Renee: From Cookies to Katsudon

I cook because I got tired of fast food, hamburger helper, and hot pockets. – Renee

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  • By Jackie Sun
  • September 13, 2017

We’ve all been there before . . . Life gets busy and packed, so we resort to convenient foods that aren’t the healthiest choices. This was the same scenario for Kitchen Hero Renee, who is involved with a lot of hobbies and activities. Instead of getting stuck in the rut of unhealthy convenience, Renee started to use meal planning to help her eat healthier and try new foods. Even with an overbooked schedule, she knows exactly what she’ll be cooking and eating for dinner because of planning ahead. So instead of reaching for a package of cookies for dinner, this Kitchen Hero now cooks up tasty, homemade meals! Read more about Renee’s Hero in the Kitchen story below.

Name: Renée Manning
Age: 38
City, State: Columbus, IN
I cook for: me and my father . . . I’ve got two dogs who love to try anything I’ve made.
Outside of the kitchen I: am the purchasing manager for an automotive fastener manufacturer, a hobby photographer / videographer, a dog person, a shooting sports fan, a nature lover, and I’m involved in local dirt track racing.
My specialty dish that everyone always asks me to make is: “stuff.” This is sausage, peppers, onions, assorted vegetables, and seasonings. Don’t tell anyone but the real reason for this was to use up things in the fridge or make a meal when I was low on groceries. It tastes best with hot Italian sausage, carrots, and mushrooms. It can be made with a couple hotdogs, a potato, and an onion in an emergency. This also makes great camp food in a cast iron skillet.
I cook because: I got tired of fast food, hamburger helper, and hot pockets.
Favorite Cook Smarts meal so far: I can’t decide between the Katsudon and the Italian Sausage & Chard White Bean Soup.


Trial and error. When I was younger I didn’t have spare money for restaurants. I always had a few basic things I made well, but I enjoy trying new things.


Finding time to cook with my schedule and getting my dad to eat things that don’t come in a box. Before Cook Smarts, it always seemed like a hassle to find recipes, make a grocery list, and do the cooking.

Cook Smarts has introduced me to lots of things I’d never have bought before.

How has your cooking routine changed since starting Cook Smarts’ meal plans?

The meal planning really works for my overbooked schedule. I do the prep on Sunday when I can and even if I don’t get to cook until 10 pm, I know what I’m having. I eat cookies for dinner a lot less often now. Cook Smarts has introduced me to lots of things I’d never have bought before. I’ve gotten really good at substitutions, too. I love that I know what to do with so many things in the produce department now.


I made Katsudon and it was SO GOOD! I’ve had it in Japan and this was just as tasty. I never would have attempted that before.

Second proudest: The night we still ate what I planned even though there was a power outage and no lights or oven.


Try the meals you aren’t sure of; sometimes you find a new thing you like. Found a thing you hate, figure out what to substitute.

Thanks so much, Renee! We’re so happy to hear that you have replaced fast food and cookies with healthful home cooking. It sounds like you are really winning in the kitchen! It’s so easy to resort to convenient, packaged foods sometimes, especially when things like power outages happen. Yikes. So kudos to you for always making home cooked meals a priority, even if you start cooking at 10 PM!

To join Renee and cook meals like her favorite Katsudon and Italian Sausage & Chard White Bean Soup, check out our meal plan service. You can get started for free!



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