Fuel My Life | Food

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Mindful consumption of nutritious food made easy
By Janice Binkert | Jan. 30, 2021

The shopping, chopping, preparing, and portioning of mindfully nutritious food are perhaps some of the most daunting and time-consuming tasks in our daily efforts to eat and live healthfully. But what if you could get some of that time back? Time with your family and friends. Time for your passions. More time for yourself. Enter Fuel My Life.

Shaina LaFond, personal chef, certified fitness nutrition specialist, and owner/founder of Fuel My Life, was inspired to create her unique business concept — a nutrition-focused, “food as fuel” meal service — through struggles she herself had experienced in trying to strike a balance between her business and private life. A career in the food and beverage industry had led to an unhealthy lifestyle, and the added responsibility of raising a family while feeling exhausted and lacking energy ultimately resulted in frustration and stress for her. But ironically, although food had been part of the problem, in the end it turned out to be the solution.

As LaFond put it, “Changing my relationship with food changed everything. With Fuel My Life, we not only want to help people find more time in their day but also provide a way for them to make educated decisions about the food they are consuming and how it affects their well-being.”

La Fond began working in restaurants at age 18. “Though I have no formal culinary training, I have years of kitchen experience,” she said. “I started in the front of the house, but eventually fell in love with the almost balletic, controlled chaos of the back of the house.” After years in the casual dining and craft beer arena, she found her way to upscale dining and the world of wine.

“I was fascinated by the culinary and cultural impact of wine,” she said, “and I spent eight years working for a national airport-based retail restaurant/wine shop chain, which allowed me to travel to open up new shops around the country. But while I was mentally stimulated by what I did, I also suffered for it. That industry is, after all, rife with self-indulgence. Hours-long wine lunches with beautiful pairings. Tastings with winemakers with charcuterie and cheese. So much food and so much alcohol!”

A native of Flint who grew up mostly in the Detroit area, LaFond met her now-husband, Christopher, in middle school. “We were friends for a very long time before we decided to make it a lifetime thing!” she said. The couple moved to Traverse City five years ago from the Ann Arbor area. “Chris had just completed his surgical residency at St. Joseph Mercy hospital there and was offered a general surgery position at Munson Hospital. And since this area is also renowned for its food and wine, it seemed like the perfect place for both of us to continue to pursue our passions — medicine for him and hospitality for me,” said LaFond.

Unfortunately, the transition was not so perfect for LaFond. “I attempted to stay within my field by working with local wineries, but that proved to be very difficult, because I was by now the mother of two young children — our second was born the day after we arrived in Traverse City — in a new town with no family nearby and a husband who worked long, arduous hours. The stress of the whole situation began to impact my mental and physical health. And my solution to that stress was to soothe myself with rich foods and drink, which only served to exacerbate those issues.”

Fortunately, after a cathartic moment when she realized that her lack of energy and enthusiasm were causing her to miss out on important and fleeting moments of her family life, LaFond sought outside professional help. Between therapy and a personal trainer, she was able to regain her health and energy, and she found new hobbies, like mountain biking and powerlifting, that made her feel strong, centered, and capable again. “I learned the importance of making time for self-care. I had the strength and ability to enjoy time with my husband, to play with my kids, and to provide an example to them of choosing to honor one’s self. It made an enormous difference in all of my relationships. 

Nevertheless, LaFond desperately missed the beautiful foods that seemed “off-limits” in her new lifestyle. And she wondered if and how she would be able to include them in her diet and still maintain her weight loss and healthy habits long-term. So she started to experiment, choosing a favorite dish and reworking it to offer the same flavors. but with healthy alternatives substituted for some of the more calorie-dense ingredients. As she did so, she would post these meals to her local gym/fitness community’s Facebook group.

“The feedback was amazing!” said LaFond. “So many people commented that they would love to eat such delicious food, knowing that it wouldn’t set them back in their goals. So, I gathered a focus group of sorts. I asked people how often they would want it, and how much they would be willing to pay, and what such a meal service would mean to them. Encouraged by what I heard, I talked to my husband, who fully threw his support behind me and my new endeavor.”

LaFond launched Fuel My Life in August 2018. “In the very beginning, along with running my business, I was avidly pursuing peak fitness,” she said. “I didn’t allow much flexibility in my exercise or eating regimens, and the recipes I created reflected that. I’ve since come to realize that fitness isn’t just physical health. Mental health plays an enormous role. Often when people fixate too much on their diet/exercise, they tend to overcompensate and develop an unhealthy and needlessly restrictive relationship with food. This can backfire and lead to worse long-term outcomes. My focus now — and the focus of my company — is mindful consumption. All in all, I think it’s more responsible to communicate to people that they can eat beautiful, healthy food that satisfies them emotionally as well as physically, without demanding that they adhere strictly to a program. That’s how you make a true lifestyle change for the better.” 

Another change LaFond soon realized she needed to make was to relinquish some of the responsibility of the business to a trusted partner. “For the first six months or so, I did all the recipe development and cooking — and everything else — myself,” she said, “but once our client list grew to a certain point, I knew that I needed help.”

She eventually hired chef Korrie Garcia, who had trained at the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York, as a part-time assistant, but soon promoted her to full-time head chef, handling all food preparation and inventory management. “Korrie is as good a human being as she is a chef, and she specializes in whole, natural food preparation, including cooking for people with special diets, sensitivities, and/or allergies,” said LaFond. “She is also a skilled pastry chef. Since she came on board, she has helped me fine-tune our dishes, created fantastic new ones, spearheaded our school lunch program (see sidebar), and made our little enterprise even better from an ecological, environmental perspective.”

LaFond handles all administrative aspects of running a small business plus deliveries, ordering, ingredient sourcing, and client interaction. “Together, we brainstorm new dishes and ways to better our service. We are always becoming inspired by the food we eat, and chefs we love, and we try to bring that all into our kitchen in our own unique, health-focused way,” said LaFond. “We’re quite a team!”  

The menu choices offered by Fuel My Life are not only healthy but diverse, delicious, and — something that is often neglected in to-go food — attractively presented. Whether you’re an omnivore or prefer vegetarian, vegan, keto, gluten-free, lactose-free, low carb, or low-fat fare, you’re sure to find something here.

Choose from refreshers like the almond-cinnamon smoothie (with unsweetened almond milk, local gala apple, fresh banana, vanilla whey protein, almond butter, gluten-free oats, chia seeds and hemp hearts), succulent flank steak (with fresh lettuce wedge, crispy bacon, tomato, and house-made Greek yogurt blue cheese dressing), zesty blackened shrimp tacos (with wild-caught shrimp, blackened seasoning, avocado oil, corn tortillas, feta cheese, tomatoes, cabbage-carrot slaw, and cilantro-lime crema), a crunchy baked falafel bowl (with chickpeas, organic baby spinach, tomatoes, onions, feta, hummus, tzatziki, cucumber, parsley and garlic), wild-caught sockeye salmon (with lemon-caper butter sauce, cauliflower puree and asparagus), hearty vegetarian white lasagna (with pasta, zucchini, shredded mozzarella, cottage cheese, carrots, spinach, unsweetened almond milk, parmesan cheese) and even indulgent Double Chocolate Protein Donuts (gluten-free flour, egg, whey protein, olive oil, vanilla and Neufchâtel cheese). Each item on the ordering pages lists all ingredients (and allergy alerts where relevant) as well as nutritional information on calories, protein, fat and carbs.

“Currently, our main customer base is fairly consistently made up of busy professionals like physicians, whose working hours rending time-consuming food prep prohibitive, working parents who would rather come home and spend quality time with their children than immediately begin cooking or order fast food, and folks with specific fitness or athletic pursuits who utilize our service to reach their goals,” said LaFond. “But we know that such a service is cost-prohibitive to many — especially given the pandemic-related financial insecurity that some are facing. My goal is to find ways to offer our services to folks on the lower end of the financial spectrum, but without sacrificing our ideals.

“Running a business that uses responsibly sourced ingredients, compostable and eco-friendly packaging, that doggedly pays employees wages that reflect the cost of living, and that regularly supplies food to local individuals and organizations in need (see “Donate Meals!” under the “Food” drop-down menu on the Fuel My Life website) is tough on your bottom line – but it’s also non-negotiable. We don’t just want to make our clients healthier, we also want to make our community and the world a better place.” 

For more information, or to order items from Fuel My Life, go online to fuelmylifetc.com or call (269) 599-7542. Pick-up is offered Monday through Friday from 9AM to 9PM at UnCommon Kitchen, located at 2259 Traversefield Drive in Traverse City. In-town delivery is also available on weekdays. Note: The deadline for ordering is Wednesday of the previous week by 10PM.

SCHOOL LUNCHES
Fuel My Life was approached by The Pathfinder School in Traverse City in fall 2019 about offering a pilot program for lunches, since the school doesn’t not have an in-house food program, and they wanted to offer parents an alternative to packing lunches every day. “We jumped at the opportunity to challenge the stereotype of what kids will or will not eat,” said LaFond. “That means offering familiar foods in unfamiliar ways and unfamiliar foods in familiar ways. Kids are so curious and open and brave that it’s not much of a stretch to ask them to try new foods — especially around their peers!”

The program began in January 2020, but soon afterward, due to COVID-related challenges, had to adopt certain changes, such as contact-free delivery. LaFond said several other local schools that do not currently offer their own food program had also expressed interest in Fuel My Life’s services, but the pandemic put that on hold, at least for now. 

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