The food and drinks on Kalejunkie are gorgeous and drool-worthy, and the woman on camera, founder Nicole K. Modic, is the epitome of California cool, with laid-back, chic outfits and beach-wave hair.
But if you're thinking this is just another Insta mom hawking a perfect life and decadent food that there's no way she really eats, you'll likely change your mind quickly. Nicole's dishes—delectable, photo-ready stuff such as crispy Lemon Parmesan Brussels Sprouts, Creamy Miso Tahini Pasta and Nourishing Chicken Dumpling Soup—are not only packed with nutritious ingredients but often family-friendly and easy. And far from selling a soft life, Modic does more than give food inspo: She also talks about her warts-and-all journey through an eating disorder, career change and motherhood.
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Her followers clearly love her blend of cooking and raw honesty. Modic has amassed 1.4 million followers since starting Kalejunkie eight years ago as an overworked lawyer on maternity leave posting health-conscious salads and green juices to stay motivated to heal her relationship with food.
"I was really just posting for myself, but as more and more people followed me, I started sharing more of my own struggles, and I think that really connected with people," says Modic, author of Love to Eat: 75 Easy, Craveworthy Recipes for Healthy Intuitive Eating. "It's amazing to me how things have come full circle. My whole brand is about nourishing your body, eating intuitively and not restricting anything. And it's also about the connections that I've made and the obstacles that I've overcome and a reminder that you can do anything you put your mind to, overcome any adversity and change the trajectory of your life."
Modic spoke to us about the power of change, the power of a good meal and the one underrated thing you can do to make a good dish great.
Congratulations on sailing past 1.4 million followers recently. When you were knee-deep in casework as a lawyer, did you ever imagine feeling fulfilled by work?
Not in a million years. Being a lawyer just wasn't my passion, but I grew up in a conservative Armenian household. My dad was an immigrant and worked hard. He told us, "You have to be a doctor or a lawyer," and I didn't want to disappoint him. So I became a lawyer and hated it.
At the time, you were also struggling with an eating disorder.
It started when I was 15 and continued in law school. Nobody knew, because I seemed to have it all together. I was successful, I was making money, but behind closed doors, I was fighting demons: I was restricting my eating, then feeding in the closet and feeling shameful. Even my husband had no idea I was suffering until he caught me in the middle of a binge. That's when I decided to get help.
You now work with food all day—a 180-degree turn. What helped you get to this point?
I started going to therapy, twice a week at the beginning. Yoga, meditating and moving my body through uncomfortable emotions really helped me not be preoccupied with food all the time—stuff I want to eat, stuff I am not eating, the fear of getting fat. But healing doesn't happen overnight. It's years of trusting the process and trusting your body to find its happy place in whatever it wants to weigh. I don't even keep a scale in the house anymore.
How has Kalejunkie evolved alongside your own journey?
Early on, I was eating lots of kale, salads and green juice, because I thought that was the only way to get healthy—and that's why I chose the name Kalejunkie. Over time, my philosophy around food has changed. Now my vision of health makes room for everything. I no longer have the restrictions I once did, when I wouldn't allow myself to eat any carbs, cookies, a glass of wine or a donut out of fear of gaining weight. Once I changed my mindset and gave myself permission to eat, and started making and posting food with more nutritious ingredients, I stopped having urges to binge anymore.
How do you choose what to post every week?
My recipes really cater to making healthy nutritious food accessible and delicious, and they're meant to make it easy for busy people to put food on the table with minimal effort. I mostly base it on what I'm craving to eat or a cocktail I want to drink. It's usually seasonally inspired. It's cold here in the Bay Area right now, so I'm leaning into warm meals that are nourishing and have a cozy vibe. I also lean into trends a lot. I'm a curious person. So if I see a food trend, I want to be one of the first people who try it and introduce it to my community.
How many days does it take from choosing to posting?
I typically test a recipe two or three times in my kitchen before it's perfect. Then I film it. I do my own editing, write my own captions. So, from beginning to end, about a week. It's a full-time job and then some, but it's rewarding because it's my company. I find so much joy when someone has success with one of my recipes and they tell me about it. It fills my cup like nothing else.
What's your favorite underrated cooking tip?
I would say, you need more salt than you think. The reality is with food, if you don't love something, chances are it's because it's under-salted. We've been conditioned to think that salt is bad, but often it is the difference between a mediocre dish that you can literally turn into something incredible just by adding more salt. Make sure you use kosher salt, because it is less salty than table salt and easier to adjust.
What's your favorite part of your job?
The community that I've built. I'm not a celebrity, and my account didn't blow up overnight. It's been the steady progression of eight years of hard work. My DMs are full every day with people asking me questions, looking for product recommendations or confiding in me about their struggles. I spend a lot of time answering directly. I think of everyone who follows me as a friend, and I appreciate that they take the time out to comment or send me a message. I take nothing for granted and try to give back to the community.
What's your best advice for someone looking to turn their side hustle or hobby into their main job?
When I started making money with Kalejunkie, my husband suggested I keep a spreadsheet of how much I was earning every month. Once I began earning as much as my job as a lawyer, I quit my law career. I would also say that before you jump, be the best that you can at the job you have and don't burn bridges. That way if your new career doesn't pan out financially or you decide you love it more as a hobby, you can always go back. I gave myself a year to succeed with Kalejunkie. I hustled and hustled, and now it's been eight years. I have no regrets.
3 Great Kalejunkie Recipes to Try
Founder Nicole K. Modic recommends giving these dishes a go.
“I created that recipe in 2018 by accident, trying to create no-bake truffles. I decided to try and make them into cookies and see what happened. And they turned into these literally magical cookies that went viral. They turn out perfect every time and can be customized to fit anybody’s diet restrictions or allergies.”
“It will convert anyone who isn’t a kale lover. It’s loaded with delicious vegetables, and the dressing is so good you can drink it.”
“It’s really neat to introduce people to my culture and let them know it’s important to me, and one of the best ways of getting to know a different culture is through food.”