Healthy Habits Hero: Mary Beth Shaddix

"Gardening brings me full circle and inspires me to cook again."-Mary Beth Shaddix, Cooking Light Gardener and author of Pick Fresh. 
Kimberly Holland

Getting a homemade meal on the table when you're a young, single professional can be a tall order. For Mary Beth Shaddix, a decade of traveling for her business development job meant dinners out entertaining clients, yielding a full suitcase and an empty fridge. "I lived like a dude," she jokes. "I had Champagne, beer, and Chinese takeout. The cooking fell off, as anyone can relate, whether you're running kids to soccer or working past 7 o'clock at your desk."

By the time she reached her early 30s, Mary Beth was ready to put down roots. She quit her job and began seeking out her life's mission, which, interestingly enough, literally involved putting down roots: "I thought, 'I want to garden,' which was weird because I had never done it before. But I looked at schools, consulted friends, and decided to work at a nursery to get the largest breadth of experience," she says.

There she met David Shaddix, the manager of the garden center. The two married three years later, and today she helps David at their wholesale nursery, Maple Valley, while managing the Cooking Light Garden. A love for the foods she grows and a rural reality—the nearest restaurant and grocery store are 15 miles away—mean she spends a lot of time in the kitchen. "Growing your own food creates curiosity, and it opens your palate a little bit," she says. "I didn't eat raw tomatoes until I grew my own."

Mealtimes for Mary Beth now involve creative ways to use the daily bounty from the garden. "Sometimes it's just about staring at three bell peppers, some tomatoes, and some cilantro and inventing a meal around it," she says. This month, we asked our hero to share how her love of gardening helped reignite a passion for cooking more often.

MARY BETH'S TIPS FOR COOKING MORE OFTEN

  • Rethink 'Cooking.' "Cooking doesn't have to mean you made a huge meal and dirtied 10 pots. When I'm exhausted from a bone-tiring day outside, we make quick vegetable quesadillas with fresh salsa. Those go-to meals are just as home-cooked as ones that take hours."
  • Double Up. "Two of my best friends cook on Sundays for the week. It sounds cool, but I'm not that organized. Instead, when I make a recipe for four, I put half in the freezer. If you're a family of four or more, double the recipe, and freeze the extra." (See 6 Great Freezer Meals)
  • Grow a Plant. "This is, of course, my passionate plea to get you knee-level with soil. Grow something, anything! Herbs are a good starting point. A curious gardener becomes a creative cook, and a creative cook seeks the best ingredients. The whole thing ends with a note of pride because you get the satisfaction of cooking something that you grew."