss when to use them.

Good carbs versus bad carbs, what’s the difference?  I think in order to simplify an explanation, the word “bad” was attached to a list of certain foods with a certain carbohydrate content.  Bad is a matter of opinion, and that’s not what this article is about.  But I think we can all agree that some are more nutritive and effective than others.

The complicated version of that story is that carbohydrates can be broken down into two groups, simple and complex.  There are three specific groups; monosaccharides, which are “simple” sugars, oligosaccharides and polysaccharides.  The later two are the more complex sugars and starches.  They are digested and absorbed differently, and they serve different purposes.  The simple sugars are digested and absorbed quickly and circulated for utilization immediately.  Complex carbohydrates take longer to digest and have a more lasting effect on blood sugar levels.

The lists of simple and complex carbs isn’t quite as simple as identifying mono and polysaccharides.  But in general, the more whole the food is, the more complex it is.  Conversely, the more refined it is, the more simple it is.  For example, whole grains like brown rice and whole wheat are more complex carbohydrates.  Vegetables and fruits also fall in to this category.  Foods like sugar, honey and refined grains like white rice and “white” pasta have been processed to remove that which makes them harder to digest.  It also removes that which controls blood sugar levels.

There are many important purposes for carbohydrates.  Fiber, the most complex carb of all, is important for maintaining blood sugar levels, aiding with satiety (the feeling of fullness) and regulating digestion and elimination (pooping).  And the brain only uses carbohydrates, specifically glucose.  So if that’s the case, then how do we survive on low carb diets?  When blood glucose is low due to reduced consumption, the body makes up for it by breaking down stored fat and protein, converting it into glucose.  This is a very effective way to reduce body fat.  However, when one is trying to build muscle, low carb diets can be counterproductive; any protein consumed goes to rebuilding protein lost from muscle degradation instead of building bigger muscles.  Remember the two runners from earlier, the marathon runner and the sprinter?  The long distance runner consumes a diet high in carbohydrates, carboloading before a run to increase the amount of glycogen (or stored glucose) in the muscle cells.  The sprinter consumes a more balanced carbohydrate diet to maintain sufficient calorie and blood glucose levels.

The bodybuilder, however, has a more on-again off-again relationship with carbs.  Consuming whole grains, fruits and vegetables in a lower ratio to protein during the building and training phases, and often eliminating carbs all together the days and weeks leading up to competition.  The upside are the results.  Since the body then relies on lipolysis (breakdown of fat), bodyfat percentages are at their lowest to maximize muscle fiber visibility.  The downside is the brain fog.  Basically, bodybuilders become eating, weightlifting, spray tanning zombies.  Side effects include mood swings, trouble with concentration and focus, and increased fatigue, not to mention constipation.

The bottom line is that carbohydrates are important.  They play a vital role in several systems including metabolism, hormone synthesis, and brain function.  The ideal amount of carbohydrates consumed depends on the type of activity performed.  But the more nutrient dense the better.


It’s the most energy dense of the nutrients, providing 9 calories of energy per gram.  Because of that, a little bit goes a long way.  Foods high in fat include nuts, seeds, oils (solids and liquids), butter and avocados.  Some other foods can be high in fat, like some cuts of beef, pork and dairy (like cheese).

There are “good” and “bad” fats.  Mainly those that contribute to good health are considered good.  Those that contribute to negative health effects are considered bad.  The more saturated a fat is, the harder it is on the body.  But it’s not a good idea to eliminate fat from the diet.  It is essential for several body processes like hormone regulation, heart health, skin health, blood flow, growth and development (infants and children), brain development, cell membrane structure and satiety (there’s that word again).  And, some fatty acids are essential, like omega-3 and omega-6.

Over the years, we have gone from fat is bad, to fat is good.  From high fat diets to low fat diets, back to high fat diets.  The current thought is that fat should comprise 3% of ones total calories.  And the more nutrient dense the fat the better.

For athletes, fats round out a balanced diet.  As mentioned above, it is an essential nutrient that is responsible for many important systems and functions.  So it should not be eliminated.  But as all other nutrients, it should be consumed in moderation.

Rebecca Nedrow is an ACF Certified Culinarian with a Bachelor’s degree in Dietetics from Kansas State University. She is also the Director of Operations for Friend that Cooks Personal Chefs.

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