Elizabeth: Meal Planning for Weight Loss

Kitchen Hero Elizabeth has been using Cook Smarts to help her figure out what to make for dinner for several years. But when she made a dramatic lifestyle change to a keto diet 4 years ago, she began adapting the meal plan service to help her figure out how to make keto food taste better. 

  • By Leila Kalmbach
  • July 13, 2021

Elizabeth grew up cooking, but a health-related wake-up call a few years back led her to adopt a keto diet. Although she’s not a big fan of deciding what to make or actually cooking meals, cooking is worth it to her for the health benefits it brings. In this Kitchen Hero profile, she shares her cooking challenges and triumphs, some of her favorite tips for health and success in the kitchen, and how knowing her go-to recipes helps her prepare in advance and save tons of time.

Name: Elizabeth Riggins
Age: 52
City, State: Vancouver, Washington — a suburb of Portland, Oregon
I cook for: myself, my husband of 12 years, and three times per week, my elderly mother who has dementia joins us for dinner.
Outside of the kitchen I: work in IT, handling voice devices for a health system. I also dabble in gaming and am the family genealogist. When there isn’t a pandemic going on, we love to dine out and travel the world, both of which I miss terribly.
You have 15 minutes to make a meal, what is it? It might take a bit more than 15, but absolutely the Sriracha Honey Shrimp (without the honey, so I call it Creamy Sriracha Shrimp). It was one of the very first Cook Smarts meals I ever made; I think it was even in the trial week for a while. Since then I pretty much always have all the ingredients on hand. I even frequently have the sauce premade because it’s so good on top of other things, like Egg Roll in a Bowl (another frequent flier in this house).
I cook because: I have to. I wish I loved it more, and sometimes I do enjoy it. But weight loss and health takes place mostly in the kitchen, so that means making my meals rather than buying them. The pandemic has also forced me into a cooking routine where I cook four days per week, we get takeout once, and eat leftovers twice.
Favorite Cook Smarts meal so far: How does anyone even begin to answer this question? The aforementioned Sriracha Shrimp is a perennial fave, but recently I discovered the Chicken Enchilada Zucchini Boats, which we both raved over.

1. How did you learn to cook?

I learned in 4-H starting at the age of 9. Most people think of 4-H as being all about raising farm animals, but they have clubs for home economics as well, and my mom was our group leader. Our club did both cooking and sewing.

2. What’s been your biggest cooking challenge?

Deciding what to make. At heart I am super lazy and if I could have a personal chef I totally would! I started Cook Smarts pre-keto and it was a real blessing to have someone else tell me, “Here’s what you’re having for dinner,” and just be able to make that and be done. Once I started keto, though, I had to completely change up what I ate and kind of start from the basics, which threw me right back into the “what are we having” rut again until I figured it all out.

3. What made you start a keto diet?

My husband and I started looking into long-term care insurance, but found out that we’d have to pay a higher premium simply based on my weight — one insurer wouldn’t even offer me a policy! I knew I had to do something.  Keto is a lifestyle I can see myself being able to follow for the rest of my life. It’s been over four years now and I’m still going strong.

4. How has Cook Smarts helped you adopt a keto lifestyle?

To be completely honest I had to set Cook Smarts aside somewhat for the beginning “learning period” of keto — it was a drastic change and at the outset I kept things very, very simple. It didn’t take long to get bored, though, and I started looking to Cook Smarts to (quite literally) spice things up. I couldn’t take one more steak with just plain butter. Now that I know the keto ropes, I can adapt almost any recipe. The spice blends and salad dressings keep things interesting without derailing me.

“I started looking to Cook Smarts to (quite literally) spice things up. … Now that I know the keto ropes, I can adapt almost any recipe.”

— Elizabeth

5. What’s been the biggest change in your cooking / eating routine since starting a keto diet?

Protein at every meal. I used to be able to down a plate of pasta or bowl of rice with nary a hint of protein (hmmm, I wonder why I got / stayed so fat?). Having a healthy serving of protein at every meal keeps me able to get through a long work day of crawling around under nurses’ stations at the hospital.

6. What have you learned since starting Cook Smarts’ meal plans?

If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. I think we’ve all been there.

7. Tell us about your proudest kitchen moment.

Thanksgiving 2019. My cousin and I made the executive decision in 2018 to wrestle the next Thanksgiving dinner (30+ guests) away from our mothers and do the thing ourselves. Our moms would get up at the literal crack of dawn to get turkey, dressing, potatoes, and all the other traditional trimmings on the table for dozens of people. My cousin and I planned everything out and made-ahead as much as we could in the days running up. Thanksgiving morning we got up at a reasonable hour to put the turkeys on and finished things like mashing potatoes and warming sides. It was a surprisingly relaxed day and everything turned out amazing.

8. What are your tips for health and success in the kitchen?

Anything I like enough to make often, I see if there’s a way to make it in bulk and save for future use. For me this is spice mixes, sauces, condiments (I make a lot of my own because so many pre-prepared condiments are chock-full of added sugar) and dressings. I’ve had to learn what freezes well and what doesn’t, but I have a virtual armada of options at hand that I can use when time is short or I don’t feel like doing the prep steps.

Right now I have frozen cubes of pesto, chimichurri, Cilantro-Garlic sauce, and numerous flavored butters. I have spice mixes for sheet pan fajitas and my Cajun meatloaf ready to measure out. It saves me tons of time and carbs!

Thanks for sharing your journey with us, Elizabeth! It’s great to hear how Cook Smarts has made life easier for you, and how you’ve been able to adapt the recipes to fit your needs. We wish you continued health and flavorful meals!

To join Elizabeth and cook meals like her favorite Sriracha Honey Shrimp and Chicken Enchilada Zucchini Boats, check out our meal plan service by clicking the button below! For more info about the keto diet, our Beginner’s Guide to Keto will get you up to speed.


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