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Interview – Melissa Joulwan of the Well Fed Cookbooks

Interview – Melissa Joulwan of the Well Fed Cookbooks

This is an in-depth, really interesting and revealing interview. As you know those are my favorite kind of interviews. I love to get to know people and with a woman as exciting as Melissa Joulwan, author of the Well Fed Cookbooks, I was loaded with questions and in return she was more than ready to give me her all. Such fun!

I adore Melissa, her style, her care for others and man is she is a wild and energetic one with such a deep, smooth and bright soul. I seldom find someone who has as much energy as I do so this was an exciting adventure in interview-land. She also shares one of her delicious recipes with us, straight from her oh so popular Well Fed cookbook!

Sit back and enjoy and get to know the tremendous lady behind the popular paleo cookbooks Well Fed, Well Fed 2 and the website, The Clothes Make the Girl!


1.         I love your website! It’s so fun, honest and alive! What’s behind the name?

My blog started out as a way for me to write to amuse myself, and I thought I was going to write about fashion. If you go back to my early days, I wrote about my favorite black boots, men in hats, and dressing like a French spy. But eventually, what really interested me was documenting how I was transforming my body and mind with clean food and smart exercise, so I started focusing on that. Now I write about my triumph and failures at the gym and in the kitchen. Plus, I sometimes share pictures of my cat Smudge. I joke that I’m on a mission to be a superfit, well-fed, dressed-to-kill, glossy-haired, rock-n-roll, tart-tongued detective. What that means in practice is that I lift heavy things a few times a week, walk/run outside as often as I can, meditate every day, and eat a fairly strict paleo diet 95% of the time.

2.         How did you get introduced to the Paleo world?

I was a long-time fan and reader of Melissa Hartwig’s blog, way, way back in the day before she started Whole9. She started working with me as my nutrition coach to help me transition from eating the Zone diet and making myself miserable with obsessing over every bite I ate. She encouraged me to remove inflammatory foods — grains, dairy, legumes — from my plate to see if I felt better… and I did!

3.         Whole9Life had a profound effect on the way you view food. How have your ideas on food changed since being introduced to it?

When I was a kid and young adult, food was either purely hedonistic entertainment when I was being “bad” and eating whatever I wanted — or it was a sign of character and determination and deprivation when I was being “good” and eating grilled chicken and steamed broccoli. I loved food, and I hated food. That is not a pleasant or healthy way to live. Since I started eating real food and ditched the obsessive rules and measuring of other diets, food has found its rightful place in my life. I enjoy eating and cooking, but it’s not the only pleasure in my life — and eating is peaceful now. I know how to eat to feed my body and the emotional eating — followed by shame, guilt, and promises not to do that again — is gone.

4.         You talk about your parents strongly influencing your love of food. Can you tell me a bit about this and them?

Both of my parents are wonderful cooks and some of our favorite times together as a family have been in the kitchen. My dad — and his dad — owned a restaurant when I was a kid. It was called The Country Squire, and it was a classic 1960s roadside place: diner in the front, dining room in the back, a bar called The Mediterranean Lounge. It served home-cooked food, and it was a wonderful place to grow up. We got snowed in and made doughnuts on Doughnut Day. I had my 16th birthday in the dining room and my best friend hit me in the face with my cake. It was definitely my second home.

My mom is Italian and my dad is Lebanese, so we always ate spicy, interesting, traditional food from both cultures. My parents are both adventurous eaters with good taste, so my brother and I were required to at least try everything we were offered. That’s how I know I don’t like capers or green peas — and I’ve yet to ever eat sweetbreads, the one food my dad couldn’t convince me to try.

5.         As a child, you refer to yourself as chubby and nerdy. How do you feel children are affected by their looks and weight, and how can your books help families to help kids?

Oh, boy! I’ve said before that I think, to some degree, everything in my life has been a reaction to being an overweight kid, and I really believe that’s true. Writing became a way to express myself that felt safe and cathartic. My relationship with food was influenced dramatically by my body image. But without those struggles, I don’t think I would have discovered my late-in-life love of exercise — and I definitely wouldn’t have been so interested in nutrition. All of that lead me here: to the Well Fed cookbooks and my commitment to health first, aesthetics second.

I hope that families will enjoy the recipes so much they forget they’re “eating healthy” and can just eat and enjoy the food. I went to a Weight Watchers summer camp when I was 14 years old, and I followed restrictive diets on and off for the next 35 years. Although from the outside, paleo looks like it’s restrictive, I found so much freedom in this way of eating — I hope other families will, too.

6.         The layout of your cookbooks, Well Fed and Well Fed 2, is so great. You do an amazing job of breaking down how to make Paleo living work for you. What do you think are some of the most important things to being successful with the Paleo lifestyle that you’d like to share in this interview?

One of the things that was the most difficult to get used to when I first switched to paleo was the sheer volume of food I had to buy — here’s a post I wrote about how to estimate how much food you might need each week and the amount of time I spent cooking. There are ways to make it all less time-consuming: buy in bulk, do a weekly cookup, get really organized about grocery lists and shopping… but there is no getting around the fact that eating very clean and very well means eating at home. A lot.

For me, switching to paleo became about more than just what I was eating. I realized it meant I had to get my whole life in balance. It is not outrageous to spend an average of an hour a day to feed myself well. But in our hard-charging culture, we’re conditioned to think meals should be fast; we’ve been taught — mostly by the media — that dinner in minutes is not only possible, but required, to have a great life. I say, “Wrong!” It is very satisfying to cook a meal that tastes delicious and nourishes the body. Cooking and eating quality food is among the most caring things you can do for yourself and others.

My other piece of advice would be to keep it simple at first: build meals around delicious ingredients and don’t worry too much about recipes. Cook a bunch of protein and vegetables in advance, then mix and match throughout the week to make your meals. For example, browned ground beef can go Italian when it’s sautéed with zucchini, tomatoes, and oregano — or make a quick stir-fry with snow peas, broccoli, ginger, and coconut aminos for Asian flair. You can find more details on how I do that in this article: The Method Behind My Madness.

7.         “You know how you could do that?” – Tell me what that’s all about.

At the end of almost every recipe in both of my cookbooks, is my favorite thing: a section called “You know how you could do that?” It grew out of a game I play with my family. It’s usually played in a restaurant and goes like this: The waiter places a gorgeous plate of food in front of someone — my mom, for example. I usually clap my hands with delight when the food arrives, and someone else — my dad, perhaps — says, “Oooh, that looks good.”

Then Mom takes a bite. She smiles and nods her head. “Oh, yeah. That is good,” she says. The rest of us extend our forks and take a bite ourselves, nodding in agreement, making the appropriate, positive, nonverbal noises: Mmmmm. Aaaaah. Oooooh. Then my dad will pause, tilt his head to the side, and maybe squint his eyes a little. “It’s really good, but… you know how you could do that?”

And then he’ll offer a suggestion for a different spice or an added garnish. His idea will spark my imagination, so I’ll take another bite from Mom’s plate and offer a few suggestions of my own. Soon we’ve created variations that transform the chef ’s dish into something else entirely.

I like to think my recipes are a starting point for others’ creativity, so I invite everyone to play the “You know how you could do that?” game.

8.         Like my daughter, you are a Crossfit girl and love it! Tell me what it was about Crossfit that really clicked for you.

The thing that I liked most about CrossFit was that it challenged me to do things that scared me. Handstands. Pull-ups. Barbell cleans. Sprints. These are all things I found intimidating. But by learning to do them in a group environment where I felt no judgment, I was able to put my fear aside and learn all kinds of new, empowering movements. For the first time EVER in my life, I learned to kick up into a handstand against the wall in December 2010; that was a pretty amazing moment. I’ve also written extensively on my blog about conquering box jumps.That kind of fear-smashing is very rewarding.

9.         So what is on the horizon for you in 2014? 

My husband and I have some big adventures coming up! We’ve lived in Austin, Texas for 12 years, and this summer, we’re relocating to White River Junction, Vermont. He’s going to get his Master’s degree in cartooning from the Center For Cartoon Studies — and I’ll be sharing new recipes inspired by our new environment. I’ll also be taking advantage of the hiking, cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, and ice skating opportunities. I can’t wait to play outside! And we have another idea of a cookbook that will probably be released in 2016 which means I need to start developing recipes NOW!

10.       And my last question, which I love to ask everyone: Is there anything else you’d like to say or add before we close?

I spent plenty of years beating myself up physically and emotionally — and I never really felt as happy and healthy as I wanted. In the last year or so, I’ve been trying a gentler approach, and I’m feeling really good. My health is improved and my attitude is pretty bright. I don’t like to give advice, but I feel confident saying that if you are honest and kind to yourself and to others, you really can’t go wrong.

Thank you Melissa! 

Go to Melissa’s website: and get to learn more about her and do check out many of her blog posts and recipes!

From my kitchen to yours,

Tina Turbin

If you have any questions or suggestions just email me at Tina (at)

About Tina Turbin

I'm a cookbook-collecting, recipe-developing paleo junkie, and I live in the kitchen. I'm hooked on farmers' markets, traveling, eating healthy, and hiking until my legs scream at me. There's nothing better than hanging out with family and good friends. I have fun and sleeping is just plain boring. Read more About Tina Turbin.

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