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Lauren Klukas: Cooking up Opportunities

Lauren Klukas is currently finishing her Bachelor of Science- Human Science through AU while raising her daughter in Calgary, Alberta and testing out meal plans from her new cook book The Complete Plate – a Stronger, Healthier, Happier You that will be available throughout Canada in January, 2018.  Released in major book stores just in time for setting New Year’s Resolutions, you can also visit her website https://www.thecompleteplate.com over the next few weeks for exclusive copies for sale before they hit the shelves.  Her ability to turn a slight set-back into significant success personifies how a few simple substitutions in a recipe can inspire a new purpose.

Why did you choose AU?
I couldn’t fit my lab schedules at my previous university with my work schedule.  I liked the flexibility and ironically the smaller community feel of AU.  Ironic since students who attend AU are from all over the globe, but for some reason it feels like more of a community.

What has your post-secondary journey looked like?
I started off in Biological Sciences because pretty much every eager teen graduating from high school thinks they are going to be a doctor.  Then I quickly realized, no, that was not my gift.  So I went back to the drawing board, and looked again at my life to see what my passions were.  Growing up I had been a high level competitive swimmer, swimming 9 times per week.  When I had free time my favourite thing to do was to go workout.  I had an innate passion for fitness, so it seemed only fitting to get my Personal Fitness Trainer (PFT) Diploma from Mount Royal University.  In 2008, I graduated with my PFT and began working with clients to reach their fitness goals.  I loved my vocation, but regretted not finishing my BSc., so, at the end of 2010, I enrolled in AU to finish what I had started.  I loved the flexibility to still work full time while going to school.

I was getting to the end of my degree in 2012 when life was flipped upside down.  My husband and I received the very exciting news that we were expecting our first child.  My goal was to try and finish up the rest of degree in those 9 months.  I was doing pretty well with my schedule until I reached the 16 week mark of my pregnancy.  I was having terrible heart palpitations, so I went for some tests.  I didn’t hear anything back so I went on with my life, working on my courses and booking exams.  Three weeks later I received a call from the Foothills Hospital to stop all physical activity immediately and come into the hospital at once.

What I thought was going to be a quick in and out turned into a week-long stay.  I had an exam booked during that week and AU was absolutely amazing in accommodating me.  I loved that I was able to call and speak to someone directly.  With all the other uncertainties on my plate at that time I was beyond grateful for AU’s compassion and readiness to step up and make sure that my schooling was not a source of stress on top of everything else.

I was diagnosed with a rare heart condition called Arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC).  Because of this diagnosis I am no longer allowed to exercise for the rest of my life.  I also ended up spending a month of my pregnancy in the hospital.  I have had two heart surgeries, and the journey to find the correct medication cocktail has been physically exhausting.  I had to drop out of a course and slow my academic schedule down substantially.  However, through it all, AU has been completely supportive, very accommodating and wonderfully flexible to help me finish my degree in a way that works for me, I don’t feel like having the goal to finish my degree in the midst of my new reality and health journey would be possible at any other institution.  While my post-secondary journey is definitely not traditional, I am beyond grateful for AU.

What has been your favourite or most memorable AU course?
This is a tough one! Each course has contributed in some way to the project I have been working on for the past 3 years especially NUTR 330, 405, 406 and 495.  I also really enjoyed each time I had to go to actual campus in Athabasca for lab work.

What was the inspiration behind creating your cookbook?
I was inspired to write this book because of my diagnosis.  Not being allowed to exercise for the rest of my life, I needed to find a way to control and manage my weight purely through nutrition.  I needed to adopt sustainable healthy eating habits.

When I went looking for a tool to help me I realized that all I could find were fad diets or detoxes that eliminated certain foods or entire food groups.  I have already given up so much with disease, I am not willing to also give up bacon, bread, cheese and chocolate.  Those approaches were not sustainable for me, there was nothing available that promoted successful long-term healthy eating.  So I set out on a goal to provide a scientifically sound nutritional resource that promoted healthy relationships with food.

Consulting with a registered dietitian and chef, I designed 30 meal plans for 1500, 2000 and 2500 kcal that provide 100% of the current daily recommended intake values from food.  No foods or food groups have been eliminated.  Meals are simple, ingredients can be found at any local grocery store, and the recipes are family friendly.

How has Athabasca University helped with the process of creating your cookbook?
Athabasca has provided an amazing foundation within my program to seek truth not trends and develop my critical thinking skills.  Starting with Scientific Reasoning (SCIE 326) which equipped me the scientific reasoning skills I need to guide my questioning around claims and scientific study designs (methodology) to NUTR 330, 405, 406 and 495 which gave me the foundation to discern which claims are just another fad.

What is your favorite recipe in your cookbook?
I have quite a few favourites! I know this sounds very biased, but I honestly really enjoy all of the meal plans.  The goal was to make all the meal plans yummy, since variety is so important in creating sustainable eating habits.  I am actually having my meal plan 26 today, so yummy! I even started the day with pancakes, because all foods can fit!

If you hosted an episode of Chopped Canada, what four items would you have in the picnic basket for the contestants? 

This question is way too fun! Hmmmm….  Shiitake mushrooms, goat cheese, beets, and I am so tempted to say Nutella as the 4th ingredient … okay Nutella! This could easily be a disaster or completely epic.

What one meal could you eat for the rest of your life?

What do you like to snack on while studying?
I usually try to avoid mindless snacking.  If I am going to eat I want to sit and enjoy it, but hey, life happens, and it is not always practical to sit and focus on just your food, so in those cases I would grab some air-popped popcorn with nothing on it.  I like the flavour of fresh air-popped popcorn.  It is a great snack to feel satisfied that isn’t overly energy dense.  All toppings like butter and coconut oil can definitely still fit, within moderation, but a good snack if you are going to be mindless or focused on other things like studying is plain air-popped popcorn.

Pineapple on pizza – yay or nay?
YES! I know this is not for everyone, but I am a huge fan.  I love the texture and taste.

What is your favorite kitchen hack?
Let’s go back to my love of air-popped popcorn.  Don’t have a popcorn machine? Or you do, but, like me, are too lazy to pull it and use it? Then use a brown paper bag, pour 1/4 cup of popcorn kernels in the bag.  Fold the top of bag over twice.  Place in the microwave for 2 minutes.  Stop the microwave when you hear the popping slow down.  Enjoy! It is also a great toddler snack, my daughter loves it.

What is your mantra in life?
The irony is that I could not cook before my diagnosis almost 5 years ago now.  Actually, I hated cooking and thought it was chore.  Now cooking is one of my greatest sources of joy.  My diagnosis showed me that we are so quick to limit ourselves, to fit our identities into a box if that makes sense.

I want to encourage others to learn a new skill they may have written off.  Who would have thought five years ago I would have a cookbook coming out?

So my mantra in the book:

“When Life Gives You Lemons… Bake a Lemon Meringue Pie!” – The Complete Plate (2018)

Besides cooking, what are some of your other hobbies?
Fitness was always my hobby.  I was never creative in the traditional sense of being able to paint, sing or play an instrument.  So, when fitness was off the table, I had a bit of an identity crisis.  As a result of my new-found love for cooking, I also discovered a love for food styling and food photography.  They have been very therapeutic outlets for me in coping with this new reality.

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