Laura Smith is the lead trainer at Fitness Mag Studio and a proud #TEAMRED Biogen-sponsored athlete.
After winning a 12-week body transformation challenge, Laura decided to follow her new-found passion and launch a career as a qualified fitness professional. She now lives out her dream of helping others achieve their transformation goals as an online health, fitness and lifestyle coach.
We took a tour of Laura’s kitchen and pantry to find out how this passionate fit pro fuels her busy lifestyle and maintains her aspirational physique.
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How would you describe your approach to healthy nutrition?
My approach is best described in two words: balance and moderation. I’m a girl with a big appetite who loves almost all food. For these reasons, it took time and effort to truly understand and consistently implement these two concepts in my life.
I’ve learnt through trial and error that my body, mind, and relationship with food are at their healthiest with a diet that prioritises function, enjoyment, and weight management (in that order). It’s not about being as light or as lean as possible but rather maintaining a healthy BMI to physically feel and move better.
I tick the food-for-function box by focusing on whole foods and ensuring a balanced macronutrient intake in my main meals, and aim to include fruit and/or vegetables with every meal.
I try to keep my food sources as varied as possible to get the best nutrient balance. I use different spices and natural ingredients to bring out the flavour of my foods. Sometimes I’ll use not-so-natural ingredients to get a specific meal type or flavour palette. I just try to do it in small quantities at a time.
I choose to manage my portion sizes either by being more mindful of the quantities I eat or by counting calories, as this helps me maintain a healthy weight.
More importantly, there are no restrictions; no off-limit foods or cheat meals. Eating isn’t cheating!
I indulge outside of my usual foods one to four times a week. By allowing yourself indulgences, you can learn to moderate what satisfies you mentally and emotionally without wrecking yourself physically.
It takes time and practice but the only person you’ll ever have to do it for is you. The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll know your own body better.
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When and how often do you shop for food?
We do a trip to the local butcher once every 6-8 weeks to stock the freezer – this approach saves time and money down the line.
I’ll also use this trip to shop for other items like frozen fruit, veg, and freezer-friendly starches like wraps and pitas. These are a big help when you hit a busy week and don’t have time to shop.
We restock the pantry every month with anything that’s running low. We’ve built up a wide variety of pantry staples, so, surprisingly, this isn’t a big shop. Our secret is buying the odd or expensive ingredient here and there for a special recipe. Before you know it, you almost always have everything you need.
I’ll head to the shop one to three times a week for fresh ingredients. We like variety and, as it’s only my husband and I, we frequently buy small quantities so that food doesn’t go to waste.
In Laura’s monthly shopping bag: Chicken, fish, tuna, rice, pitas, wraps, oats, spices, sauces, whey protein, nuts, almond milk, nut butters and oils.
Laura’s weekly shopping trolley includes: Fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh herbs, brown bread, avocados, eggs, cottage cheese, and whatever snacks are on the menu for that week, like biltong, rice cakes, and protein bars, as examples.
Where do you shop for your groceries and other food staples?
- Food Lovers Market: Great for odd ingredients and health foods you don’t find in chain stores.
- Dis-Chem: The best place for supplements and basic health food staples.
- Checkers & Woolworths: For the weekly fresh food shop and stocking up on the basics.
- Jansens: Our local butchery.
Peek inside Laura’s fridge: Milk, eggs, bread, cheeses, salad ingredients, carrots, cauliflower, green beans, kiwis, blueberries, cottage cheese and meal prepped vegan mince for meat-free Monday.
Peek inside Laura’s freezer: Chicken, beef, roasts, frozen prepped meals, wraps, frozen veg, frozen fruit.
Laura’s must-haves in every healthy pantry cupboard…
FLAVOUR: Flavour is the name of the healthy eating game. We buy a wide variety of natural spices and herbs, curry powders, tomato paste, health-conscious spices and sauce brands, oils and vinegars.
STARCHES: Oats, brown and wild rice, and quick snack options like rice cakes, whole-grain crispbread or Provitas.
TINS & JARS: All kinds of beans, lentils, chickpeas, whole peeled tomatoes, coconut milk and cream, and fermented and pickled items.
BAKING: Non-dairy milk, dark chocolate, oat/coconut/rice flours, cocoa powder (or better, cacao), natural fruit purees, nut butters, coconut chips/flakes, honey or maple syrup.
NUTS, SEEDS & DRIED FRUIT: Great for snacking, baking, adding to meals as nutrient boosters or texture enhancers.
Laura’s rules for wholesome and healthful eating:
- Prioritise fresh, whole foods often. This also means eating out or ordering in from restaurants that use fresh foods over fast food take-out.
- Drink sufficient water.
- Choose maintenance over short-term results. Any nutritional approach you can’t maintain long-term shouldn’t be on the agenda.
- Nutrients trump calories. Calorie counting can help you manage your weight but it doesn’t account for the nutritional quality of the food you eat, which is more important.
- Listen to your body. The signals your body sends you will guide you in making healthy choices. For example, I know excess carbs give me energy dips. I’m not pre-diabetic but I can only process so many carbs at one time.
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How do you prefer to cook or prepare healthy meals?
I love using a variety of cooking methods. I ideally choose those that help maintain the nutrient content and quality of the food I am preparing. Changing the cooking method I use helps keep the variety in my diet.
I like to pan fry or oven bake chicken, beef or fish for use in different meals like stir-fry, wraps, pitas, or salads. Cooking lean protein in advance saves a lot of time during the week, and makes dinners easy to throw together. Leftovers are for lunch.
When I have an extra few minutes or plan ahead, I’ll prep curries or roasts. The cooking time may be long but it doesn’t take much prep time. And it’s worth it because you’ll have enough left to freeze for a rainy day.
I find that the easiest breakfasts require no cooking, like smoothie blends or overnight oats.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learnt about healthful eating and food prep?
This is an ever-evolving process. Healthful eating will mean something different at every stage of your life.
What it means to you right now may change in a few years, especially as your priorities shift. So remain adaptable in your methods and routines, even if that means making changes on a weekly week basis if required.
It is also important to keep an open mind because nutrition as a science still has so much to uncover, which means so do we. Staying receptive to new information, and nurturing a willingness to try new things is a sure-fire way to continue eating healthy for life.
Laura top food prep tip:
Don’t overwhelm yourself. There are many different ways to prep meals. How you choose to do it will be unique to your lifestyle, budget, and schedule.
If you’re just getting started, try one new meal prep method at a time. If you’re trying to get better, keep notes on what you did, what worked and what didn’t. Eventually you’ll arrive at a unique approach that’s perfect for you and your lifestyle.
Author: Pedro van Gaalen
When he’s not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He’s worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.