It’s been six months since I started cooking smarter with Cook Smarts!Sweet Potato Turkey Chili
This meal-planning service has saved me hours of my life and has definitely been worth the investment. And let me just insert this disclaimer now: I’m not endorsed or supported by Cook Smarts in any way and I don’t make any money if you sign up for an account (UPDATE 8/23/2016 — see note at the bottom of this post!). But if you do end up signing up, let me know so that I can just be happy knowing that I made someone else’s life a little bit better 😉Tofu Lettuce Wraps
I’ve been holding off on writing this post because A) I wanted to give myself lots of time to test out Cook Smarts before writing a review and B) There are so many wonderful things about it that I don’t even know where to start! Let’s see if I can keep my list under 10. Here goes!
Things I love about Cook Smarts
1. It’s a time-saver. The #1 reason why I think most members use Cook Smarts is to reduce the stress associated with meal planning and weeknight cooking. I love to cook and don’t mind whipping up dinner on a weeknight — but I tend to choose overly complicated recipes that wind up taking hours to prepare and result in mountains of dirty dishes. (Sorry, Cook’s Illustrated! I love you, but you’re more fit for the weekend.). Before I joined Cook Smarts, I would also spend a significant amount of time searching through recipes, adapting them, and figuring out how to fit them all into a weekly schedule of meals. Solution: Cook Smarts delivers four recipes to my inbox every Thursday evening, all planned out and ready to go. I simply choose which ones I want to make (or swap out/add other meals if needed) and I’m all set!
It also auto-generates a grocery list for me. I usually end up writing mine down anyways because I’m crazy, but this is a good start.
Lastly, the “weekend prep” section of Cook Smarts is one of my favorite features about the service. It tells you what you can make ahead of time for each recipe. I spend a couple of hours every Sunday chopping veggies, making sauces, and preparing ahead of time — saving me TONS of time during the week.
2. It’s a money-saver. Before I joined Cook Smarts, sometimes I was shocked at the amount of money we spent at the grocery store. Rounding up recipes from five different cook books meant that my shopping list was long and complicated and checkout time was steep! For example, I’d have to buy four different herbs or four different meats. Solution: I’ve bought two three-month Cook Smarts memberships for $21 each ($7/month) and they’ve totally paid themselves off. I’ve also found that my grocery bill is more stable each week and we waste a lot less food. Because all of my recipes for the week come from the same place, I don’t have to buy six different herbs or four different types of meat. The weekly menus are organized so that you use leftover ingredients throughout different dishes — win! And, of course, if you spend lots of money on going out to eat, Cook Smarts can be a huge cash saver.Chicken Marsala
3. It introduces me to new foods — but doesn’t take it too far. I love trying new and exotic recipes but also love a good old American-style chicken pot pie or grilled cheese. However, sometimes the new recipes I tried were too exotic (as in, I’d have to visit multiple international markets to source all of the ingredients) and our comfort/go-to foods were getting a little boring. Solution: Cook Smarts surprised me at least once a week with a new little ingredient or twist on a traditional recipe. It’s enough to challenge me and keep us curious (in a good way!) about what’s for dinner, without being frustratingly foreign.
Miso Pork Noodle Soup
4. It features lots of Asian & Mexican recipes. Anthony and I love Asian and Mexican food — and though I think we’ve mastered tacos, burritos, and nachos, anything involving soy or miso was a bit out of our league. Solution: Cook Smarts has taught us the basics of Asian cooking! Lots of Thai and Vietnamese dishes, as well as a few Chinese ones too. We use our wok almost every week! And our taco holders. Chicken Curry Soup
5. It’s not just a service — it’s a community. One of the most unexpected and awesome things about Cook Smarts is the support and encouragement offered by the staff and other CS members. I especially love the Cook Smarts Kitchen Heroes Facebook group, which is a private group open to members. It’s a really active group with tons of tips, reviews, and general discussion about the week’s recipes. People often submit photos of their dishes so it’s really fun to see how your meal turned out compared to others. As you can see below, a lot of members cooked the ramen last week!
6. It’s strategic. When I meal plan solo, sometimes I find that I pick too many recipes with “fragile” ingredients (like cilantro or arugula) that go off by the end of the week. Solution: I’ve noticed that Cook Smarts is really strategic about how they line up dishes for the week. They’ll often put dishes with produce that quickly wilts/molds (like baby spinach) on the menu for Monday or Tuesday and then assign dishes with longer-lasting produce items (like carrots and onions) toward the end of the week. Not only does this make sense in terms of reducing waste, but I think that we generally prefer lighter, veggie-heavy dishes on Monday (coming off a weekend) and heartier dishes toward Friday (after a long week of work!) so that’s nice, too.Butternut Squash Soup + Fall Salad
7. It’s standardized & reliable. As I’m sure you know, serving sizes can vary quite a bit depending on your recipe source. Sometimes I make recipes that “serve four” that barely get us through one meal — and other times I make recipes that “serve four” that yield pounds and pounds of food! Unreliable serving sizes can make it difficult to perfectly plan all of your lunches and dinners for the week. Solution: By sticking to a single recipe source, I have a good “feel” for how many servings we will get out of a single recipe. Cook Smarts’ meals are adjustable in terms of serving sizes, so I typically choose 4-6 servings so that we have enough for at least two meals. For soups and stews, I’ll often go with 8 servings so that I have leftovers to freeze!Chicken in Tomato-Herb Sauce + Succotash
8. It’s balanced and healthy. Cook Smarts provides the nutritional information for every dish — according to their nutrition page, most meals are between 500 and 700 calories per serving. Cook Smarts also offers every recipe in four different versions: regular, vegetarian, paleo, and gluten-free. We usually make the regular dishes and I rarely look at the nutrition info, but it’s nice to have those options if I need them! Also, the menus for the week typically include two meat recipes, one vegetarian recipe, and one fish recipe. Healthy and diverse. Fish Tacos + Corn & Cabbage Slaw
9. It’s flexible. Not only do you have the option to to change the ingredients within a single recipe (by making it vegetarian, gluten-free, or paleo), but you can also swap out an assigned recipe altogether or build your own weekly meal plan based on past recipes from the archives. For example, if I have a leftover ingredient like mushrooms that I need to use up, I’ll sometimes search the archives for dishes with that ingredient and replace one of the assigned meals for the week.
10. It’s fun. Perhaps most importantly, Cook Smarts is fun. Even after six months, I still look forward to the weekly menu meal plans every week and love chatting with other members in the Facebook group. The recipes have been just challenging enough to keep me guessing, but not too difficult to leave me frustrated or take up my weeknights. And, of course, the finished product tastes good! Not every recipe is 100% perfect, but most are very, very good. We’ve given most recipes at least 4 stars, and even some 5! Sausage & Shrimp Gumbo
And that’s it! Stopping at 10 things I love about Cook Smarts, though I could probably go on to 20 if I wanted — and again, this post is 100% my own ramblings and not sponsored in any way. If you’re interested in Cook Smarts, you can learn more about the service and sign up for three free meal plans here. Happy cooking!
** Update 8/23/2016: Although I originally wrote this post 100% for free and totally on my own, Cook Smarts has since made me an ambassador for their meal planning service! Although I haven’t edited a single word of this post (promise! Every word stands as it was originally crafted), this change does mean that I have updated some hyperlinks to include my affiliate links. This means that if you sign up for Cook Smarts, I’ll receive a small percentage of $$$ to put toward my grocery bills and web hosting fees Thanks!