Meal Gardener of the Month, August 2016: Michael Y

Michael is a guy who knows a thing or two about good "healthified" food. With his ever-increasing appreciation for health & nutrition - alongside his experience in the tech industry - it's no wonder he's been a star when it comes to taking advantage of the Meal Garden tool!

Here's his story, as the Meal Gardener of the Month for August: 

1. Tell us a little about YOU…

I have been working for an IT company for a few years. Ten years ago, I would have thought that the task of working on the computer and the chore of preparing food in the kitchen were unrelated and worlds apart. But man, times have changed. There are now many awesome internet-based health and wellness tools, such as Meal Garden, that have opened my eyes to the possibility of how smart planning and online technology can support my goals to eat more nutritious meals, enhance my health and meet people who are as passionate as I am about food.

My hobbies include creating and observing art, poetry writing, yoga, qigong and hiking. I really enjoy cooking with others and sharing amazing food with my friends. Cooking and eating socially is a remarkable way to bring people together and uplift their spirits.

Even though I have no intention to become a full vegan anytime soon, I do want to eat vegan meals more frequently, and I've started to really enjoy well-prepared and innovative vegan snacks and meals. To keep things interesting, I'm also on the lookout for recipes from different parts of the world. At the moment, the tried and true traditional recipes as well as the more modern, updated recipes from the Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Asian and Latin American regions interest me a lot. I'm willing to try everything... well, almost everything - bugs are still a no-go for me.

To go one step further, I sometimes put my thinking cap on and ask myself, "How do I healthify or even, in some cases, veganize these recipes?" While many traditional recipes are big on flavour, they're also big on calories and unhealthy fats, unfortunately. So I love to develop ways to create more nutritious versions that remain delicious and everyone will enjoy eating! 

2. What’s your go-to strategy when it comes to preparing meals in the kitchen?

I do plan a few meals during a given week, but I haven't reached to the point where I know exactly what I'll be cooking every single day. What I plan to make partially depends on what I feel like eating and what ingredients in the fridge I need to use up. Leftovers are generally A-OK in my books.

When it's incredibly busy or if I'm particularly tired, I would rely on nutritious foods that are super easy to make, such as salads and smoothies mixed with protein powder. It's always helpful to make a lot of food whenever possible, so you will have something already prepared for the next couple of days.

In terms of my cooking skills, I would rate myself as a 7 out of 10 on an average day. I can chop vegetables without injuring myself, but I'm not exactly fast at it. Sometimes I surprise myself when I try out a new recipe and the food turned to be a great success! My friends usually tell me that my food tastes really good.  

3. How did you find Meal Garden? 

I discovered Meal Garden at a free meal planning workshop at Merchants of Green Coffee. Kiki did a fantastic job explaining the features of Meal Garden and answering the participants' questions on how to use this tool to plan ahead, save time, eat healthier and make their lives easier!

I tried the free trial, which I appreciated. It's always nice to test out something before purchasing it. When the free trial has ended, I found the price to be very affordable, so I bought their 1-year subscription. 

4. What are your favourite recipes?

The 5-Minute Ramen is a favourite of mine when I don't have a lot of free time. The Spicy Fish Taco Bowl with Cilantro Lime Slaw is another hit for me! Great flavours in this dish and a tasty alternative when you want Mexican food but want something a little different from tacos. Roasted Butternut Squash with Almond Pecan Parmesan is great, too. Wonderfully delicious and full of nutrients to help your body stay strong and healthy.

The Classic Shakshuka is something that I make at least once a week, and it's one of my favourite breakfast dishes. I often sprinkle cheese on it for some gooey goodness. After everything has been cooked, I add some parsley and sumac to the shakshuka. Yum! 

5. Why do you use Meal Garden?

I'm not as young anymore, and I discovered that I can no longer get away from eating unhealthy fatty foods and living a sedentary lifestyle without gaining weight. So in addition to increasing my activity level, I have promised myself to cook healthier meals.

It's great to have all of my favourite healthy recipes on one site. I don't need to switch platforms to get the information that I need - everything is easily accessible.

I love how Meal Garden provides a detailed nutritional analysis after I enter each recipe into my cookbook. This tool is helping me to stay motivated and, if necessary, alter the recipes to ensure that my body is meeting the daily nutritional requirements and I'm not eating too much sodium and fat.

6. What would you like to see Meal Garden offer in the future?

I don't have a super fast computer, so loading the cookbook page can take a while sometimes. Perhaps one way to speed it up is to give users the option of displaying the pictures at a lower resolution.

Also, some recipe collections are quite large, which can make navigating and finding the right recipes that fit my personal needs a little difficult. Organizing them further and placing the recipes into subcategories may help.

Thanks for your dedicated engagement with Meal Garden Michael. You've proven to be not only a diligent planner, but also a user with one of the highest number of your own recipes (over 30 in just a couple of months!) you've added YOURSELF - even without the help of our Recipe Manager. Great stuff!