Celebrity Interview: Liza Huber of Sage Spoonfuls
Liza Huber is a woman of many passions. The soap opera actress has now become an advocate for children’s healthy nutrition with the growth of her company, Sage Spoonfuls. We spoke to Liza about acting, eating healthy, (and of course, her mom, legendary actress Susan Lucci), and why she’s happy today to be able to blend all of her passions.
Liza, you started your acting career in soaps, right?
Yes, I started out right after college on Passions, which was so exciting. I moved out to Los Angeles, and I was 22 years old. It was a blast; it was a wonderful group of people who I’m still friends with today.
They say that doing soaps is one of the hardest acting jobs out there.
The amount of material is like doing a brand new play every single day with very little rehearsal. We would have three-page monologues sometimes. I don’t have a very good long-term memory but thankfully I have a very good short-term memory. And sometimes the turn-around would be so quick; we’d work until 1:00 in the morning and then have a 6:45 call time the next morning. Sometimes the makeup artist would say, “Did you look at the script? You have a 3-page monologue!” and I would say, “It’s okay; it’s a personal challenge.” And I would be able to memorize it in like 30 minutes. But it’s so much dialogue. And pregnancy brain was challenging; I was pregnant with Royce and Brendan while on the show and I just couldn’t remember anything. I remember the same thing happened to two other women who were on the show and were pregnant. We would literally have to go line by line. Normally we didn’t have any problems but we couldn’t remember anything.
I’ve interviewed a lot of soap opera actors and they’ve said that the soap opera family is a family for life.
It really is. And also, we’re on the show together for years and years and years. We really have to band together. I was on the show with so many of these actors for nine years.
Okay, only one Susan Lucci question, because this cover is not about your momma!
[laughs] That’s fine!
Your mom is in the same genre of acting. Did you ever feel like you had these big shoes that you had to fill?
I didn’t. She is so grounded and down-to-earth. We were raised where we felt really good about ourselves as individuals. I went into this feeling confident that I wanted to make this choice for myself and feeling good that I was good at what I was doing. When I was in college, I took off a couple of years from acting because I wanted to make sure that I wanted to do this for myself or because I grew up in this world. My major was in communications, so I really did 4 years with zero performing whatsoever, and I really missed it.
So when the opportunity came to audition for Passions right out of college, I jumped at it because I knew in my own heart that I love to perform and be in front of the cameras. Of course, people are always going to compare; that’s just the way it is. But it’s fine; I’m so proud of my mom and everything she’s accomplished. I’m proud to be her daughter, and I’m also proud of everything that I’ve been able to accomplish.
What is the state of soaps today? I think reality TV has kind of replaced soaps.
Reality TV is so inexpensive to produce and for soap operas, it takes about 200 people to really run the show. So I think the rise of reality TV has been the downfall of soap operas.
Do you ever want to go back to it?
I really don’t. I have found that my true calling is Sage Spoonfuls and everything that we’re doing with it. I still get to be in front of the camera, but now we’re talking about cooking and healthy eating for children and that is my true passion. It’s the best of both worlds; I still get to be very creative and be in front of the camera, but with something that is so close to home and so important to me.
That’s the perfect segue to Sage Spoonfuls.
When Passions was finishing up and I was pregnant with Brendan and coming home, I really had every intention of going back into daytime [TV]. I remember my mom once saying to me, “You’re so type A; you’re always very planned,” which I was. She said, “You’re highly pregnant with Brendan; leave room to surprise yourself.” Things were starting to change in daytime, and I had meetings and auditions set up, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue down this road. And I remember her saying, “Leave room for life to surprise you,” and it really flipped a switch in my brain for me.
And life did surprise me. Brendan was born two months early and was fighting for his life in intensive care for six weeks. That’s your game changer. Life surprised me in a way that I never saw coming in a million years. I couldn’t imagine putting him in the care of anyone else but me. Every newborn needs its mother, but preemies in this kind of condition need their mother for survival, not just for love and affection. I told my husband I was going to take two years off; I needed to be with this child. Royce was 18-months-old at this point. Six months after Brendan came home and he was stable and well—I love to work; I love to work and have something on my own. It’s so important being a wife and being a mother, but I do believe that it’s critical to have something of your own.
I had had the idea for Sage Spoonfuls when Royce was a baby, but at that point I was working on TV and I didn’t have the time or the need to develop a whole brand new company. So six months after Brendan came home, I remember sitting my husband and my parents at the table and said, “I’ve had this idea for many, many years. I’ve made the decision to leave acting; I want to be here with Brendan. There’s a real hole in the market and there’s really a need for this product.” I had done a year of research before even approaching them and told them that this was going to be at least two years from concept to creation. It will allow me to be home with Brendan and Royce and make sure that Brendan’s okay and will allow me to work on something and have a business of my own.
I feel so grateful; both my husband and my parents believed very much in my idea and each one gave me seed money to start the company. And in those two years I was home with Brendan was when Sage Spoonfuls was developed. I had Hayden kind of shortly after Brendan and that’s when it was launched. But what I thought was going to be a smaller, independent boutique brand has become a major national and international brand. It has become something bigger than my wildest dreams and what my mom said to me all those years ago, “Leave room for life to surprise you,” boy, this entire journey, what an amazing surprise. It’s a gift.
Let’s talk about Sage Spoonfuls.
Sage Spoonfuls has been around for five years and it’s a very robust product line centered on healthy cooking for babies and toddlers and families. We’ve won lots of awards and my cookbook is one of the most popular, which is great. It’s all about a basic need—providing your children with healthy food but in today’s hectic lifestyle. Whether you have one child or six kids, whether we work or we don’t, we’re all so incredibly busy.
We’re all time-starved.
We’re all time-starved. For many, the notion of making your own baby food seems insane. Where do you find the time? So I wanted to develop a system where you could make a ton of food in a very short time and store it in the freezer. So with Sage Spoonfuls, you can make a month’s worth of food in less than half an hour. We all have 30 minutes a month, like on a rainy day or a random Monday. You cook once a month, you store it (we have these wonderful jars), and you’re done. It’s about making this basic need very accessible and easy for parents. There’s a huge rise in food allergies and food intolerances and picky eating, and so much of it has to do with feeding children every day for every meal processed food.
When you become pregnant, what’s the first thing we do? We find out what can we eat, what can we drink, if I have a headache what can I take, what do I do? It’s what’s best for the baby. Then as the baby is developing and you’re getting closer to giving birth, you start investigating what’s the safest car seat, what’s the safest stroller, the best best best for the baby. Then the baby’s born and we’re breastfeeding, or we’re pumping, or what’s the very best, safest formula? But then, at 4-6 months old, we’re supposed to feed them processed food for every meal every day? It’s 100% marketing. “No, we can do it better than you can.” I do a lot of speaking around the country to new moms and dads about this very topic. They say, “Oh I get the most expensive, organic brand in the pouch.” That’s fine, but look at the shelf life. It’s 18 months to 2 years. Whether it’s organic or conventionally processed, it’s processed.
Nothing should last that long.
You could be feeding your child something that’s older than they are.
Wow, that’s a great point.
The food sterilization process, yes, it kills the bacteria so that it can have a shelf life, but unfortunately it also kills 50-60% of the nutrients, the taste, the texture, the color, the flavor, and it kills so much of the nutrients that most manufacturers artificially add it back in. They’re not obligated to tell that to the consumer, so now we’re giving our babies synthetic vitamins and nutrients. It’s not the same, and that’s my mission. To spread the information, please don’t believe the marketing, and please know in 10-15 minutes you can make two weeks’ worth of food and in 30 minutes, a month’s worth of food.
I think it’s a mindset that you have to adopt.
I call it a homemade lifestyle. I don’t have time to do these big fancy recipes. That’s one of the reasons why Sage Spoonfuls is so popular. Our recipes are single whole foods. Avocado, peas, butternut squash-great on their own, or mix it together. We’re not adding anything in or measuring. You happen to have apples or carrots or chicken; mix it all together or serve it individually. Make a lot, throw it in the jars, put it in the freezer. It’s also five times less expensive.
When you give your child jarred food, that’s what they think food tastes like.
And their palates are developing the first 18 months of their life. We’re introducing them to food so they know, hey, here’s another great experience in life. I say if you order something at a restaurant and it’s not good, even if the restaurant down the street makes it, you’re probably a little messed up over it and you’re probably not going to order it again. Same thing with green beans or peas or veggies or meats that are store-bought baby food. So overly processed with all the vibrant life sucked out of it. Why all of a sudden at 2-years-old would they want green beans? What we tried to feed them for 2 years is not really what green beans tastes like.
What are some of the bestsellers from your line?
Our cookbook is very popular and our storage system is too. So is our blender because we’re the only ones who give you basic kitchen tools, not a $150 machine that’s only good for the first 12 months. We give you an immersion blender and a food processor which are things you are going to use for years and years. We have customers who are using their Sage Spoonfuls kit for their 3rd or 4th baby; they continue using it. If I’m putting my name on it, the quality has to be second to none. The blender I’m using today is the sample from six years ago!
Where do you see it going?
Right now it’s just the tip of the iceberg. We just started shipping internationally and we have four new products that are really aging up the brand. It’s not just about baby food. It’s for toddlers, for big kids, for adults. We’re introducing new characters to the brand; I’m really very excited.
So you’ve left room for adventure, but how do you balance it? You have four young children.
I grew up watching my mom have a very big career, but also having a fantastic marriage and being a great mother. You absolutely can have it all, but you cannot have it all and do it all at the same time. I’ve tried doing it all at the same time and my husband said you’re running yourself ragged. You wind up giving 30 percent of yourself to the kids, 30 percent to work-
And zero to yourself.
And zero to yourself. So I changed my mentality to giving 100% to what it is at the time. I try to do my work when they’re at school. I don’t allow myself to get distracted. No Facebook, unless I’m doing a post for Sage Spoonfuls. When the kids come off the bus, I’m Mom then, unless there’s some kind of work emergency. In the evening when my husband comes home, that’s time for us to be together. I only get to the gym twice a week, but that’s my time; I have to do it. I held on to a lot of the weight, having four kids in 5 ½ years, until about a year and a half ago, when I changed my mentality. I have to give myself just three hours a week to work out. Over the course of time, I lost 40 pounds. It’s okay to spend time on yourself.
[Liza’s kids Royce and Brendan come into the room.]
Now, when was Brendan diagnosed with cerebral palsy?
He was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at 22-months-old. It’s a diagnosis similar to autism and what some people don’t know is that it has a wide, wide umbrella. When you think of cerebral palsy, you might think of what I did, a wheelchair, which is the way many people are affected. But you can line up 10 children with cerebral palsy and all ten of them will be different. If a baby is going to be born and have a more severe form of cerebral palsy, (there’s five levels, one being the most mild and five being the most affected), if the baby is a four or a five, you can see it right away. But the overwhelming majority of children with CP aren’t diagnosed until they’re almost 2, because you don’t really know. Some of the milestones are delayed; Brendan didn’t sit up until he was 10 months old. But I didn’t think because he was a preemie and he was a little bit delayed. But he was 19 months old and he was scooting; now that’s a little late to be walking. He couldn’t stand up in the middle of the room. He would stand and gravity would bring him right down.
We went to a neurologist here in town and she said he was just delayed and one day he would walk across the room. But I knew something wasn’t right so we got a second opinion. We got an MRI and we could see in the white matter of the brain a little lightning bolt and that’s what causes cerebral palsy. We didn’t talk about it until recently because as a parent you want to protect your child. About two years ago, I said to my husband, “You know, we never talk about this. What kind of message is this going to send to him?” I would never in a million years want him to think we’re trying to hide it.
So Brendan is a 2, 2+. It’s not progressive, so we decided we wanted to talk about it so he would feel proud. We had a wonderful platform to bring awareness to this. As we share our story, we have been given such a phenomenal gift. We have become friends with so many parents in the cerebral palsy community. Brendan had a major surgery called a selective dorsal rhizotomy from this angel doctor, Dr. Park, at the St. Louis Children’s Hospital. We found out from these amazing parents that while cerebral palsy is not progressive, over the course of time, the spasticity in the muscles is really affected. Dr. Park said that so many people who are mild or mild + do lose their ability to walk independently and do have to use wheelchairs by the time they’re in their 40s and 50s. But Dr. Park is so amazing that the surgery has removed 100% of his spasticity. So it’s as close to a cure for the type of cerebral palsy that he has, spastic diplegia, so it moves him down to a level 1 and prevents him from losing the ability to walk.
Now he’s just building up strength. He’ll hopefully be able to swim in the deep end by himself, ride a bike without training wheels. His body feels so much better; he grew 2 inches in three weeks! That’s what happens with these kids; the bones are growing normally but the muscles and the tendons are so tight. So the minute that connection is clipped, those bad messages from the brain don’t get to the muscles so he literally grew 2 inches in 3 weeks. It’s been amazing. I asked him how he felt and he said that he felt amazing. He said every single day before the surgery he felt pins and needles and numbness and then he said, “Wow, this is how my legs are really supposed to feel!” He still wears his braces, and will probably need them for another year and a half, but them he probably won’t need them for the rest of his life.
Isn’t it amazing how life works? You’re on soaps and then you start Sage Spoonfuls, and now you’re doing all this, bringing knowledge and empowering parents.
Brendan was really the catalyst for Sage Spoonfuls. Now Sage Spoonfuls is partnering with cerebral palsy as a cause because, oh my goodness, it’s as close to my heart as you can get. One of the products coming out in the spring is good for kids and adults with cerebral palsy, because it’s wonderful to be able to blend my two passions.