Pam Valnoha discovered that cooking, like climbing a mountain, is best approached one step at a time.
It wasn't so ago the Fox Lake resident said she had a difficult time making the climb.
During a Colorado trip with her husband, Tom, the pair scaled a 14,000-foot mountain. Pam said she fell behind due to her weight.
Then about a year ago, Pam decided to change her family's meals, taking small steps along the way toward healthier options.
"I am eating healthier for me and my family," she said.
Pam said she started cooking when she was 10 years old, learning from her mom how to prepare meals for her parents, who worked full time, and her four siblings. "Living on a farm, you are eating lard and real butter off the cream of the milk," she said. "We were definitely not eating healthy. There were a lot of pies and homemade breads."
Cooking today for Tom, their son, Joe, and father-in-law, Otto, she focuses on vegetables and incorporating them with lean meats.
"There are hundreds of different vegetables out there and ways to prepare them," she said. "I cook vegetables that I can't even tell you the name of them."
When listing the foods she cannot do without, every one is a vegetable. She has a passion for squash, shredding spaghetti squash with sauce or incorporating peppers, onions and zucchini with pork cutlets. And she is often searching the Web for new recipes to try.
"If you don't know much about vegetables, the Internet is the perfect place to go," she said. "You will find vegetables that you will want to try to cook into your dish."
Among her favorite family meals, Pam enjoys using the pressure cooker to cook bone-in chicken breasts. She pulls the white meat off the bone and might add it to vegetables or serve it with whole wheat pasta. Or she may combine ground turkey with vegetables to make meatloaf. And she always makes sure there's more to bring to work the next day.
"I like to carry my healthy lifestyle into the next day," she said.
When planning side dishes, Pam said before she never could get her family to eat spinach. But she found a cheesy creamy spinach dish, and she shares the recipe.
"Now I get my family to eat spinach," she said.
Within her family, Pam said they have lost between 60 and 70 pounds adding she's dropped 20 pounds.
And she notices, particularly how much easier the steps came when she, Tom and Joe took a six-mile climb up Mount LeConte in Tennessee.
"It was a natural high," she said. "They will even tell you I led them up, and I gave them a run for their money."