The smile on her face told the real story. She was just happy that she and her daughter, Maya, 6, had time to do something special together.
That's part of the magic of Make Take n Bake, the brainchild of two Vermillion women, Teresa Gilbertson and Joanne Allen.
Their unique business gives local citizens an opportunity to prepare elaborate, wholesome meals quickly and easily.
During several afternoon and evening "sessions" typically scheduled on Sundays and Mondays each month, the restaurant in Hy-Vee of Vermillion turns into a miniature factory, where Make Take n Bake participants create a wide variety of meals in assembly line fashion.
Once the meal preparation is complete, the women, men and children who take part in the assembly process load up sealed plastic bags and microwave-ready bowls filled with delicious dishes designed by Joanne, ranging from country ham steaks with stuffed sweet potatoes, to lasagna rollups that contain spinach and cheese.
Each bag has a label that includes cooking instructions. The meals are promptly taken home by the people who built them with Joanne's help, and popped into freezers for safekeeping until they become part of an upcoming home lunch or dinner menu.
"This (Make Take n Bake) is an idea that I had, and I approached Hy-Vee with it, because I thought it served them well, and it also serves us well, because we don't have the overhead, and the food is right here," Joanne said.
Locating Make Take n Bake's assembly line in Hy-Vee works well for both the store and her meal-building business.
"I don't think there are any businesses similar to this that are inside a grocery store," she said, "and, in fact, those located outside of a store compete with grocery stores. So we decided to not compete with the grocery store and come inside and do our thing. Hy-Vee has just been awesome with providing us space. Everyone is really good to us here."
Make Take n Bake – which Joanne launched last November – gives one a feeling of accomplishment without completing several complicated steps to create an elaborate meal.
With 12 menu items, most of which are low in fat, carbohydrates and sodium, it's easy for participants to make good meal choices, Joanne noted.
Home preparation is also simple – practically as easy as taking a TV dinner out of the freezer and popping it into a stove or microwave.
Joanne provides a set of proposed menus for each session, does all the food shopping necessary to complete each recipe, and prepares the ingredients.
"We take all of the hassle out of cooking," she said. "We cut all the vegetables up, get the meats ready, trim off all the fat – all of that is very time consuming, and adds so much time to an evening meal, so we do all of that for you."
The participants in this business venture can choose from six to 12 meals to prepare. They must make advance reservations so Joanne knows how much food to prepare.
People need only follow some simple instructions that Joanne posts at each station in the assembly line at Hy-Vee to build the various meals. Each meal takes about 10 minutes to complete.
Participants, who are urged to bring a cooler or laundry basket with them to carry the completed meals home, can leave the mess behind at the store. Joanne takes care of the entire cleanup.
�Traditionally, we�re talking about evening meals,� she said. �Although you can use them for anything.� For example, one of the meals offered in March was a soup and individual pizza combination.
Customers, Joanne added, don�t have to follow her recipes word-for-word. If you don�t like green peppers, and a recipe calls for them, you can leave them out. Or, if you have finicky eaters at home, you can make adjustments to suit their tastes.
Most of the recipes currently being offered by Make Take n Bake are designed to be prepared indoors. Eventually, when spring temperatures arrive, Joanne will offer alternatives that can be prepared outdoors on a grill.
�We�ll have a lot of marinated vegetables and meats and fish,� she said. �It just adds variety. You don�t have to order a whole ham to be able to dine on the ham dinners that we offer, and if there are only two people in a house, they can have a variety of dinners every single night and not have leftovers and not eat the same thing for a week or two weeks.�
Make Take n Bake allows customers to make either six or 12 meals in both small and large sizes. Each small meal will serve two to three people; the large meals serve four to six people.
�If a person wants to participate, first they need to look at the menu and decide what size of meal they want, and which dinners they want,� Joanne said. �We give you a price break if you select six meals, and we give you another price break if you get 12. Otherwise, it�s $4 per serving.�
Once Make Take n Bake customers arrive at Hy-Vee, they are asked to don an apron, wash their hands, put on gloves if necessary, and go to one of the work stations in the restaurant.
�All you have to do is go from station to station, look at the directions, and put that meal together,� Joanne said. �We give cooking instructions with each meal, and nutritional information.�
Make Take n Bake is the solution to Joanne�s desire to someday launch a business related to the dining industry.
�This is something I�ve been thinking about for a really long time,� she said. �I�ve just always loved to cook; anybody that knows me knows that if you come over to my house you�ll probably get fed my newest concoction because I�ve been experimenting with recipes, trying to get rid of fats, or stay away from trans fats or high fructose corn syrup.
�Any recipe that we have, you may have had it before, but you haven�t had it with the ingredients we use,� Joanne added. �But we still try to stay family-friendly.�
Make Take n Bake averages between 30 and 50 customers a month. The arrival of a new month means creating a new list of unique menus.
�My kids aren�t necessarily happy with that part of it, because they have to sample everything,� Joanne said, laughing. �With just one recipe, we�ll probably try fixing it every possible way imaginable, and we�ll offer the one that my family likes.�
One of the biggest lessons Joanne has learned over the months, as she offers new tastes in a land where many people are used to meat and potato fare, is to keep the recipes simple.
�You need to give people options. You need to offer both mashed potatoes and mashed cauliflower, for those who want to eat healthier,� she said. �We know that you may get a meal that you really didn�t care for much, but you at least tried something new and now you know a bit more about what you like and dislike.�
As an added convenience, Make Take n Bake will assemble meals for customers who don�t have the time to participate in the sessions.
�We�ll make the meals for you for an additional fee, and they�ll select what they want and when they stop by the store to pick up groceries, their meals will be waiting for them,� Joanne said.
This business venture is also proving to be very helpful to some people who have never felt comfortable in the kitchen.
�Everything is laid out for them, they understand it, it takes them one or two times coming in to get the hang of it, but they are cooking meals for their family like their family has never had before,� she said.
People interested in participating in Make Take n Bake may call Joanne at 202-0797, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.