Cooking has always been a family experience for Chicago chef and mom of two Rebecca Wheeler.
"I had a lot of influence from my grandmother who was in the Peace Corps and brought back a lot of spices. She started making foods with those spices and I was excited by the exotic flavors."
After going to school and working in the travel industry, leaving cooking purely as a hobby, Wheeler decided the culinary arts could give her the flexible schedule she wanted when she had a family of her own.
"I couldn’t get away from the allure of cooking, but it took me awhile to figure out how to make a career out of it. I wanted to have a family and I liked the idea of being a mom who could be around a lot," she says.
Eight years ago she started giving private cooking classes and for the past five years has been teaching classes at the Wooden Spoon in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood. She also gives ethnic market tours of Devon, Argyle and the North Side of Chicago. In between all the cooking and teaching, Wheeler balances life at home with her 3-year-old daughter and 11-month-old son.
When her daughter was born, Wheeler decided to make all of her own baby food—a practice she continues with her son—and she offers tips and tricks in her cooking for baby and toddler classes that she’s learned along the way.
"We cover all the basics—the type of equipment you need to use, how to make purees, how to steam, etc. The baby’s first foods are purees, but then we cover the next step with chunkier foods," she says.
Wheeler encourages the parents she teaches to consistently offer their children a variety of foods.
"As a baby, they’re really open to eating anything, but with toddlers it’s easy to slip into a comfort zone and offer the same things over and over again," she says. "I do believe that the closer you can get to having your kids eat what you’re eating, the better it is. If they see you eating it, they’re more inclined to eat it."
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