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Becky's Mindful Kitchen

Better eating, one food group at a time
Nutritional consultant Becky Schmooke, formerly of North Liberty, has opened a cookery school in her new home at 2247 Sugar Bottom Rd., NE, in rural Solon. Classes begin Oct. 5. (photo by Lori Lindner)

JOHNSON COUNTY– Becky Schmooke gives new meaning to the term “food for thought.”
In fact, the proprietor of Becky’s Mindful Kitchen Cookery School loves to teach everyone new ways to think about their food.
Schmooke is a personal food consultant with the mission of raising awareness about the foods we consume, where they come from, how they are processed, and how they affect our overall well-being.
Diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 24, Schmooke said she had always eaten well and exercised, but the auto-immune disorder in her body took her by surprise.
“I thought I knew what healthy eating was, but when you have a health issue, it makes you re-evaluate everything.”
Prompted to learn more, Schmooke started studying traditional diets; what people ate in the 1800s and 1900s, and what has changed in the environment. “What I came across was the idea that we need to go back to eating unprocessed foods.”
After studying all aspects of nutrition and food preparation, and being raised in a family who loved to cook, Schmooke developed a strong foundation for understanding food. When friends began asking her to assess the food in their kitchens, to teach them about the foods they were buying and how to eat better, Schmooke got the idea for her consulting business.
“I realized this is really needed,” said Schmooke. “People don’t know what real food is anymore.” As this country sees more food allergies, food-related health issues and a glut of contradictory health food trends that change like the wind, Schmooke wants to make food choices simple again.
With Becky’s Mindful Kitchen consulting services, Schmooke first gives clients a tour of her own pantry to explain her philosophy of “real” foods and nutritious ingredients, then inventories clients’ cupboards to advise them on wholesome substitutions that can be made for the processed foods they are used to buying. She also takes clients shopping to give tips on how to choose healthier alternatives at the grocery store, and teaches them to avoid the pitfalls of marketing tricks, clever packaging and misleading labeling.
“We talk about staying on budget, because a lot of people think they need to eat all organic foods. They spend so much money on organic products that are just as processed as their non-organic counterparts, when it’s often something they could make themselves for a fraction of the cost,” said Schmooke.
That’s where Schmooke’s recent expansion of her business– her cookery school– comes in.
Schmooke not only teaches how to buy the right ingredients, but how to turn it into delicious, desirable food for every taste.
“You can make your own crackers in 20 minutes, using all pure, good ingredients. It’s not hard to do,” said Schmooke. “But we are programmed in our society that crackers come from a box and chips come from a bag. I’m trying to break that mold.”
Similarly, Schmooke said she offers realistic exchanges for many other processed foods we are used to buying at the store.
“You can still have your cookies, pop-tarts and crackers, but make them yourselves,” said Schmooke. Her Reclaim your Kitchen kids’ series is geared to teach parents how to make healthy version of all the classic kids’ favorites, like macaroni and cheese, graham crackers and chicken nuggets.
It’s all in the ingredients, Schmooke believes.
“If you don’t know what an ingredient is, your body doesn’t either,” said Schmooke. “I’m not a doctor, but I feel really confident in saying if you avoid industrialized, food-like products with so many artificial colors and preservatives, you will be setting your body up for success.”
Schmooke achieves that by buying local whenever possible.
“My healthy eating isn’t just about eating salads, quinoa and kale for the rest of your life. I’m a fan of butter from grass-fed cows, and lard. Lard is a great fat for you as long as it comes from a good source. Again, it’s going back to our traditional foods, and re-thinking the source,” she said. Therefore, though bacon is usually viewed as an unhealthy indulgence, Schmooke said it doesn’t have to be, as long as it’s good quality bacon from pastured pigs. Red meat and dairy products should come from grass-fed cows, and eggs should come from chickens that are allowed to roam, not raised in tiny cages, she said.
“I try to open people’s eyes about what their money is going to when they buy things in the store. A lot of times you are paying for ingredients that are not food, like things that are made in a lab, and artificial colors, stuff that does us harm and not good,” said Schmooke. “Wouldn’t you rather give your money to the farmer down the road, where you can see how the cows are being treated, or get eggs from chickens having the time of their lives running around the yard?”
Schmooke and her husband Bill have two daughters, ages four and five. They just purchased a house at 2247 Sugar Bottom Rd., where she will launch her new cookery classes beginning Oct. 5. The house, circa 1900, has a big, beautiful country-style kitchen, a screened porch and wide views of the lush, rolling timberland that could transport any modern cook back to the days of grandma’s cooking.
While Schmooke has been teaching classes through Kirkwood and at New Pioneer Co-op, she said her cooking classes will be a different experience.
“Everything will be sourced locally. In the summer we can get ingredients from the gardens here, or from local farmers. The eggs will be from my chickens,” said Schmooke. “I love this location. It’s not a sterile environment. It’s close to nature.”
And Schmooke brings the natural approach into her kitchen as well.
“In my cooking classes, I don’t use measuring cups a lot. I take a more relaxed approach to food. We have completely lost the joy in eating and cooking, and I’m trying to bring that back,” Schmooke said. “Food should not be that stressful.”
Similarly, while Schmooke admits that cooking from scratch with natural ingredients does take time, she doesn’t believe it’s an unrealistic commitment.
“What I teach is making food simple. Once you do that, cooking and eating become fun again.”
To simplify things for her students and clients, Schmooke creates– and often customizes or reinvents– recipes that are fast and foolproof. She teaches people to make triple batches once, and freeze the rest for later.
“I have a whole class that teaches how to make healthy breakfast freezer meals like waffles, breakfast sandwiches, veggie patties and pancakes that you can make yourself,” said Schmooke. “I’m not a super mom, and I’m not getting up at 5 a.m. to make fresh waffles, but I do have ones already made in the freezer that I made the weekend before.”
To assist clients in buying better ingredients, and to save them time, Schmooke has already researched the best and least expensive sources. Her website, beckysmindfulkitchen.com, has a list of farmers and food producers clients can contact directly. Schmooke has calculated prices down to the per-ounce cost, even giving suggestions for the best online resources.
And Schmooke doesn’t think the demands of parenting have to preempt mindful cooking.
“Some of my classes involve children. Bring your kids into the kitchen. Include them in this,” she said. “My daughter, at the age of three, learned how to make her own pasta. She can do a lot of cooking herself, and she loves it.”
The benefits of involving children in food choices extend beyond spending time together, said Jess Olson of Iowa City. Schmooke was a great resource to Olson and her family when Olson’s daughter was also diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age four.
“Type 1 diabetes is an auto-immune disease,” said Olson. “People often think it’s from eating too much sugar, but it’s not. The body attacks the pancreas, making people insulin-dependent for the rest of their lives.”
Schmooke helped educate the Olsons on the role food plays in managing the condition.
“Becky helped us understand how carbs, proteins and fats work together to help stabilize our daughter’s blood sugar,” Olson said. “At a time when we got this tough blow, Becky helped jump-start us in our process of understanding how food affects our daughter’s medical condition.”
Olson also finds Schmooke’s website helpful.
“We use a lot of her free recipes to make our daughter’s snacks,” said Olson. “Becky is awesome. She is very committed, and very much loves to help educate people.”
Schmooke is currently accepting registrations for her upcoming classes, each with a different theme: make your own cheese, learn gluten-free baking, rustle up some delicious homemade bread, or learn how to identify and cook the best sources of meat, for example. She will also customize classes for groups of five or more; just tell her what you want to learn to cook, and she’ll arrange the session.
Schmooke does not pressure students to make wholesale changes, though.
“When I meet with clients the first time, we don’t make a complete switch. I invite them to at least try a few things,” she said. “We find one area where they can start going unprocessed. We take baby steps.”
What she does insist on is taking back control in the kitchen.
“I tell people, embrace your inner control freak. Reclaim your kitchen. Take control of what you are feeding yourself and your family,” she said. “What I teach is positive and sustainable. It’s not just getting on a bandwagon. I hope to give people lifelong tools, one food group at a time.”