Mary Ann: Dancing Her Way to Smarter and Simpler Cooking

“Once I had children of my own, my focus became concentrated on providing healthy food for them.”

Mary Ann: Cook Smarts Hero in the Kitchen via @cooksmarts
Sometimes cooking since the age of 8 and having a husband with a vegetable garden is not enough to put dinner on the table, as Mary Ann will tell you. And we agree – it’s not always easy coming up with a meal every single day to satisfy all palates. But this food lover and proud grandmother found a solution to make nutritious meals and still find time to dance! Read her Heroes in the Kitchen story below:

Name: Mary Ann
Age: 58
City, State: Indian Orchard, Massachusetts
I cook for: my husband and me, and occasionally our son and daughter-in-law, who are living with us temporarily.
Outside of the kitchen: I’m a communication director in the financial services industry and my husband, Roger, is a carpenter. But we spend as much time as we can ballroom dancing or visiting our grandchildren. We’ve taken ballroom dance lessons for more than a dozen years and love the fact that it’s not only great exercise, but that it’s something we do together.
Being able to cook allows me to: eat homemade, nutritious meals and save money.
Favorite Cook Smarts meal: Sweet Potato and Beef Chili. I’ve not only made that a few times for ourselves, but served it on Christmas Eve and to dinner guests as well!

How did you learn to cook?

I started cooking when I was very young, out of self-preservation. My father passed away when I was six years old, and my mother went to work full-time to support herself and her four children. Her idea of providing meals was to make sure the freezer was stocked full of Swanson’s TV dinners!

I, on the other hand, loved delicious food and went about teaching myself how to cook. I began by following the Toll House chocolate chip cookie recipe on the back of the Nestle bag and never stopped.

Once I had children of my own, my focus became concentrated on providing healthy food for them, so I joined a health-food co-op, baked our own bread, and Roger grew vegetables that we canned and froze. But I was an at-home mom, so that was my full-time job.

What’s been your biggest cooking challenge in the past?

It would have to be when my four children were young. It was so hard to cook inexpensive, nutritious meals for picky eaters. I had one son who didn’t like cheese or pasta. How can you cook for kids without those two ingredients? When my youngest son was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, I was presented with a whole new set of challenges.

But I think my biggest personal challenge has always been answering the age-old question, “What should I make for dinner tonight?” Figuring out what to make has always been my biggest challenge. That’s why Cook Smarts is such a great solution for me.

How has your cooking routine changed recently?

My “routine,” before I discovered Cook Smarts, was to grocery shop on the weekend for sale items, and then try to figure out what to make for dinner each night after work, using the ingredients that I bought. News flash: This method does not work (for me, anyway). The reality was that we threw out a lot of spoiled vegetables, ended up with a freezer full of meat that didn’t get cooked, and ate out a lot.

Now I don’t care if a recipe appeals to me or not — I’m just so happy somebody has told me what to make! Each weekend, I choose my preferred version for each meal, print up the grocery list and go shopping. I just come home from work, log on to and start cooking. We’re eating foods we’ve never tried before — heck, we’re eating foods we’d never even seen before!

“Figuring out what to make has always been my biggest challenge, which is why Cook Smarts is such a great solution for me.”

What new skill or dish have you cooked that you’re most proud of?

I think I was most proud to cook the tilapia. First, I never even tasted it before; second, I have cooked fish only a handful of times in my life, so cooking fish was an accomplishment; but finally, it was one of the most delicious meals we’d ever eaten!

We also now eat an amazing variety of vegetables; goodbye, canned corn and frozen peas, and hello, Swiss chard, beets, parsnips and kale!

As far as new skills, thank you, thank you, thank you for all your videos! I have learned the method for chopping more vegetables than I even knew existed! To think all these years I’ve peeled ginger with a potato peeler! Silly me.

What advice would you give to other home cooks on reaching their cooking goals?

Well, I do believe that just because something works for one person, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for everyone. But I think the important thing with something like this is to keep trying different strategies until you find the one that works. I knew I needed a system for planning meals. As an aspiring professional organizer, I plan everything. So the fact that I couldn’t figure out how to plan meals was really frustrating to me.

But no amount of spreadsheets and paperwork got me to actually figure out what to cook. In order to cook, I had to, well, cook! I just needed someone to tell me what to cook, which is why Cook Smarts was the answer for me. If the reason other moms or dads are not cooking more family dinners is because they are just not good at figuring out what to make (like me), then they simply need someone to tell them what to make. The fact that Cook Smarts actually provides the recipes AND the grocery list makes it foolproof.

We don’t know how you do it, Mary Ann. Baking bread, canning vegetables, ballroom dancing…all those grandchildren! You are definitely Super Woman in our book. And quite frankly, we are honored to be able to help you, even if it is just creating meal plans for you and your family.

Mary Ann's favorite @cooksmarts meal: Sweet Potato and Beef Chili
To join Mary Ann and cook meals like her favorite Sweet Potato and Beef Chili, check out our meal plan service. You can get started for free!

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