When Crystal Maleski plans what to cook for dinner each week, a lot of people listen.
The Long Grove mom has found a growing group of fans who each week view her website, makedinnereasy.com, where she takes the fear out of getting dinner on the table each night.
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"No matter how busy you are, you can make healthy dinners at home," she said.
Crystal remembers watching her mom make everything from scratch, never using processed foods, and has adopted that as her own philosophy. Yet she knows family meals are different from when she was a child.
"I'm on the go a lot more than my mom was. My mom could be home all day and have something simmering on the stove that I can't," she said.
In addition to working as an occupational therapist, Crystal keeps busiest as a mom, shuttling athletes Andrew, Kara, and twins Grant and Dan to their practices and games.
"When you have four kids, you don't just have four kids but you also have their friends," she said with a laugh.
Crystal said the key to getting dinner on the table is making a plan that includes looking at what's on sale at the store and checking the family's schedule.
"There are a lot of recipes that are not that complicated to make and don't take that much time to make," she said. "As long as you know what you are going to make and have the ingredients in the house, I think that is half the battle."
Crystal said dinner time is often the worst time to try to make dinner, so she may put something in a slow cooker before leaving for work. Another time saver is prepping ingredients once that can be used differently the second night, like chopping half an onion for tonight's dinner and slicing the other half for use tomorrow.
"I'm a big fan or double duty dinners. If I make barbecue chicken one night, I may make double the amount and use the chicken in a southwest chicken salad the next night," she said.
Make Dinner Easy got started, Crystal said, when friends started asking her to cook for them. She instead told them she makes a plan and decided to send the details each week to a few friends.
"What started as a weekly email sent out to about 20 people has grown to a website visited by 1,500 to 2,000 people a day," she said. "I'm now sending out a weekly newsletter to over 8,000 people who want to be notified when the new menus are posted."
The 3-year-old website features more than 300 recipes written in a conversational, "chatty" style that includes notes on certain ingredients and where to find them.
"They are written how I would tell a girlfriend to make something," she said. "I get specific with my recipes to ensure success."
What makes her site different, she said, is every Friday she proposes five menus for the following week and includes links to recipes and a printable grocery shopping list.
"What I do is not fancy. It is not gourmet. I tell them how to cook meals that are homemade without processed ingredients," she said.
And now home cooks are thanking Crystal, sharing comments how they may no longer need to worry about cooking a healthy meal for their family.
"People say, 'I am cooking dinner for the first time in my life. That is a payment to me," she said. "Some of these comments are really touching. I feel like I am on the right track."