This Minneapolis food blogger makes dietary restrictions look and taste delicious

Quick and Easy (and Tasty!) Clam Chowder

Quick and Easy (and Tasty!) Clam Chowder

By now, you’ve likely lapsed on your New Year’s resolution to eat healthier.

The Wooden Skillet, a food blog by Erin Jensen, can help you get back on track. Among her vegan, paleo, and dairy-free recipes are a seared scallop salad with grapefruit and avocado, butternut squash soup with roasted vegetables, and curried meatballs with cauliflower rice. Jensen leaves a little wiggle room to break your diet, too, with the occasional handcrafted cocktail (or mocktails for the teetotalers) and guilt-free desserts like pistachio seven-layer cookie bars.

Jensen has always loved cooking, but it wasn’t until 2015 that she decided to start a food-focused website. As a family law attorney (with an MBA), Jensen “craved an outlet” for the recipes she made on the weekends. When the Wooden Skillet Started, she didn’t have a specific niche in mind, but over time it has evolved into a health food blog.

She owes much of that evolution to Whole30, an elimination diet that encourages eaters to remove grains, legumes, dairy, alcohol, and added sweeteners and sugar from their food rotations. The break is said to give the gut a chance to heal itself, and after 30 days, eaters reintroduce trouble foods one at a time to figure out which cause adverse effects.

Jensen did her first round of Whole30 last May, because she wanted to ease her persistent heartburn and acidic stomach issues. She saw dramatic results: Her energy improved and her mind was clearer. “I just feel amazing when I eat that way,” Jensen says. She introduced the plan to her husband, who lost 20 pounds on the diet. “It kind of seeped into the blog naturally from there because that’s kind of how I cook a lot of the time at home,” she says. (The Wooden Skillet is not affiliated with Whole30, but many of Jensen’s recipes are compliant with the plan’s parameters.)

Jensen is allergic to dairy -- ironically, she says, because she consumed too much of it during her Wisconsin upbringing -- so dairy-free recipes worked their way into the site, too. She also tries to incorporate plant-based meals into her diet, hence the vegan recipes.

Seared Scallop Salad

Seared Scallop Salad The Wooden Skillet

She says one of the best -- and most challenging -- changes eaters can make is to eliminate sugar. “People don’t realize the amount of sugar they consume on a daily basis. It’s kind of crazy,” Jensen says, adding that better sleep, increased mental agility, more stable moods, and fewer skin problems are just a few of the benefits people experience sans sugar. “When you put good food in, you can see that in all aspects of your life,” she says.

It’s no easy feat to make dietary restrictions enticing, but Jensen does so with gusto. A self-taught photographer, she posts pics on her blog that are crisp, bright, tempting, and totally worthy of the term “food porn” (if anyone out there even uses that term anymore). Her nearly 5,000 Instagram followers are the proof.

“To me, real food that is not processed does taste good,” Jensen says. “Some of the substitutes you can use to recreate some of people’s favorite foods -- more than half the time, they taste the same.” Her creamy clam chowder, for example, uses coconut milk instead of the dairy variety.

But just because you want to eat healthier doesn’t mean denying yourself everything. Even Jensen doesn’t stick to a Whole30 plan all the time. She’s as much of a fan of Friday night pizza-and-a-beer as anyone else.

That’s why you’ll see drink recipes on the Wooden Skillet from time to time. “I like to throw the occasional cocktail in there, and if I do a cocktail, it’s going to be done good, because I think the whole point of any healthy lifestyle is balance,” Jensen says.

It would seem the blogosphere is aligned with Jensen’s philosophy. The Wooden Skillet’s following has been steadily rising. To spice things up, Jensen has begun partnering with local up-and-coming food companies to develop recipes with their products. Her first collaboration was with WholeMe, a company that makes all-natural, grain-free, gluten-free granola and muffin clusters. Jensen was invited to the WholeMe offices to chat with co-owner and CEO Mary Kosir, resulting in a coconut blueberry smoothie bowl practically too pretty to eat. Jensen also teamed up with Northstar Kombucha for a cherry kombucha boulevardier. “It’s fun. I love meeting entrepreneurs and hearing about their stories,” she says.

Jensen doesn’t foresee giving up law to blog about food full-time, but she does want to take the Wooden Skillet as far as she can. “I honestly just love cooking and coming up with recipes that allow people to still eat really different, delicious food. I love surprising people when they eat some of the food I make. They’re like, ‘Oh my gosh. This is good for me?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, it is.’”