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Cooking Made Easy

Businesses Bring Families to the Dinner Table

Megan Cornett spent her childhood summers in her grandmother’s kitchen, learning her way of traditional southern cooking. Now, the Sterling resident shares her knowledge and love of cooking, with families across the county who want fresh meals, but just don’t have the time to cook them.

Last fall, Cornett stopped crunching numbers as an accountant for a real estate developer and enrolled in culinary school. She launched Nutmeg Catering and Personal Chef Service in April and the response, she said, has been overwhelming.

"Families are really busy around here," she said. "There are a lot of two-income households. People are looking for fresh meals. But there’s just no time to cook them."

In addition to its health benefits, eating together as a couple or family strengthens relationships, Cornett said.

"Throughout my childhood, my family shared dinner together, discussing each of our days and strengthening our family bond," she said. "And some of my favorite memories as an adult are those at a large table surrounded by friends sharing a home-cooked meal."

BEFORE CORNETT enters customers’ kitchens, she sits down with them to assess their dietary needs and personal preferences.

The personal chef offers two different services; a fresh weekly service and biweekly service for frequent travelers and busy families.

Both services include menu planning and preparation based on information from the client interview, grocery shopping, meal preparation, storage and heating and serving instructions and a kitchen clean up after it is all over.

When Cornett goes grocery shopping, it’s not one-stop shopping. In addition to her trip to Wegmans, Cornett shops at local farmers markets for fresh produce.

"It’s important to know where your food comes from," she said. "It’s healthier, too."

According to Cornett’s Web site, organically grown food contains higher levels of vitamin C and essential minerals such as calcium, magnesium and iron as well as antioxidants, on average. Organic milk is naturally higher in Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E and vitamin A than nonorganic milk.

It is also a way to avoid pesticides and organic practices prohibit the use of antibiotics and hormones in food that could have damaging consequences for treatment of disease in humans.

After Cornett cooks her dinner entrees, she packages them in families’ freezers with easy cooking instructions for them to eat throughout the week, for between $220 to $250 plus the cost of groceries.

"Now, families have options besides take out," she said. "It’s right in their freezer."

LIKE CORNETT, Marjorie Thompson knows the importance of a good meal. The Ashburn resident is in the process of launching a Dream Dinners franchise in Sterling, in an effort to put hot food on families’ tables through out the county.

Thompson will open the meal-assembly kitchen Monday, Aug. 24, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Dream Dinners Inc. was founded by Stephanie Allen and Tina Kuna in 2002 in Snohomish, Wash. It’s mission is to serve others and bring families back to the dinner table with healthy, nutritious, affordable and easy-to-fix meals.

After a longtime career with United Airlines, Marjorie Thompson was looking for a career change. At the same time, her daughter, Shannon Thompson, was preparing to graduate from George Mason University with a minor in business.

"It just made sense to do this with my mom," Shannon Thompson said. "We’ve always been close, but this has brought us even closer."

As a teenager, Shannon Thompson said she remembers the importance of family dinners.

"It was a good time to talk about what was going on in our lives," she said. "It’s always been something that is important to our family."

As a working mother herself, Marjorie Thompson said it was never easy preparing meals after a long day on the job, but the benefits of quality time with family pushed her to do so.

"It’s crazy around here. Most households have two working parents. There are swim practices and soccer practices to get to. People just don’t have anytime," Marjorie Thompson said. "But that time you spend at the dinner table is important to your family."

Through Dream Dinners, mothers and fathers, or singles, can prepare meals for weeks at a time at the meal-assembly kitchen. The Thompsons will set up stations with different recipes for customers to follow, in addition to cooking utensils and storage supplies.

"Customers can knock out a week’s worth of meals at once," Marjorie Thompson said. "The time you would spend grocery shopping and cooking, you can spend with your family."

"And it’s a lot healthier than take out or pizza," Shannon Thompson said. "Who feels like cooking every night?"