Meet Raleighites Tom and Rachael Sullivan, the couple behind Meals She Eats. The feel-good, foodie Instagram page, which boasts more than half a million followers, started after Rachael was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a hormonal, metabolic, and reproductive disorder that is one of the leading causes of female infertility.
Tom harnessed his love of cooking to help Rachael balance her hormones through food, and in January 2021, he secretly launched @mealssheeats to document the PCOS-friendly meals. Rachael soon discovered Tom’s virtual recipe book when Instagram recommended the account as someone she may know. Yes, she knew Tom Sullivan.
Meals She Eats went viral, leading to a huge following and the New York Times best-selling lifestyle book, “Meals She Eats.” And to make this story even sweeter — Sutton, the couple’s first child, was born last July.
We caught up with the Sullivans to chat about food, life in Raleigh, and cooking for thousands of local college students (think: NC State, Duke, and UNC).
Tom, why did you decide to start posting meals on Instagram?
I’ve always enjoyed cooking. Whatever I make is just by feel, smell, and what we like — I don’t measure. But as we were going through the PCOS stuff, I needed somewhere to actually write down my recipes. Instagram felt like an easy place to document them because I can post a picture and write a caption with the ingredients and what I did.
Rachael, what did you think when you randomly found the Meals She Eats Instagram page?
I was like, “What the hell is this? Who is this she?” I popped open the account and saw a few recipes with PCOS hashtags and captions like “this is for her menstrual phase.” I was taken aback, it was super cute.
What was it like when you found out you were pregnant?
Rachael: The day we found out we were pregnant was the same day we got a book deal. It was almost like the book deal didn’t matter because I was so focused on the baby, I was in awe at what had happened.
Tom: When she said she was pregnant I was completely caught off guard. She had just sent me to the store to get tampons.
When did you start cooking for your other kids — thousands of local college students?
Rachael: Memorial Day weekend in 2021. I posted a TikTok that went viral about Kevin (a local college student) grabbing food from our house and a bunch of students commented, “I want free food, I want to be adopted.” So we invited our Instagram followers to come by and grab food. About four people came over.
When I was in school, I had a family that took me under their wing, and when I wasn’t able to go home for holidays and such, they took care of me. So we wanted to be that for somebody.
Tom: The number of people that showed up kept doubling. Next year will be our first anniversary because we’ll have been serving the graduating class for four years.
How many students are on your list now?
Tom: Over 3,000 people from more than 10 universities. And a lot of them RSVP for their whole friend group. The sign up list is for students with a college ID.
Tell me about your book, “Meals She Eats.”
Rachael: It’s a lifestyle book — it’s not technically a cookbook. It’s hard categorizing it because it’s the first of its kind. There’s information on balancing hormones, personal stories, recipes, and basic cooking and shopping tips.
Tom: It’s the book we wish were available when we were trying to figure out what was going on with Rachael’s hormones and her body.
What’s your favorite recipe from your book?
Both: The jibarito.
Tom: There’s a whole section on homemade salad dressings. If you don’t cook, start with these because they are 1,000 times better than store-bought, inexpensive, and make a world of difference.
Where is your favorite place to pick up fresh, local produce?
Tom: The State Farmers Market. It’s the first place we bring people when they visit Raleigh.
Rachael: We don’t have a favorite stand — we try a new one every time. And we always pick out flowers.
If you’re not cooking at home, where are you eating?
Tom: We like to jump around. Cortez is probably one of my favorites. We also like Oro, Taverna Agora, Transfer Co. Food Hall, and Morgan Street Food Hall. We want to try East End Bistrot next.
Where is Sutton’s favorite place to go in Raleigh?
Both: Lola’s Beach Bar in Five Points. All the girls know her there.