cooksimple: Easy, Healthy Options in the Same Time it Takes to Get a Pizza Delivered

Since 2008, cooksimple has been offering healthy, gluten-free meal kits for families on the go.  I had the opportunity not only to taste test some of their offerings, but also to speak with CEO and Founder, Keith Lauver.

Their diverse line up of offerings currently includes a range of comfort foods from a variety of cultural backgrounds: Cowboy Chili, Skillet Lasagna, Tamale Pie, Asian Burgers, New Orleans Jambalaya, White Bean Chili, Cranberry Wild Rice, Tibetan Dal, and Punjabi Curry.cooksimple_6boxes

In 2002, as a new father, Keith received a wake up call during a routine doctor’s visit.  His cholesterol, body fat and other indicators were less than stellar.  Keith responded by making some important life changes, including working with a trainer and nutritionist.

At the same time, Keith was also running another food company in his native Montana, a beef company.   There, Keith met Tony, then the executive chef at said beef company, a CIA graduate and nutrition expert.

Together they began to build a series of easy meals with sound nutritional value, like a healthy version of Hamburger Helper: cooksimple.

There were two things that were critical for Tony and Keith as businessmen and fathers: simplifying nutrition and creating meals simple enough for kids to make.

Keith and Tony developed recipes that the whole family would eat and enjoy.  They began meeting with groups of local mothers, ala Pampered Chef.  They listened to their needs and used the events to test recipes.  Of their pilot group of 12 recipes, 8 moved on to grocery stores and are now available at Whole Foods Market, among other retailers.

Cooksimple’s boxes incorporate their commitment to family and engagement with children.  All recipes are written in simple, manageable language and include pictures of the ingredients.

Keith’s children each help with dinner 1 night a week, at age appropriate levels.  While the 5 and 8 year olds help out their parents, the 10 year old is able to produce some meals solo, including the cooksimple range of dinners.

I can say from experience that these are super easy to use and most of the meals seem to be geared to getting something started and just let it simmer.

Cooksimple’s website is not geared to sufferers of Celiac Disease or gluten intolerance, so why make a whole line of meals gluten-free?  Going gluten-free came from an awareness of nutrition and health rather than a dietary requirement / allergy.  Studies have shown that American diets rely heavily on wheat, barley and rye (i.e. gluten).

Regular flour is higher and sugar and carbohydrates, which spikes blood sugar.  Some gluten-free alternates, especially those like quinoa and beans, are higher in fiber and protein, so they will keep you fuller for a longer period of time without a spike in blood sugar.

In addition to being gluten-free, cooksimple sources many ingredients from organic / sustainable sources.  All their products are 100% GMO free and do not use any preservatives.  Clean ingredients are integral to their mission, but they do weigh cost against the environmental and nutritional impact of each ingredient.  Studies have shown that some farming methods for products marked “organic” do not have either a nutritional or an environmental benefit to justify the cost.

At the gym, most days, I catch up on Paula Deen while working out, perverse, I know, but it did make me think about the mixed messages we all receive about food.  Paula Deen and many other TV chefs like Ina Garten and the Pioneer Woman all present beautiful images of rich, comfort foods with no discussion of nutrition.  Meantime, various TV, print and other media outlets file reports on the dangerous growth of obesity and related illnesses, such as diabetes.

I asked about how Keith felt about those messages and how they fit into the mission of cooksimple.  Cooksimple seeks to inspire healthy eating by focusing on good food with solid nutritional values.  The cooksimple recipes have the feel of comfort food with a focus on nutrition-balanced diet.  For instance, their skillet lasagna is made with quinoa pasta and less cheese.

Browning the meat for the tamale pie.

Browning the meat for the tamale pie.

I topped the meat filling with a cornbread mixture.

I topped the meat filling with a cornbread mixture.

So of course the important thing to know after all of this, how do these meals taste?  Well I have tried two of the meal packs so far and have been really impressed by the taste and easy preparation.

I started with the tamale pie, which I have to say, seems to be the most complex of all the recipes, and found it really easy to make, about 35-40 minutes from start to finish with about 15 minutes of active prep time.

I normally dislike bean flour, it just has a weird aftertaste, so I was a little dubious of the cornbread mix, which smelled heavily of bean flour, but the added honey (or agave nectar if you are vegan) takes care of the aftertaste and adds a nice contrast to the meat, beans and tomatoes.

I thought there was a nice balance of flavors, though I did want for the filling to have a little more punch, either more spice or smoky flavor.  It is certainly a good base in terms of flavor and will appeal to a broad range of taste buds, but you like spice, you may want to add some cayenne or smoked paprika.

Served with a light salad, this made six servings in our house.  It was just as good reheated for lunch the next day.

Husband actually made the cowboy chili one night when I was late getting home.  He forgot to brown the meat

The finished tamale pie

The finished tamale pie

first, but otherwise found the recipe easy to follow.  We were able to brown the meat in a separate pan and just add it to the chili pot with no noticeable issue other than an extra pan to clean. I also really liked that once the chili was simmering, you could ignore it for about 30 minutes.  In that time, we were able to take care of a few other chores and were able to just relax after dinner.

I served the tamale pie with a light avocado salad with lime dressing.

I served the tamale pie with a light avocado salad with lime dressing.

The chili had a good base flavor.  The addition of the quinoa added a nice texture and kept me full for hours.  The only thing was the same issue we had with the tamale pie, we wanted a stronger kick of spice.  So we added a little barbeque sauce and cayenne, but the overall mix was tasty. I also really liked that the meal required only one pot, so easy to cook and clean up.

These are fantastic to have on hand for meals that require less time than having dinner delivered.  They are easily adjusted to be vegetarian in some cases, vegan.  They are so easy to make, a child or a partner that doesn’t know how to make pancakes can pull these together.  At five dollars for a cooksimple starter, which makes four to six portions, I will definitely keep a few of these on hand.