Shannon Melnick lives near what many people refer to as "The Most Magical Place on Earth." She and her two kids, Jay, 15, and Zoe, 12, reside in Orlando, Florida. They love being in close proximity to so many amusement parks, and as annual pass holders they regularly enjoy the perks that come with that.
"We love going to the parks and acting like cheesy Orlando tourists even though we live here," Shannon says.
But despite the geographical association, Shannon's story hasn't always been a magical one. Ten years ago this month, adversity changed her family's life forever.
Shannon and her husband, Randy got into a huge fight one day. Their kids were 2 and 5 at the time. Shannon, at that point a stay-at-home mom, had been begging Randy for years to go to the doctor. But he'd been stubbornly reluctant.
"We knew he had [health issues], but he just didn't want to face it," Shannon says. Randy finally relented after their argument and went for a checkup. Randy was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. The results were as alarming as Shannon had feared.
Randy had started taking his blood pressure medications when he went into anaphylactic shock. This was when doctors noticed the 90% blockage in one of his coronary arteries. So, Randy underwent a successful produce for a coronary artery stent.
Unfortunately, it was too little, too late. Three months later, Randy succumbed to a heart attack. He was 38 when he passed away.
Shannon was understandably devastated.
"I don't remember what I ate for a year," Shannon recalls.
Everything was a blur. Doctors were trying to talk her into prescriptions for Xanax and other medications. She wasn't sure she wanted to cope that way. There were a couple things Shannon was sure of at the time, though. One was that genetics in combination with poor lifestyle and food choices had been the root cause of Randy's untimely passing.
"I vowed to my kids that we were not going down that path anymore."
Starting Over With Help From An Old Friend
Shannon knew that eating healthier was a great point at which to "start life over for my children, and do it well." After all, she'd known that Randy's meat-and-potatoes palate wasn't a sustainable way to eat long term. Shannon didn't want to eat like that anymore. She also knew, from experience, that Cooking Light was a brand she could trust for delicious recipes with a healthy twist.
"We had a dinner party rotation with some college friends in Boston," Shannon recalls, "and I can remember making Lazy Lasagna. It was so good I still make it to this day!"
So Shannon started using Cooking Light recipes to feed her family, and that eventually led her to discover the Cooking Light Diet. The recipes she found there have had a lasting impact on Jay and Zoe. When the family dines out now, they'll opt for salads or healthy options and are wary of overindulging.
"These recipes show the kids a great example [of how to eat healthier]," Shannon says. "When they see a well-balanced meal, they know that's how they should be eating. My son will even choose vegetables instead of fries as a side now."
A Whole New World
Let's give credit where credit is due. Anyone in Shannon's shoes understandably would've had difficulty moving forward. But once Shannon vowed to her kids that they would all learn from Randy's passing and honor his life, she was not playing around.
With laser focus, Shannon started a business with her father and sister. The business was successful enough that she bought a house in the same community as her parents and sister so everyone could be closer together. She sent the kids to private school. She made sure everyone, herself included, was exercising. And she kept making Cooking Light recipes.
"The food I make really connects us as a family," Shannon says. "Food is comfort. And these lighter versions of recipes really play a role in my family."
Shannon's parents come over for dinner once a week, and she loves the variety Cooking Light Diet's meal planning offers up in the form of new and exciting recipes. She cops to not being a "100% recipe follower" but says these recipes allow her the ability to make minor adjustments on the fly that give her a sense of accomplishment while still putting food on the table that everyone will love.
"You Can Come Out The Other Side and Be OK From It"
Shannon Melnick has lost 25 pounds from making healthier meal choices, and she feels so much better. Since Zoe is old enough, Shannon also has a capable sous chef.
"I taught her how to separate eggs, and we made waffles together," Shannon laughs. "I love being in the kitchen with her. Jay makes a big mess, though, so him not so much!"
She has come out on the other side of unspeakable tragedy with such strength, it's awe-inspiring. And that, in part, is what Shannon wanted to do when she made that vow to her kids.
"I'm doing it all on my own, and I'm doing okay," Shannon says. "And I want other people to know...you can come out, and be OK from it."
Randy Would Be Proud
Shannon doesn't think this is the ending of her story, though. She's still here, after all.
And the kids still have a long way to go. Jay's 15-year-old metabolism keeps him from stressing too much about food, but Shannon says both kids are more aware of making better choices because of her efforts.
"They know that they're fully predisposed genetically," she says. So, their story will rumble on. Healthy food choices will be harder to make as everyone gets older. Life will get in the way. But Shannon made a vow, and she's going to do all in her power to make sure she and the kids are happy and healthy. And if Randy is somewhere looking down on their progress—and he is—boy, is he proud.
"It's something he always wanted to do but could never motivate himself to get into gear. He'd be really proud. 'Wow, they're making really, really good changes.'"
*Members following the Cooking Light Diet, on average, lose 1/2 lb. per week. For more information or to subscribe, visit CookingLightDiet.com.