Leslie Stullken: The Woman Behind “What’s for Dinner”September 06, 2011
Filed under: Classes & Events - greenacres @ 10:11 PM
Food and Health Coach Leslie Stullken has been teaching cooking classes at GreenAcres for 4 years now. She’s been doing kids classes, a women’s hormone cooking series, and now the What’s for Dinner that’s been returning each Fall since 2008. We sat down to learn more about Leslie’s story and we want to share her inspiring approach with you, too!
How did you begin your food and cooking journey?
I guess you could say it started with my grandparents. My grandfather was an organic farmer in the Vinland Valley, between Lawrence, KS and Baldwin, KS; he was really ahead of his time, preaching the ills of pesticides and fertilizers being used to produce our food. My grandmother was said to be the best cook in Vinland Valley. Then my mom was a home-economics major; she was my earliest influence advocating food and wellness. I remember we were always looked on as the odd family. My mother shopped at this tiny, very obscure health food store in Garden City, starting in the late 60’s and through the 70’s. That meant my siblings and I grew up with cod liver oil, wheat germ, buckwheat…things that don’t come in boxes. We ate what is now called “whole food.” We pretty much never ate out of a box; everything was cooked from scratch, and we froze seasonal fruits and vegetables for use in the winter. I was into 4H as a kid, and I remember I cooked my first whole meal for a contest when I was in the 3rd or 4th grade. For me the kitchen became a source for creativity and pride. You didn’t have to follow the rules when you were cooking, and that gave me a sense of freedom…and fun!
Where has your journey taken you since the beginnings?
Well, cooking has been a key ingredient my entire life. I can honestly look back and say that I’ve cooked at home a minimum of 5 nights a week as long as I can remember, and made breakfast at home as well. In times of crisis or stress, when things just weren’t going the way you’d hope, I knew I could always cook myself a great meal. I believe that’s the best way to nurture yourself. That’s what cooking does: it provides love. And it shows you can take care of yourself; if you’re cooking for others, it shared that love and pride with them in your cooking. One thing I think we all miss is a dose of the Vitamin L’s: love and laughter. Food, and bringing food back into the kitchen, is one of the best sources of all natural Vitamin L.
I started on my current cooking path about 5 or 6 years ago, when my mom was diagnosed with cancer. We decided as a family to see a nutritionist to find out what more we could be doing to feed our mother the nurturing and healing foods her bodied needed in that time. Sitting in that class, we realized we were already doing a lot of the right things—but we looked around to see so many other simply shell-shocked: by the news of their or their loved-one’s illness, but also by the prospect of taking measures to eat healthy. They just didn’t know where to begin, how to shop for the right foods, and how to prepare them once they had them to aid them on the road to healing.
This period offered me many poignant moments of realizing the legacy my mother was leaving behind. The tools she’s passed on to me from our shared time in the kitchen not only was a way for me to connect to my mom, but it was also a way for me and my siblings to move on once she was gone. That’s what cooking did for me.
So, I went back to school in New York City at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, where I became a certified Food Coach. Now I am an independent food and health coach, teaching people to jump the hurdles of shopping and cooking for themselves and their families. I also have a special passion for working with people who have chronic illnesses to improve their diets and their lives through some simple and approachable ways to help themselves on a path to healing.
What is the most common feedback you get from beginners who want to start cooking healthier?
I always hear people saying that they want to eat healthier, they just don’t know where to start or what to do. What I do is help them start from the beginning. Create healthy habits by planning meals and freezing leftovers. There’s no such thing as a 30-minute meal…unless you’re prepared. If you have 3-5 well-stocked and well-planned ingredients between pantry, freezer, and fridge…you can make a meal out of just about anything!
What advice do you give them?
- Don’t be intimidated by “HEALTHY.” Once you start using fresh, organic, seasonal, and local foods will turn you on to really tasting your food—when you taste them, your body naturally gravitates toward them, it just doesn’t want junk food any longer.
- Try a cooking class and find a teacher you can connect with: always learn something.
- Find a simple recipe that looks delicious to you and try it.
- Cook with someone else. Part of the joy of cooking is creating with another person.
What’s kept you coming back to Green Acres for “What’s for Dinner,” among other cooking series?
Hands down, the people. Everyone I’ve met at these cooking classes, both in Wichita and Kansas City, has been the most incredible group of people from all skill levels—sometimes advanced cooks in their 60’s and 70’s, kids in their 20’s wanting to learn for themselves…it becomes a dinner party atmosphere. I meet friends through these classes, and other people have made new friends there, too. There’s a sense of anticipation before every class, like you’re going to see your friends. Food may be what they come for, but it’s like any meal—it’s the people around the table that make an incredible experience; not just the food, but what goes on around it.
The next “What’s for Dinner” class with Leslie will be held Tuesday, September 20th. The class fee is $20 per person for 1 class, or $55 per person for all three classes. For more details visit the Events Calendar. Or to register please call the store at (816) 746-0010. Hope to see you there!