Real Life: Karen Nochimowski

This busy mom is on a mission to help fill bellies.

Karen Nochimowski can relate to moms who, despite a busy, happy life, still want more. She’s been there.

What began as a simple blog to share her recipes with friends and inspire others to have more confidence in the kitchen while raising her three boys, Oren, 18, Tal, 14, and Aiden, 11, has grown into an effort bigger than she ever envisioned.

“I realized all of my recipes were quick and easy, and I had a kind of little niche of six ingredients or less and under six minutes prep,” says Nochimowski, a north suburban mom and author of the new cookbook 6-Minute Meals and More. So it’s no wonder her blog blew up with followers who couldn’t get enough to simplify their own lives.

“I would have thought I would have felt completely fulfilled at that point, but something was missing,” she says. That ‘something missing’ came to her in the middle of the night: She wanted to start a soup kitchen using her six-minute six-ingredient recipes to help address hunger in Chicago. She also wanted to create a place where families with younger children could volunteer and do something meaningful together.

“I didn’t even tell my husband (Izzy) in the beginning because I did think he was going to say, ‘You have so much on your plate, Karen. You have three little kids, you have the blog, you’re writing articles, you really want to do this?’ So I actually waited until probably about two weeks in when I had met with a couple of soup kitchens and I had put together a business plan.”

Within four months, in fall 2018, Momma Chef’s Soup Kitchen opened its doors at Congregation K.I.N.S. in Chicago, serving about 100 five-course meals a week based on her recipes. The soup kitchen has now surpassed 20,000 quick-to-prepare healthy meals.

When the pandemic created huge lines of people needing food more than ever, her need to feed others pushed her again.

“It was hard seeing what was going on in our world and I was sitting at home not being able to help as much as I did,” she says. So she got to work creating Momma Chef’s Little Free Pantries. Her oldest son, who had just turned 16, took on the challenge of filling the pantries with 500-600 pounds of food a month.

“My kids get much more out of it than anything I can give because they are really involved and they’re very comfortable with people who come from different backgrounds. … I don’t think we’ll meet a person on the street that they don’t give money to, whether it’s theirs or ours,” she says. “So I do think this really as much as I’m giving, I think we’re getting a lot more back.”

Nochimowski talks parenting.

Photo credit: Thomas Kubik

Biggest lesson in raising kids today

“Make sure your children know there’s a bigger world out there. A lot of our kids are sheltered wherever they live, which is wonderful for kids to be sheltered, especially with everything going on. But it’s really important for them to see the bigger world, and it’s important for them to see people from different backgrounds as well. So I started my kids volunteering (at about age 4). … And one thing that I’ve seen that I think is important, and I don’t know if everyone would agree with me, sometimes it’s nice for kids to sacrifice something for what they’re doing.”

Instilling empathy is huge for kids, she says. “I think the easiest way to install a sense of empathy is to show kids what else is out there, but to also have them contribute to that, to give and to sacrifice something of their own.”

What you hope parents take away from your cookbook

Woven among the 100 recipes are little stories to empower other busy parents to feel more comfortable in the kitchen. It also busts the notion of perfect parenting because it just doesn’t exist, she says.

How to Help

Volunteer at the Momma Chef soup kitchen. Plus, a portion of the proceeds of “6-Minute Dinners and More” funds the soup kitchen and Little Free Pantries. Find it at local bookstores or on Amazon.

Fast Talk 

If you could change the trajectory of your life, what would your job be? 

“I would have loved to have been a doctor.”

Your tagline: 

“You can do it.”

The one thing you do just for you: 

“Watching TV. I will stay up until 2 in the morning watching silly, funny, romantic shows. … It’s pretty much, if you want a TV recommendation, you can contact me.”

Most hated household chore:

“I do not like doing dishes, which is kind of funny because I have to all the time. … The one thing I’ve really failed at as a parent, I do not give my kids many household chores, so they rarely even put their dishes in the sink.”

The thing you hope your kids say about you:

“That she’s a good person. …I would say I hope they would say that, but my guess is they would say … she’s very overprotective and neurotic.”

Your favorite dish to make the kids:

“My London Broil recipe. My favorite dish in the cookbook is the Down Home Chicken Casserole.”

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