Jackie Burke has often sought inspiration from her sister, Jen Lamplough when it comes to preparing meals.
After all, her sister is a trained chef, culinary instructor and cookbook author.
But it is Jen's latest endeavor that has changed how Jackie cooks for the better.
Jen is scheduled to appear on this season's Food Network show "Fat Chef," where chefs who are overweight battle the environment of being surrounded by food as they strive to lose weight.
Jackie said her family has always talked about food, and gatherings were centered around food.
But the food often was filled with calories and fat. As the family agreed to help Jen on her journey, they saw how meals were not as healthy as they could be.
She said they now plan healthy family dinners when they get together.
"For her to experience the Food Network 'Fat Chef' has changed all of us," the Lake Zurich mom said. "It is great and surprising because no one thought her being on the show would change all of our lives but it did."
Being a single mom and working full time for the American Academy of Pediatrics, Jackie said her biggest challenge can be preparing a hot, healthy meal for her daughters, Penny 11, and Ella, 9. But by planning ahead, she said it also is her biggest joy.
"I feel that is a great expression of love for your kids," she said.
Jackie finds inspiration from her sister, grabbing recipes from Jen's cookbooks "Healthy Calendar Diabetic Cooking" and "Healthy Carb_ Diabetes Cookbook," both published by the American Diabetes Association. Jackie's cookbook library also includes titles by Food Network chef Ina Garten as well as volumes on Thai cuisine, which Jackie said she first tried when living in Chicago after college and sparked her interest in cooking.
Jackie counts balsamic vinegar (for homemade salad dressings), Dijon mustard (for topping pork tenderloin) and nutmeg (for garnishing fruit desserts) as must-have ingredients in her pantry; they all further her effort to eat healthier by boosting flavor without adding fat.
Another favorite in Jackie's house is soup; she routinely makes enough for the family's evening dinner plus extra to freeze or share with neighbors. The girls enjoy, and expect, a rotation that includes broccoli and cheddar, chicken with rice and lentil soup. She also enjoys making vegetable soup including carrots, onions, celery and leeks that is creamy but slightly chunky.
"My younger daughter is not a big vegetable eater but she will eat the vegetable soup. It is very flavorful and it is full of vegetables and she doesn't know it," she said.
Jackie said she continues to enjoy the challenge of putting a good meal on the table and showing people she cares by making a special meal.
"When the kids give you a hug or neighbor gives you a hug, I think it's one of the basic pleasures of life," she said. "Sometimes people overlook how much it means to people to put something on the table that you put thought into and to give love back."