Sarah Copeland is a cookbook author, culinary school-trained chef, recipe developer, certified holistic nutrition educator, wife to a wonderful Hungarian dude, and also mom to Greta (8) and Matyas (3).
You may have seen Sarah’s recipes in fancy food magazines or happened upon her gorgeous food blog, Edible Living. Personally, Instagram serendipity is to credit for my introduction to this wonder of a human. Just after launching Also Mom, I came across this post of Sarah’s about marrying motherhood with her creative career. “If this woman isn’t the definition of an also mom,” I thought, “I don’t know who is.”
I talked to Sarah about food, her creative pursuits, and about how she’s making motherhood work for her and her family. This interview is long AF, but you guys, it’s so worth it. Read. Enjoy. (And preorder her newest cookbook. It’s delightful.)
MEGAN: You’re on the verge of releasing your third cookbook, Every Day is Saturday. How have your books mirrored your own needs during each stage of your life?
SARAH: Each of my books has sprung from my real life, and each very beautifully mirrors my stage of life during the writing of the book—the way I cook and nourish the people I love most at that time. I wrote my first book, The Newlywed Cookbook, a few months into my marriage to my husband, András. We were so in love and nothing felt more important to me than building a home and a life together.
The second book, Feast, was much harder to write. I had a new baby at home, and though I was deeply passionate about the subject matter [it’s a vegetarian cookbook], trying to juggle the career I adored and the new baby [Greta] I loved was a lot. In a lot of ways I felt like the same old me with this cooing companion, but when it came to my writing—my creative life—it took me some time to adjust to how much my capacity had changed, how many fewer hours I had to devote to my work.
I finally adjusted right as the book launched, two years later. But then I was then totally consumed with wanting to grow my family again. I ended up taking a step back from touring with that book to open a pathway for that second baby [Matyas] to arrive in our lives. Only after I had a couple of really juicy years to spend a ton of time with him did I feel ready to write a book again.
That book—my newest book, Every Day is Saturday—feels like a total triumph in every way. It’s my dream book, my dream project, and my most authentic work yet, both because it was such a joy to write, and because it celebrates no longer wanting or needing to have it all nor needing to give up on everything I love creatively for the love of my children.
“In a lot of ways I felt like the same old me with this cooing companion, but when it came to my writing—my creative life—it took me some time to adjust to how much my capacity had changed, how many fewer hours I had to devote to my work.”
MEGAN: Speaking of doing it all in a way that works for you… in what ways have you married food, cooking, and motherhood?
SARAH: Recently, a woman I deeply admire, a well-known author, asked me, “so what do you do with your kids. Like what do you guys do for fun?” We were talking about how we both aren’t crazy about playground hangs, waiting around at the bottom of slides and pushing our beloved babes a thousand times on swings (which some mothers deeply love, and I admire that! But we both admitted we don’t.) The first thing that came to me was baking. We bake together.
Both of my kids spent their earliest days strapped to my chest while I cooked or baked. For me it was a way to push the needle on my next project without taking time away from them. And now, it’s a way to spend time together without me having to sit on the floor and play babies or legos. (I get building legos, but once they are built—I have to play with them, too?)
MEGAN: Dying a little because that's so me too. Cooking and doing things totally counts as quality time, and I imagine family dinner is a big thing in your home too. What are your go-to family meals?
SARAH: It’s funny, the publications and brands I work for often ask me to create recipes for family dinner, but actually, breakfast and lunch are our sweet spots. We always, always, always sit down to a hot, homemade breakfast, no matter what. My husband jokes that I love a three-course breakfast, even on a school day, which is, I know, insane. There’s always green juice and tea and then the main event (pancakes, porridge, waffles, eggs) and usually a bowl of fruit.
By dinner, a lot of my energy is spent, so we keep things simpler. I will cook a pot of cheesy polenta and top it with shaved vegetables and roasted mushrooms or beans, avocado, and cheese. We have fish often, and soup is our absolute go-to. I make a bit pot of carrot soup every week—enough for dinner and leftovers for the next day’s lunches. Sometimes it has red lentils in it, sometimes not. We all love it.
“My husband jokes that I love a three-course breakfast, even on a school day, which is, I know, insane.”
MEGAN: Do you differentiate between the cooking that feels like “work” from that which nourishes your family?
SARAH: This is so hard for me. Today for example, I need to make a tart for a story I’m doing. Normally, for a work project, I’d develop the recipe when my kids are at school.
This winter, though, has been the winter of endless snow days. My daughter has been home a ton, and she’s home again today. I really want to make the tart with her and frankly, it’s due, so we have to decide—do we stay in and bake the tart so mama gets her work done and we feel like we did something fun and productive together, or do we scrap it and call up a few other kids to go sledding?
There are a lot of blurry lines in our house. My studio and my husband’s workshop [he’s a furniture designer] are both on our property. We have to work very hard to draw lines in the sand. But the upside is that we’re around our children all the time, and they get to see and learn a lot about hard work and taking risks and believing in yourself and working together, which are the lessons we care most about teaching them.
MEGAN: Speaking of work and family… what do your days look like right now? How do you spend your time?
SARAH: There’s been so much tweaking of the schedule to arrive at something that feels right, but right now, my daughter is in school five days a week, and my son is in preschool three full days a week and two half days. It means that in every week, I have about half as many working hours as my husband—which is insane for my work load—but it also means I can count on having every afternoon with my kids, plus weekends.
In the fall, I felt like, “oh my gosh, my kids are so grown up, they are going off to school and I will never see them again (sob).” But the reality is, it is still a lot of time with them. We eat lunch together some days (my daughter has an open lunch program at school, and my son is home for lunch two days a week), plus we have afternoons, weekends, holidays, and because we live in Upstate New York—tons of snow days (like, maybe too many).
“Some days, when I look at what other creative, highly driven women are doing professionally I want it—that level of fluidity and contribution—but then I have to look at my life and ask myself why.”
MEGAN: That’s pretty much the best of the best of both worlds, but I imagine it must be tough to squeeze in everything you want to do into those few working hours you have.
SARAH: Some days, when I look at what other creative, highly driven women are doing professionally I want it—that level of fluidity and contribution—but then I have to look at my life and ask myself why. Because if it’s just to feel important, well, for me that can’t win. Two dear friends have recently lost their spouse, and just this month a dear old friend lost her five-year-old child. Those tragedies radically illuminated to me how time is our only non-renewable resource.
Our life is good right now. My kids are healthy and thriving, and I am important to them and they are important to me. I could really push, and push hard—that is my true nature—but there will be a cost. I know this, I’ve seen in it my own life, and I don’t want to risk that right now.
“We know when it’s not right, and we also have to know and own and appreciate when it is right—even if it looks very, very different from another family’s right.”
MEGAN: Ugh, YES! I’m all about understanding priorities and owning consequences. It seems like you have a good grasp on yours.
SARAH: As mothers we have so much connection to and intuition about the environment we’re creating for ourselves and our family. We know when it’s not right, and we also have to know and own and appreciate when it is right—even if it looks very, very different from another family’s right.
My choice, the choice I’ve made peace with, especially since becoming a mother of two—is that yes, my capacity will sometimes suffer. My work may suffer. I will have to say no a lot more (gosh, I have become so comfortable with no, or next time—or please try me again in a few months), but I have such a beautiful connection to my children and that, at the end of the day, is everything I could ever hope for.
MEGAN: How do you and your partner think about the roles you each have in your family?
SARAH: My husband and I are both spicy and strong-willed, so there’s a lot of heat in our home. The roles we naturally fall into very much come from both of us being raised in pretty traditional households. But then at my heart, I’m a fiercely pro-female, pro equal rights, pro use-your-voice woman, so sometimes this occasionally bubbles up in ways that I think surprise him.
He’s from Hungary where women get a three year paid leave after each child, so he saw a mother who was able to thrive in a very inspiring career as a nurse and headmaster of the school district between the three-year paid-family-leaves after each of her three children.
Growing up in the United States, especially in a time where there was little to no support for working motherhood, my mom, also a nurse, made a different choice. After many years of working to help put my father through medical school while my older sisters were very young, she made the choice to stay home after my younger brother and I were born. So, contrary to András’ experience, what I experienced was a father who worked outside of the home, and a mother whose work was the home and the family. She later went back to nursing, but during my childhood I saw a fully committed mother that was there all the time, whose career would come before, and then after us. There wasn’t much discussion about it, at least around us, so my experience was that everyone was at peace with it, and it was working beautifully for them.
That’s left us as a couple with some sizable reckoning to do with the fact that I decided to try for both family and career at the same time, without the same cultural or infrastructural support Andras’ mother had in Hungary. Our country and our culture aims to suggest women can and should go for it all, but the reality is still very different. We are still in a period of deep growing pains about how that can actually happen, and at what cost to self or family.
“Why aren’t successful women talking about what kind of help they have, so other women stop expecting themselves to do everything on their own?”
MEGAN: How do you manage to do everything you do?
SARAH: This is such an important question and thank you for asking it. Why aren’t successful women talking about what kind of help they have, so other women stop expecting themselves to do everything on their own?
Today’s standard is high, and to reach it, there are many people helping me. We don’t have any family nearby, which is super tough for two-career homes, so I have had either a nanny, babysitters, or some level of daycare for my kids, even if it’s only part time.
That was a steep learning curve. There was a lot of trying to work while the baby naps in my earliest days of motherhood, but as soon as we hired a regular babysitter, I felt so much more supported in trying to reach big goals. Now I know I’m my best self when I have regularly scheduled quiet moments away from my children to recharge, work, create, and grow. I’m more peaceful with myself, and with them.
I also frequently have an intern to help with my work—even two days a week—especially while I’m tackling big projects like my books.
I am not a wonder woman. Maybe I once thought I was. Motherhood, and particularly mothering a highly active, always hungry, incredibly daring boy, has humbled me deeply. And, in the same breath, there are many days I think any woman who has birthed and nursed and raised children while still functioning on any sort of normal, contributory way in society is a wonder woman.
MEGAN: It seems like you’re always on. Is that a sweet spot for you?
SARAH: Feeding and spoiling others is my love language, but there are definitely times when I need to say to my husband, “Hey, it would be so, so nice if you could just make me a cup or tea, or a hot piece of toast!” And when I say it, he always does.
What’s dangerous is when I don’t see myself getting worn out—don’t accept that it’s necessary for me to step away and recharge or be served in this same way I love to serve my family. I’ve learned that the hard way.
“What’s dangerous is when I don’t see myself getting worn out—don’t accept that it’s necessary for me to step away and recharge or be served in this same way I love to serve my family. I’ve learned that the hard way.”
MEGAN: Have to ask the baby gear question even though you’re out of the deep baby gear phase. Favorite baby gear?
SARAH: The classics that I would still buy today are a good sling for the newborn days, the Ergo baby carrier for the whole next two to three years, the FEED diaper bag, the Puj tub, and Honest Company for all baby supplies like diapers, wipes, and creams.
MEGAN: Any favorite baby/parenting books?
SARAH: I have a hundred baby and parenting books. I just passed along all the baby and birthing books including Ina May;s Guide to Childbirth—which I say read, but take with a grain of salt (neither of my births were quite that seamless and romantic).
My go-to for guidance on things discipline, especially anything toddler-related, is Janet Lansbury's No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame. Her supporting podcasts—which I listen to in the car—are my touchstones.
“Don’t let anyone else’s experience of motherhood ever make you feel bad about your own. Absolutely no one is dealing with your exact set of circumstances, your exact pair of breasts, your exact child’s temperament, your partner’s quirks, etc. You know best what’s good for you and them.”
MEGAN: Lastly, what is something you tell other moms because you wish you had known it yourself?
SARAH: Ironically, it might be don’t read too much! You have innate wisdom about birthing and nursing and other people’s opinions are interesting, but not always helpful. Don’t let anyone else’s experience of motherhood ever make you feel bad about your own. Absolutely no one is dealing with your exact set of circumstances, your exact pair of breasts, your exact child’s temperament, your partner’s quirks, etc. You know best what’s good for you and them.
Take all the good things you have with extreme gratitude, remember that most of the hard things will pass. Then, keep working at it—it is work, and it takes the willingness never to give up, but you were made for this.
Finally, and this one is the most important: try to be as loving with yourself as you would with your best friend or sister if she were a new (or even not new) mother. Say those same kind, supportive, forgiving things to yourself, as often as you can. You are doing so, so great, mama.
To keep up with Sarah’s day-to-day, including drool-inspiring food photos and aww-inspiring family photos, follow @edibleliving on Instagram.
For recipes and other gorgeous inspiration, Pinterest is where it’s at.
And definitely, definitely, definitely add her cookbooks to your library. Her newest book, Every Day is Saturday, is full of recipes, strategies, and stories to help passionate, overstretched mamas enjoy life at the table with their family.
Photographs courtesy of Sarah Copeland and photographer Amy Frances.
The Also Mom Conversations series features incredible women doing incredible things who are… you guessed it… also moms. I have a feeling you'll find a kindred spirit here.