Meet seven moms who have a lot on their plate.  All moms do, but these in particular fill the plate with healthy food while doing work they love. I have signed confessions from a dietician who watched her son eat a hot dog smeared with peanut butter and a first time expectant mom who plans to travel the world to meet her international vendors. Motherhood isn’t what we expected, but it has changed our lives in so many ways. If you have children and you work or are trying to follow your dreams, I guarantee you will relate to what these women shared with me on Mother’s Day this year.

I am pleased to introduce you to Susan Greeley, Cookbook Author, Dietician, Nutrition Consultant and Home Cook in Mountainside; Heather Bendfelt Hays, Confectioner and Owner of Charley’s Organic Toffee in Westfield; Jody Hopen, OR Nurse at JFK Medical Center in Edison; Lauren Kelly, Nutritionist and Food Blogger in Westfield; Jackie Mittelhammer, co-Owner of Savory Spice Shop in Westfield, Angie Farid, Proprietor of Chocolista in Morris County, and Lauren Weiss, food writer and columnist.

As parents, we know that kids keep us busy, whether we work full time, stay home, or combine the two. Is there an ultimate hybrid of work and family? I traded in a high paycheck from a powerhouse Wall Street firm to become a food writer and stay home mom.  I miss the paycheck, but it allowed me to spend more time with my children, while building up a new career with more flexibility. Working is not for everyone, nor is motherhood. Most of us sacrifice one for the other, or both to some degree.

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As I navigated the challenges of writing a column and marketing my work, I found I was not the only one on this journey. I’ve met other young moms, in person or online, many of whom started their own businesses or had a change of career after having children. Some of these women have successfully found a niche and a working balance in the food and health industries.

Here is a group of women who love what they do and do what they love. Just a regular bunch of folks trying to find that balance, to get their kids to stop fighting, to inspire their children to be individuals, to improve the state of health for Americans and to live life to the fullest. And oh yeah, in their spare time, to cure cancer and create world peace. And here are the innermost thoughts they shared with me, on Mother’s Day.

So, tell me about your work…

Susan: My first published cookbook “Cooking With Trader Joe’s Cookbook: Lighten Up!” is such a cool accomplishment. It was a long-time goal of mine to write a cookbook and I've had the opportunity to see that through. I was contacted by the publishers to do a diet & cookbook with Trader Joe's foods.  It was right up my alley because it's what I do daily as a dietitian/nutrition counselor and home cook. Check out my website and Facebook page!

Jackie:  I opened a retail shop in downtown Westfield that sells fresh ground herbs, spices and blends.  The Savory Spice Shop is located at 138 E. Broad Street Westfield, NJ  908.264.8947.  Visit Savory Spice’s Facebook page to find out about special events and cooking demos with local chefs.

Lauren K: I am a Certified Nutritionist in Westfield and I have a food blog with recipes and suggestions for healthy eating. I am dedicated to an authentic and realistic method to achieving optimal health. I provide nutritional consulting for the following but not limited to: weight loss, disease prevention, reduction in cholesterol and blood pressure, controlling blood sugar, vegetarian diet, heart health, weight gain, eating disorders, increase energy, gluten intolerance, food allergies and sensitivities and overall improved lifestyle. Follow me on Facebook for recipes and links to other nutrition sites.

Angie: I own an artisanal chocolate & confections company that specializes in French-style bonbons. We use the finest ingredients, that include single plantation chocolates, infused with many locally grown and seasonal herbs, fruits and veggies. Most importantly, we produce small batches that contain no corn syrup, no artificial preservatives or additives. So you can be sure that the next time you bite into a piece of chocolate from Chocolista, it will be fresh and delicious! You can find a detailed list of our products on our website, and be sure to "like" our page on facebook to keep up to date with our news and where to find us. Since we do not operate a retail store yet, we participate in several farmers markets, art fairs, craft fairs, bridal fairs and wine festivals throughout the year. We also accept orders online or by phone at 973-548-8080.

Heather: I am the owner of Charley’s Organic Toffee, producing certified organic toffees and caramels with fresh, local quality ingredients. I sell at green markets in the area, including Alan’s Orchard, Columbus Circle Holiday Market, Unilever, Rutgers Gardens Market, Hoboken Farmers Market and the Westfield Farmer’s Market, opening in July. My company recently was invited to distribute our confections at a pop-up store at the Sundance Film Festival. Charley's is a small business with big ideas. Our philosophy is based on "Be the change you wish to see in the world."

Lauren W: I started to write about food in 2009 in a decided career change. I started with a local food blog called Westfield Foodie. As that gained in popularity I was approached by the then-new hyperlocal online newspaper The Alternative Press and was one of their first columnists penning A Foodie State. Last fall I joined Deb Smith and her fabulous team at Jersey Bites as the Union County Regional Editor, covering cool food events around NJ.

Why did you get involved in this business?

Susan: I became a Dietician because I could combine all the sciences with food science, cooking and writing and working with people, counseling and working independently. My father always said, "Without your health you have nothing" and it's true.  Staying healthy and living life to the fullest is important to me, and I want to impart those values on my children.

Jackie:  I love all things food!  The smells, the tastes and flavors, the textures, the cultures, being in the kitchen, getting creative.  And I really love our products and sharing it with other people. 

Lauren K: My mother died at the very young age of 43 and it changed my world completely.  After I went to college and studied Business and Finance with a Psychology minor I knew I wanted to pursue a graduate degree in Nutritional Science.  I wanted to learn as much as I could about how eating healthy foods can help prevent certain illnesses and maintain optimal health.

Angie: I have always had a passion for all things culinary, and a very sweet tooth! Three years ago, when my first son was born, I decided to leave my corporate job and become a stay at home mom. In my down time, I decided to take a chocolate making class for fun and instantly fell in love. I kept taking more and more classes until I had taken everything available at both the French Culinary Institute (FCI) and the Institute for Culinary Education (ICE) in NYC. I then continued onto professional level classes by completing a Masters Chocolatier course at Ecole Chocolat and then travelling to Paris to take several classes there as well. Upon my return from Paris, inspired and charged with all the new experiences I had, Chocolista was born.

Heather: I started the business two years ago with the singular thought “I am going to try this.” My grandfather owned an ice cream manufacturing company, and my dad worked with him when I was growing up. My mother worked at home as a seamstress and mother of six. I learned candy making from my grandmother who was a supervisor at the American Can Company. She would meticulously make thousands of candies and cookies at the holidays.

Lauren W: I have always loved food, dining out, cooking in and food shopping. I am one of those rare people who find grocery shopping relaxing and actually quite enjoyable. Finding new gourmet products is exciting to me, and finally I have a way to share my foodie finds. I left my job in PR when I had my second daughter, and was looking for the next opportunity. I flew out to a college roommate’s wedding in Sonoma and met some of her business school friends, many of whom were unemployed yet overeducated. They all had blogs. I knew right away that I wanted to start a food blog. I had just read Julie & Julia and it inspired me to write about my own experiences. By the time the movie came out I was already established and people finally started to “get” what I was doing.  

Why is it important to you do be in this field?

Susan: I can reach more people through books and other "food & nutrition communication" projects. I still love one-on-one counseling, but I really want to make an impact on a broader scale. The state of Americans' health needs help, and I'm attempting to positively affect it.

Jackie: The difference fresh ground spices makes in your cooking is like night and day, so being able to open people up to that and share the ability to be creative in your cooking in such an easy way is such a pleasure.  Today people are so much more focused on healthy eating and clean living and we're providing a fresh product with no additives or preservatives.  That makes people happy!    PLUS, I opened the shop with my sister Becky, so being able to spend time with her doing something we both love makes it even better! 

Lauren K: I love teaching people about creative ways to make your food and lifestyle healthier.  I really love showing people that just because you are eating less processed foods and more whole foods, it doesn't mean you have to sacrifice flavor.  Healthy food CAN taste delicious!   I love when people tell me that they have learned something from me or that they feel better. It makes me love my job even more.

Angie: It is important for me to be here for my kids, to see all "their firsts" and enjoy them because we all know how fast kids grow up. But at the same time, I think it's important for me to be an example to them as well, to teach them to work hard for their dreams and never give up, even when it's challenging. Being a chocolatier may not be the most glamorous job, nor is it easy. It's a lot of hard work...and very messy but I love being in the kitchen, being creative, testing out new recipes and dreaming up new ideas. It's most important to do something that you love and enjoy.

Heather: When my four children and I were diagnosed with Celiac disease we had to eliminate gluten from our diets.I stopped making the cookies and focused on making the best possible organic caramel and toffee candies on the market. I use only local, organic and gluten-free ingredients, including only organic chocolates. I grow fruits and vegetables in my own garden and I have a CSA share. I’m so excited about how the local food movement has exploded, providing income locally to sustain our lifestyles. It’s the best for all of us.

Lauren W: It was important to me to do something that resonated on a meaningful level. As a corporate marketing executive at a big investment banking firm, I did my job well, but it had no meaning to me. Now, I get direct feedback from readers who tell me they tried a product, recipe or restaurant because of what I wrote.  If I make one person’s life easier or help them get a fresh, delicious meal on the table one night rather than microwaving a frozen entree, I know I am making a real difference in someone’s world. It’s great to get feedback. I love being the “Westfield Foodie” – sometimes I get complimentary food to taste, invitations to culinary events or get a free glass of wine – that makes me feel important, that my opinion is valued. It’s very validating.

How do you juggle working with being a mother?

Susan: It's not easy because every day is different. I never have the same schedule, but I suppose I love that aspect too because there is nothing monotonous or mundane about it! If I don't have work lined up, I'm seeking it but also make more time for the kids on a weekend when I don't have to be working, and that's important because they still don't understand that mommy has to work just about any time day or night or weekend if needed! Striving for balance is an ongoing challenge.

Jackie:   I have yet to actually do this considering our lil' nugget isn't expected until early October, but I'm planning on incorporating the baby into as much of my life here at Savory as possible.  Between friends and family in the area, we hope to have sitters when needed, but ideally I'd love to continue with my FT role here in the shop while growing as a new mom in so many new ways. 

Lauren K: I am very fortunate that I not only work from home, but I create my business hours around my children's schedules. There are times that the balance can be difficult, but luckily my husband is a great help. When my kids are down for the night, I am always on my laptop working.  

Angie: I don't know anyone who has perfected the balance between work and home! For me the key is to stay organized, stay cool and learn not to overextend myself and my kids. Learn to say no because there are some weeks that something's got to give. There are some weeks where schedules are crazy, and we don't get to do a lot of fun family activities, and so we make it up by prioritizing our family time the following week when things are quieter. Having a supportive partner who gets is and is willing to jump in when I can't is a big part of keeping it together.

Heather:  When I was an Occupational Therapist, the balance was a challenge. Now, I work harder than I ever have with Charley’s Organic Toffee, but it’s on my own terms. Three of my four children are teenagers and they help me run the business. We sell our products at local farmer’s markets and they know how to set it up and sell our products. They are learning about business and I get to spend time with them while I work.

Why do you love being a mom?

Susan: They are just amazing individuals, and when I look at them and think "you came out of me" it truly makes me believe that the miracle of life is way beyond our control, that's for sure! I love watching them learn and grow, even through the "difficult phases," and nothing makes me happier than when I see them truly having fun together and being kind to others (including their siblings).  I love seeing their faces every morning and kissing them good night, and I know I am blessed to have four beautiful, healthy children.

Lauren K: I adore my three small boys who definitely keep me busy.  They each have their own little personality and temperament.  They all usually get along very well and I love to see them interact with each other.  My oldest is 7 and sometimes acts like he's 20 - that's probably typical for a first child.  He's smart and funny and he's a rule follower.  I really enjoy hanging out with him. He sometimes gets embarrassed when I kiss him in public, but that certainly doesn't stop m!  My middle guy is 5 and he is charming and down right hilarious. The things that come out of his mouth make me smile - and sometimes make me shudder! My youngest is 2 and wants to be like his older brothers.  He puts a smile on my face daily.  He is sweet and kind and he loves being happy.

Angie: I have two boys, ages 1 & 3. Having kids has made me appreciate all the little things that as adults we take for granted. I love getting to watch my kids gets so excited every time they see or try something new...even the littlest things can be so exciting for a little guy. 

Jody: My three kids are constant reminders of the important things in life. I especially appreciate the importance of listening to them and laughing with them.

Lauren W: I’d like to think I teach them, but really they teach me. Every day I learn something new from them, like how to catch a butterfly or how do an up-rise on the high bars. They amaze me with their curiosity, goodness and beauty every single day. They are both named after relatives who passed away before they were born, who never got to meet them. I have the privilege of spending every day with them. 

Heather: With three kids in high school, and one in middle school, I’ve moved into a different phase of parenting. I really believe in being available when they are not in school and talking/listening/enjoying. My oldest is on her way to the University of Hawaii to study Japanese and environmental science and my sixteen year-old is a lifeguard and part of the Civil Air Patrol. Its amazing to watch them become adults on their own terms.

Describe your kids eating habits at home – any curious taste buds?

Susan: They all have different favorites and likes of course, but they all are not very adventurous unfortunately! They are kind of typical in that sense. I of course make lots of delicious, healthy, creative dishes and many times they turn their noses up. I know their tastes will change though, and someday they'll love everything I cook. Until then, I just laugh at some of their combinations. One son loves peanut butter and he has even smeared it on a hot dog (and ate the entire thing) and I just watched my almost 4 year-old put some Trader Joe's multi-seed soy crackers on his Berry O's cereal and eat the entire bowl!  As long as they eat some fruit and vegetables and whole grains every day, I'm happy.

Lauren K: I am pretty lucky because my kids are good eaters.  The ironic part is that I am fairly picky and my kids will sit down to dinner and eat shrimp, calamari, bluefish and steak and I order a salad. (I told you I was picky!)  My middle guy is the best eater and eats just about anything.  They eat fruits and vegetables every day.  They often ask "How much protein is in this?" or "Is this healthy?" because I try to teach them how important it is to eat nutritious food.

Angie: I'm pretty lucky ...my kids have their moments but for the most part they don't make too much of a fuss with food.

Jody: I am proud to say that my kids have a very healthy diet. I am sure they cannot recall the last time we ate at a fast food restaurant. They each have a sweet tooth, but we try to stick to frozen yogurt and dark chocolate. Lunch snacks include popcorn, yogurt, veggies, hummus and a Hershey's kiss!

Lauren W: Both of my girls have an insatiable appetite for sushi, smoked salmon and caviar. My younger daughter orders “orange bubble sushi” (salmon roe) and my older daughter could eat 4 orders of Philadelphia rolls. Sometimes we are at a restaurant and I get that “really?” look from the waiter, but they are always impressed when they clear away an empty plate of filet mignon with mashed potatoes or lobster mac & cheese. At home it’s the same, they eat almost everything I make for them and like to try new foods. But then again, I try to give them foods I already know they like to eat so there's not a lot of surprises.

Heather: My kids are foodies! Although Trader Joe’s is our go-to, we rarely shop in a grocery store and know so many great vendors at the markets. My son even has a mentorship going with the cheese maker at Cherry Grove Farms and is learning about making cheese. Our eggs, cheese, meats and organic vegetables almost exclusively come from local farmers markets and we fill in with jams, gluten free baked breads, yogurt, honey, spices, and tea. The markets are flourishing!

What treats or junk food do you allow them to enjoy?

Susan: I love ice cream and chocolate, so I would never not allow them to indulge a little. I like them to know that treats are treats and should be enjoyed in moderation. They also love pizza and macaroni & cheese...  Serve some broccoli on the side and there's my rationalization.

Lauren K: Most of the time I keep healthy treats on hand for the kids, such as black bean brownies or applesauce muffins. But I definitely allow my kids a treat every day.  They know that I will never force them to finish their meal, but they also will not get dessert.  It never fails to work for my kids.

Angie: Well, I don't categorize chocolate as "junk food" but it is a special treat especially for little ones. I allow my kids to have an occasional piece of mommy's creations. I mostly use dark chocolate in my bonbons (which has many proven health benefits and much less sugar than milk chocolate), and no corn syrup or preservatives and lots of fresh ingredients. 

Jody: They love my weight watchers chocolate muffins. We love whipped cream on any fruit. On a rare occasion I will buy cookies and potato chips. There is pressure when other kids are hanging out here. They expect junk food. 

Lauren W: My girls love cookies and chips, but they also love fruits, veggies, fish, yogurt and milk. I always say “everything in moderation.” If they eat the wholesome foods, they can have any treat they want. Because they are full from real, honest food, they rarely overindulge.

Heather: With teenagers you don’t get the control of allowing one food or another and my kids eat constantly!! We try to stay clear of any preservatives, food dyes, chemicals, pesticides and keep a balance of fruits and vegetables, meat/tofu, and dairy and keep strict gluten free. But outside of home and packed lunches it’s anybody’s guess what they are eating!!

What life lessons or food habits did you learn from your own mom?

Susan: You "doctor up" just about anything and make it better! I guess I have to do my own thing with food, and I love flavor, so I always want food to taste as good as it can. You can "doctor up" leftovers and pre-made items, and I just about always do :) My mom -- mother to eight -- didn't seem to sweat the small stuff and was also a very positive person -- she loved life!

Jackie: To take the time to find your true place in the world, doing something you love and contributing in a positive way. 

Lauren K: My mother died when I was only 15 years old, but I do remember she always cooked for us.  And she didn't make things out of boxes or cans. 

Angie: One mom once told me, "everything is a phase" and as time goes on, I really see how true that is. The other is "the days are long but the years are short." I can't stress how true this is! 

Lauren: My mom made it look so easy. She cooked and cleaned and ran a tight ship. I don’t remember her getting stressed out or yelling at us, ever. I could benefit from taking a few refresher courses from my mom in those departments. As far as cooking and food habits, I recall eating homemade meals almost every night around the dinner table with my family. I try to recreate this in my home as well, and still love the foods I grew up with – like spaghetti, barbecued chicken and salads with just about anything tossed in.

Heather: My mom is a fabulous cook and the kitchen is always the central gathering place. I grew up with great home cooked food and a huge garden every summer. We also went ‘farming’ to pick our own apples, strawberries, pickles, beets, etc. I always loved those outings and continue them with my kids.

What aspects of motherhood are most challenging and how do you deal with obstacles?

Susan: Dealing with the fighting, bickering and competition, as in "No fair! He got the biggest pancake!! Followed by the grab for the pancake from his brother's plate and either the scream or the punch that follows... I strive for pancake making perfection: consistency. Parenting requires consistent messages and rewarding things like getting through a meal without yelling, fighting, etc.

Lauren K: I would say balancing all the kids, their schedules and my own is the most challenging.  I always try to be conscious of providing equal attention to each child, but it doesn't always work out that way.  I try to let go of the mom guilt as often as I can.

Angie: I am always worrying about how every little decision I make will shape my kids life! But trusting my gut is the only way to go, otherwise I wouldn't be able to get through one day without second-guessing myself.

Jody: When one of your children has a goal or expectation that is totally foreign to you. Accepting their individuality and respecting them for the path they choose even if your own plans from them do not materialize. This is the only way to strengthen your relationship with them.

Lauren W: I don’t do well with the whining and the rushing around to be somewhere at a particular time. I don’t get too stressed out until I am squeezed for time or have to negotiate for something that should be a given.

Heather: Oh, so complicated some days! Teenagers with their own ideas, moods, agendas and wants that seem to them like needs! But some days it all comes together for perfect family moments, and I cherish those slivers of time.

What is your easy weeknight family dinner?

Susan: See my website -- the kettle chip encrusted salmon with brown rice and either green beans or broccoli. Or my "Best-Loved Chicken Balsamico" from my cookbook with brown rice or quinoa, broccoli or asparagus, a big salad and some ice cream for dessert :)

Jackie:  Tacos, easy one!  Takes all of 15 mins to throw together and is typically fun for everyone.  Put together a fun fixins bar with sour cream, shredded cheese, pico de gallo, guacamole, and you're good to go.  For little ones you can use Tostitos scoops as taco shells.   

Lauren K: We make tacos, quesadillas, frittatas, chicken tenders...they are all pretty easy and healthy :)

Angie: whole grain pasta with home made pesto sauce (my 3 yr old loves the "green noodles" as he calls it)

Jody H: Stir fried tofu with veggies. Cook the tofu (cubed) alone with Soyaki sauce. In a separate pan stir fry veggies; when cooked but slightly firm, mix together. Serve with brown rice. Eat with chop sticks!

Lauren: I like to grill just about anything and everything. I’ve become a fan of the freezer to grill cooking style. I keep bags of raw shrimp in the freezer than can be thawed in water, skewered, grilled and served in under fifteen minutes, while I make a salad and rice. I toss Bubba Burgers (Angus or Turkey) or frozen Balducci’s pizza from freezer to grill.

Heather: Easiest is ordering sushi! But my kids can all cook for themselves if I am too busy, and when I step out of the kitchen and listen to them working together, I get some of those slivers of happiness!

If you could do anything in the world what would you do?

Susan: Travel the entire globe with my husband and children -- eat and play around the world!

Jackie:   Take the time to travel to all the different areas we source our products from.  We have over 80 different vendors all over the world, so that would mean a very extended vacation from the shop!  Not so sure my new baby, or my sister Becky for that matter, would give me the go-ahead just yet ;) 

Lauren K: Cure Cancer

Angie: world peace.....one chocolate at a time :)

Jody: Go back to school. 

Lauren: Live in Paris and train as a pastry chef. I would also stay in bed and read every book I don’t have time to read now.

Heather: Sigh…travel, eat, cook, have long conversations with like-minded people, drink really good wine, and enjoy my kids. Oh, and have someone else clean my house!

Happy Mother’s Day!