Meet Monique Volz, blogger and creator of Ambitious Kitchen, a website featuring homestyle recipes made healthy, a variety of how-to guides and a heavy dose of wholesome inspiration. Volz is an Under Armour ambassador and a regular recipe contributor to My Fitness Pal’s blog. Read on to learn more about the just-married Chicago native, how working out keeps her sane and why she says meal-planning is the key to healthy eating.
Q: Have you always been passionate about food? What made you get into cooking?
Volz: Growing up, my parents were always in the kitchen. My mom is 100% Puerto Rican so she always made ethnic cuisine. My dad was always the baker, making pies, cakes and cookies. Food was a big part of my childhood and my everyday experience.
Q: How was Ambitious Kitchen born? Where did the name come from?
Volz: My best friend and I argue about who came up with the name (laughs). Even in college, I was always looking for the next thing, professionally and personally. Ambitious Kitchen was born in 2011 out of a desire to provide an experience for people in the kitchen and ultimately beyond.
Q: What makes you leap out of bed every day?
Volz: A workout in the morning. I’m really into cross-tone fitness classes (a variation on HIIT) these days.
Beyond that, it’s the creativity in the kitchen and always giving my readers something to look forward to and fuel their wellness journey. I love that I can teach a mom how to cook healthy for her kids.
Q: What was your lowest moment that ended up launching you to success?
Volz: My father passed away right before I went to college. I went through a grieving process without a support system, and I dealt with it by bingeing and anorexia. I needed something for myself that could make me feel good. I thought: What better way to honor him than to start this blog? Ambitious Kitchen propelled me forward.
Q: Let’s talk more about your personal struggles with body image and eating disorders.
Volz: It really took me a long time, but the realization that I was controlling my emotions with food was the first step. I ended up going to therapy to help with the grief from my dad. From there, I had to teach myself it was OK to eat all types of foods and no foods are off limits.
I do think recovery is possible for people struggling with food and eating disorders. It took me a long time to realize I could have pizza and kale.
Q: What are your favorite healthy go-to foods or meals?
Volz: I really love Puerto Rican rice and beans because it’s healthy and inexpensive and just really delicious. I also love cooking with global flavors. Thai curry is a go-to. We do a lot of breakfasts for dinner: Eggs and bacon, cottage cheese protein pancakes. Every family should have brinner once a week!
Q: What do your friends and family always ask you to make?
Volz: Dessert (laughs). Any type of cookie. It’s always expected that I’ll bring something sweet. Paleo chocolate chunk cookies are a go-to. I also make tahini brownies. I like finding creative, healthy twists on a classic. I try to surprise people with riffs.
Q: How do you stay on track while baking all the time?
Volz: I try to do 80/20. I think everything is on the table. I like to have pizza on the weekends with my husband, but during the week I like to eat soups and salads.
Q: What are some tips you can give to MyFitnessPal users who want to achieve their fitness and weight-loss goals?
Volz: The number 1 most important thing is that if you have a goal you want to reach, having meals planned is vital. Having something healthy in the fridge (for snacks and meals) is key because if you wait too long to eat, it’s so easy to overeat. I recommend picking 2–4 recipes per week and doing a meal prep on Sundays and Wednesdays and then you have everything chopped and ready to go.
The other is not forcing yourself to do a workout that doesn’t excite you. For example, Zumba is just not for me. I tried a ton of different workouts before I found something that worked for me. Right now I love lifting and HIIT. Find something you love and do that.
Q: How do you balance the stressors of life while maintaining your health and fitness goals?
Volz: I work out five times a week, which is so important for stress and anxiety. I think going to the gym and having that hour of me time is very important. But it’s not only about being in the gym. If I’m feeling super overwhelmed I take time to get my nails done, get a massage or take a bath with essential oil.
Q: How do you unwind and celebrate your successes?
Volz: I love doing things in Chicago — going to dinner, spending time with my friends and loved ones and just relishing in the pleasures of life. Not 24/7 thinking about my goals in the gym and really enjoying life in general.
Q: What’s your personal mantra?
Volz: To be honest, I think just being myself and recognizing that nobody else is like me, which is a challenge, especially with social media where it’s so easy to say, “I want to be a CrossFit person or a yogi person, etc.”
I’ve found that, knowing food makes me happy and being able to inspire other women through that process helps me get excited about my day.