Shana: Learning to Cook Without Meat & Dairy

I cook because it is a love language for me. It’s a way to show people I care. – Shana

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Growing up in the Midwest, Kitchen Hero Shana was used to eating meals consisting of meat and potatoes. So when she decided to eliminate almost all meat and dairy from her diet, she was faced with some cooking challenges. Luckily, her determination to learn new techniques had her cooking up delicious meat- and dairy-free meals that her family and friends love, including a dairy-free cheesecake! Read more about Shana’s Hero in the Kitchen story below.

Name: Shana Small
Age: 42
City, State: Nashville, TN
I cook for: my family most days, but I love to entertain, so sometimes it’s a crowd.
Outside of the kitchen I: run the photography supply business my husband and I own.
My favorite cuisine is: Italian! So yummy and comforting.
I cook because: it is a love language for me. It’s a way to show people I care.
Favorite Cook Smarts meal so far: It’s a toss up between the Sriracha-Honey Tofu and the Banh Mi Tofu Tacos. Both are so good.

HOW DID YOU LEARN TO COOK?

When I was about 12 years old my mom had me pick the menu and cook dinner one night a week. I had to add items to the grocery list before she went to the store or I had to figure it out from whatever was in the house. I was responsible for feeding the entire family. It was a wonderful learning experience. There were some nights where things didn’t turn out perfect, but I learned really quickly. I did that until I moved out of the house during college. I was way ahead of other people when it came to planning and executing on a menu.

WHAT’S BEEN YOUR BIGGEST COOKING CHALLENGE?

Learning to cook without meat or dairy. I had grown up in the Midwest, very meat- and potato-based meals. When we decided to eliminate almost all meat and dairy from our diets, I felt like I was 12 again with no idea how to build a meal. But, I’ve learned so much in the 7 years since we made that change. I’ve learned new ingredients and techniques. I know all about things like nutritional yeast and how to puree cashews into cream. Now I can convert anything to a meat- and dairy-free option.


I wasn’t consistent in my meal planning so often I was scrambling to figure out dinner. Cook Smarts takes that worry away.


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

Cook Smarts has removed so much stress from my life. Before I joined, every night it seemed like I was stopping at the grocery store to figure out what we were making for dinner. I wasn’t consistent in my meal planning so often I was scrambling to figure out dinner. Cook Smarts takes that worry away. The planning is done.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR PROUDEST KITCHEN MOMENT.

There are lots of them. I get a lot of joy from mastering a new technique. I remember how awesome it was when I learned to sous vide. I also feel so much pride when I make food for people that they love. I make a dairy-free cheesecake that gets raves from everyone.

WHAT ARE YOUR TIPS FOR HEALTH AND SUCCESS IN THE KITCHEN?

The best tip I can give someone for health and success is to not try to do everything at once. If you aren’t cooking any meals at home and rarely eat vegetables, it may seem like a good idea to decide to cook everything from scratch and to fill your refrigerator and counters with vegetables, but usually what that results in is a lot of wasted food when you get overwhelmed and return to your old routine.

Instead, make one small sustainable change. Maybe cook dinner at home twice a week. Or add a serving of vegetables to dinner. Then after a couple weeks, add a new small change. Those small changes add up and are sustainable. Much faster than you would think, you will get where you are going and you will have created a new routine in the process.


Shana, we’re very happy to hear that our vegetarian meal plans can help you reduce some stress in the kitchen and the grocery store. Kudos to you for making such a big lifestyle change and rockin’ at it! Thank you for always sharing your meat- and dairy-free creations with us via the Facebook group, and for sharing such amazing cooking tips with our community. You’re so right – small steps can lead to big changes!

To join Shana and cook meals like her favorite Sriracha-Honey Tofu and Banh Mi Tofu Tacos, check out our meal plan service. You can get started for free!

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