Convincing your children to choose grain-free, gluten-free, dairy-free versions of their favorite Chick-fil-A nuggets or Taco Bell Crunch Wrap Supreme may seem like a far-fetched dream—but leave it to The Defined Dish’s Alex Snodgrass to make that happen. The North Texan’s New York Times bestselling cookbook is flying off the shelves, and for good reason. Here are just a couple of the reviews:
“I own two cookbooks, and Alex’s is the second. Buy it. You won’t be disappointed.”
“She makes recipes that would normally be intimidating very doable, delicious and healthy.”
The praise goes on and on. Snodgrass recently returned from a sold-out book tour, maintains a blog that covers everything from pantry prep to self-confidence, and has an Instagram following of 415,000. Oh, and she’s also parenting two young girls with her husband Clayton, her college best-friend-turned-sweetheart. Snodgrass describes life as “chaos—but the best kind.”
How did you start The Defined Dish? Originally The Defined Dish started because my sister [Madison]—and this is probably six years ago—had an Instagram account where she would share fitness workout videos, because she was a personal trainer. I had just had my daughter Sutton, and I was at home.
I always loved cooking and shared my recipes with my family and friends. It was really kind of my sister’s idea to join forces and start a food and fitness blog, where I did the recipes and she did the fitness. We started it together, and it was more of like a hobby-type thing. It kind of quickly tipped more into food because I was way more into it than she was—and everybody likes food more than fitness.
After about two years, my sister was getting married, and she decided that she didn’t want to do it anymore. At that point, we probably had about 10,000 followers, and I was really starting to like it and start to get the hang of things. I was like, “Oh, should I just stop too? This is taking up a lot of time and energy, and it’s not really going anywhere,” or I could actually shift it into business mode and try to turn it into my business.
So I went out on my own. I rebranded my site, made it easier to work and just really shifted into a food-focused blog. It was just me running it. From there it just kind of took off. That’s really when The Defined Dish as it is today was born.
What gave you the drive to go out on your own? Before I really started the blog, I was also struggling with anxiety for the first time in my life. I had Sutton at a really young age. We weren’t expecting her; we weren’t there yet. I kind of became a stay-at-home mom by default. I got my real estate license, so I kind of piddled in that, but I just wasn’t finding what was next for me. So doing the blog as a hobby brought me a lot of joy, and it was my passion.
I realized that if I can make this my job, it would make me so happy—and it’s flexible. I can still be at all the big things that I need to be at—all the teacher meetings, all the recitals and all the things—and not worry about that because I have a flexible schedule. So it was like, if this works out it would be so amazing.
At that point, when Madison left, Clayton and I really sat down, because he saw me spending so much time and energy on it. He said to me, “I really think you can make this a business, and you need to, because otherwise it’s not worth your time.” We didn’t have a nanny then; I was just trying to do this at night. I had a lightbox set up to take pictures of my food. I did that for a while longer until I could afford to have a nanny.
Now I am able to do that during the day and clock out at night and be present with my kids—rather than right after dinner’s served hovering over the food taking pictures, and Clayton’s like, “Sit down and have dinner.” A lot has changed because I was able to turn it into a business, which is really important.
What is it like to have a New York Times bestselling cookbook? Was that your goal? It’s pretty awesome. It’s not really necessarily the goal because it’s so hard to get. I was kind of warned before the fact that the odds of getting that, even if you have a great-selling book, are so slim—because it’s not just based on numbers.
I don’t know what the algorithm is for The New York Times bestselling list, but it’s really tricky. So I was warned by my publishing team, “Just so you know, your book is already presold. The numbers are there, but you’re probably not going to get it just because that’s just how it works”—unless you’re, like, Brené Brown, or someone super like Alison Roman, who writes for TheNew York Times’ cooking column.
It was one of those things that I just didn’t think I was going to really get it. So when I got it, it was just like the icing on the cake—because even though my book was selling great, and all my fans were cooking out of it, and that was the goal, this was just like such a good prize to get on top of it. You know, it’s super rewarding.
What a great validation of all the hours you put into creating your brand. It’s hard to be validated when you’re a home cook trying to start this blog and writing your own cookbook. A lot of people would kind of be like, “Oh, those recipes aren’t that impressive.” If you’re somebody that likes to cook really high-end food that takes a long time, say, that cooks for six hours—that’s not the style of cooking that I do.
So it can be considered a little elementary for some people. Even though it might not be impressive to you, it’s something that’s a necessity for everybody in this day and age. Everybody is strung thin, and they want good food that’s clean, where they feel good about serving [it] to the family, that’s also not difficult, that’s very straightforward. It’s a great validation for me to just be able to be like, “OK, this isn’t just stupid stuff that nobody cares about.”
What was it like to be on a book tour? It’s the most emotionally rewarding, emotionally draining experience of my life. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, and I’ll do it again, for sure. It’s so nice to be able to—as somebody who has always been in this digital world, virtually connecting with my community—to actually be able to meet people in person and see them show up for me in person. It makes it all more real.
It makes it all more meaningful. It’s been so fantastic to meet everyone in person and not just be behind a phone.
It’s also a lot of time away from my family, a lot of travel, in a very short amount of time. So it’s really exhausting. I’m glad to be on the other side of it, but it was absolutely glorious and so special.
What has been the most surreal part of this process? I think just the fact that it did so well. When you put something out there like that, it’s very vulnerable. On the internet, if someone doesn’t like something or if there’s an error, you can delete it, and it’s so informal. This was the first very formal thing I’ve done for my business, and for myself, and it was really scary.
But to see how many people loved the book and that they are actually cooking from it every night, it’s exactly what I wanted. To see that come to life has been super surreal.
Plus, putting on the book tour, I didn’t know if people were going to show up. I’ve never gone to D.C. or New York or Boston to do an event. I kept thinking, I hope people come. They showed up and sold out every venue. That just blew my mind. I was like, Oh my gosh, this is actually a real thing that people are there looking at me every day and not just these “fake” Instagram accounts.
It’s just nice to put a face to a name and realize that people really do care. My favorite thing that so many people said to me was that they’re so proud of me, because they’ve been following me for so long. They feel like they’re a part of it with me, which is really special. I cry just talking about it. It’s just been really special to see that, because everyone’s really supportive of me.
What has been the best feedback you’ve been given? People like my mom who have always been cooking for families say when you cook that much for your kids, it gets burdensome and old, and so the kids leave the house and [the parent starts to] hate cooking.
They cooked so long and [were so busy] just trying to get everyone to bed that cooking isn’t fun anymore. It’s like another job. And now, with these recipes, they say, “I like cooking again. It’s fun for me. For a while there, I was just eating; I was just done cooking. I don’t care if it’s chicken soup from the grocery store, I just don’t want to cook anymore.”
So to be able to bring that spark back to the kitchen and help them love it again and feel rewarded when they put dinner on the table is really lovely.
What has been your biggest lesson in this whole process? Probably throughout the whole thing, it’s just being able to accept criticism a little bit more. When you’re putting yourself out there like I am—and with this many people that are following me and looking at me and seeing me—part of it is the negative side of it, the negative commentary that you get from it.
It’s just people being a******* to be honest. Just picking at the littlest things that you can ever imagine. That has been a little bit hard for me, especially at first.
Some months are easier than others; it just depends on what the person said and how deep it cuts, what my mood is—but being able to realize it’s not worth my attention is something that I’ve had to learn throughout this time and not let it affect me. There’s been times I want to crawl under my bed and just cry for a couple days.
When my book came out, just reading some of the negative reviews on Amazon … The positive far outweighed the negative; it’s just our human nature to focus on the negative. I had to be able to break through that and be like, This is so silly that I’m focusing on these people’s comments or reviews. I could be focusing on all these people that are lifting me up and supporting me and showing up for me in such big numbers. So that’s been the mind game.
It’s been a learning experience for sure.
Where do you see yourself and your family in the next five years? I always tell people I’m just trying to make it to Friday every week! I can’t even imagine anything more than what’s already happened with my career. Now that I’ve gotten to this point, I’m like, Wow. This is what I didn’t even imagine ever happening.
I’m really trying to figure that out, but my favorite part about what I do is making recipes. So no matter how I share it, I’m happy with it, as long as it feels right. Book two obviously will happen. I mean, a lot of people ask about if I’m ever going to do TV. I’m open to it if it’s the right show, but as long as I’m continuing to share recipes and people are continuing to cook them, that’s my goal.
Hails from Celina
Lives in Dallas
Kids Sutton, 7, and Winnie, 4
Significant other Husband Clayton Snodgrass, real estate developer
Alma mater Texas Christian University with a degree in history
Where you can find her TheDefinedDish.com, @TheDefinedDish and her cookbook The Defined Dish
Her dream job as a kid Counselor
Photo courtesy of Alex Snodgrass.