Master Of Mindfulness, Nicole Centeno On Three Babies, A Business & Taking It One Day At A Time

Master Of Mindfulness, Nicole Centeno On Three Babies, A Business & Taking It One Day At A Time

If ever there was a time to incorporate more mindfulness into our days, now would be it. As the founder of ready-to-eat plant-based meals Splendid Spoon and mom of two (with one on the way), Nicole is the master of such.

Here, this motivating mama dishes on centering down, taking one day at a time, raising a Series B while pregnant, and finding balance as a mom plus a business owner through uncertain times.

*Since our shoot with Nicole a few weeks ago, she delivered (from home) a beautiful baby girl named Charlotte. In many ways being on quarantine during this time is not all that dissimilar to The First 40 Days for any mama and something Nicole was preparing for anyways. Herein, she shares her healthy tips for new moms at home sheltering-in plus a healing immunity boosting recipe.

What a time to be pregnant and have a newborn… how are you feeling?

This time around, I was prepared to either sink into these first few weeks with her at home or jump back into work if I felt healthy and balanced. I was open to either, whereas with the last two I had to go back to work immediately.

That said, there’s nothing like a baby to clarify your priorities, and it turns out catastrophic world events have a similar effect! It’s a powerful time to enjoy the importance of family, as well as lean on positions of strength and influence as an opportunity to help others in need. Given everything going on, I’m grateful I can do both.

Any tips for new moms to stay sane while at home sheltering-in?

1. Limit your news intake to a few times a day if you can. There’s a lot of information swirling around out there, and as new moms our bodies are already on high-alert for anything that could threaten the safety of our newborn. Managing news-intake will help you stay grounded.

2. Start and end your day with gratitude. A business coach recently told me that your brain can’t experience worry and gratitude at the same time. Also, when we express gratitude our brain releases the happy chemicals dopamine and serotonin. Practicing gratitude every day strengthens these neural pathways and helps us avoid common post-partum (and COVID19) anxiety and depression.

3. Find solace in daily routines. Most of us thrive in environments where they know what’s coming next. Part of what’s hard with newborns and the current shelter-in environment is that we have very little control of our environments. What we can do, is come back to the same routines everyday. Having a breakfast ritual with family, an afternoon facetime with your friends or workmates, and even the consistency of feedings every 3 hours are all examples of routines that help us stay focused on the steady beat of our day-to-day.

You’ve been pregnant 3 times… emotionally has each been similar or different?

It’s been five years since my pregnancy with Caleb, so this feels like an entirely new experience. When I found out I was pregnant with Caleb, my second, Grover, my first, was barely nine-months-old. I hadn’t healed from the first and wasn’t ready to do it all over again. Therefore, having them back to back was extremely emotionally (and physically) intense. 

Now, with my third, I’ve actually been able to enjoy the process. Plus, the boys are old enough to help out and have been loving with me, which I wasn’t expecting. They hold the door open and carry packages upstairs for me. Overall I feel a lot more supported.

And, physically were the pregnancies similar or different?

I don’t know if it’s where I am with the company or my age but I have such a different appreciation for what my body is doing. With the first two, I was just starting the business which entirely depended on me in every way from actually making the soup to delivering it and figuring out how to move inventory. I didn’t have the luxury of slowing down or paying attention to the changing needs of my body. 

Whereas now, the company has grown and I have an incredible team that’s super supportive; it’s a total 180 from the past  wherein if I wasn’t doing things for the business, they just wouldn’t get done. Now, with or without me, the show will go on. This has also allowed me to take time for myself as I need it. If I feel tired then I take a nap or put my feet up at the end of the day. It’s been such a pleasure to take care of myself in this way. 

How did you decide to launch Splendid Spoon?

I had gone to culinary school while still working at Conde Nast. Then, after dappling in several side hustles from catering to a popup, I decided to focus my career on food and leave my day job. At the same time I got pregnant with Grover which made me realize how poorly I was eating. The irony being that I had a background in biochemistry and diet therapies, yet was still unable apply to find the time to eat well because I was too busy to cook for myself. It dawned on me that most people were likely in the same situation as me. We all know that we need to eat more veggies and sit down to eat a decent meal but also lead busy lives. I felt that if I couldn’t do it for myself with all my schooling and knowledge then it was probably impossible for other people to, which was the start of Splendid Spoon.

What was that experience like, having a baby and a new business?

The birth itself went smooth. However, the biggest surprise was that I felt amazing afterwards! So much so that I went to the kitchen the next day to make and deliver soup. From then on I just kept working and had zero maternity leave. At that point in the business I had experienced so many ups and down, that I considered how good I felt as an “up” and wanted to take advantage. In my mind, I knew I felt really good in that moment but I didn’t know what tomorrow would bring. So, I went to the kitchen to get things done. Which was basically the story of the first two years of Splendid Spoon. I learned how to become a mom and build a business by taking each day at face value. 

On days that it was hard I had to be humble, slow down, and ask for help. On good days I would run with it. I assessed each moment for what it was. Interestingly nowadays require a similar perspective. 

Then, you got pregnant again?

Yes, unexpectedly, as fate would have it. At this point I had the business standing on two legs but not quite walking yet. I’d finally landed FreshDirect as an account, sorted our manufacturing and distribution, refined recipes, hired a couple of full time people and started to pay myself a small salary so that I could have part time help in the form of a babysitter. Therefore, when I found out I was pregnant with Caleb, it was a total shock. Plus, simultaneously, my marriage was also falling apart. So, between that, my budding business, and a nine-month-old, my second pregnancy was extremely difficult. In many ways I think the business saved me during that time as it gave me a focal point and a sense of purpose.

And you were bootstrapping through all of this as well?

For the most part yes. I raised a little bit in the second year from friends and family which helped us make a few early hires. In year three when I was pregnant with Caleb, I raised an angel round to focus on building out the direct to consumer experience, followed by an institutional round in 2018. Now, with this pregnancy I’m raising our Series B. Funny, I guess I’m always balancing raising capital with having babies!

How does running a business and raising babies relate?

All of it is a little messy from raising capital, to giving birth and the first few months with a new baby. In business the stakes get higher the more you raise and grow, but you also develop better coping mechanisms. Same with being a parent, it’s about resilience and the ability to keep going even when things aren’t perfect.

Will you take maternity leave with this baby?

Finally, yes! I trust my team explicitely and plan to work a few hours a day to check in and take calls. While I won’t be entirely be removed, I also won’t be working 40 hours a week.

On being a blended family?

Being pregnant has been this interesting preparation for being a fully blended family. Over the last eight months, Henry has become more of a support and a place of comfort for the boys. He does breakfast every morning with the kids, plus I’ve been so tired by the end of the day that he also does bedtime. Overall there’s been a lot more integration and you can tell how much they love him.

Plus, they go to their dad’s half of the time and spend some weekends with my parents in Philadelphia. One of the silver linings of our divorce was that I learned to lean on my family as a single parent because you can’t do it alone, it’s impossible. My boys now have so many people they love and trust that are raising them along with me.

Any crazy cravings?

Perhaps because the dads are different and the baby’s chemistry is different, so are my cravings because unlike my first two, with this pregnancy, I have had all the cravings! Sugar mainly. Every time I go to a cafe I have to talk myself out of not getting the carrot cake with cream cheese frosting…which, let’s be honest, is essentially a cupcake. Even my kids are like, “you can’t eat that!” Other than that, I have a ton of our soups and try my best to keep it healthy. 

Can you share a healing immunity-boosting recipe?

One of the best things for immunity is raw garlic which, when chewed or chopped, produces sulfur-containing compounds that are proven to boost the disease-fighting power of white blood cells. Garlic is also a boost to milk supply! If it bothers you or your baby you can swap it for a milder sulfur-containing green like chives.

My favorite recipe is a modified version of the one from Silver Palette Cookbook.

Ingredients

2 cups high-quality olive oil

8 large or 6 small cloves garlic, peeled (sub with chives if garlic bothers you or your baby)

2 cups pine nuts, toasted

Juice and zest from half a lemon (save the other half to add more to taste)

4 cups basil (can substitute with any soft-leafed herb or a mixture, such as a dill, parsley, tarragon)

2-1/2 cups parmesan, finely grated (substitute with almonds, sunflower seeds or walnuts to make it vegan!)

1 heaping teaspoon sea salt

Freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

Process

Reserving the olive oil, add all ingredients to a food processor and pulse until combined, then drizzle in the olive oil while pulsing until the mixture is smooth. Taste and add more salt and lemon juice if necessary. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for 1 week or freeze in an ice cube tray for easy access to single servings. It will keep in the freezer for several months!

To Serve

Of course, pesto is a great addition to all the pasta we’re hoarding at the moment, but it’s also wonderfully versatile – mix it into a vinaigrette, melt onto a warm rice bowl, or just have a spoonful if you’re feeling under the weather.

Any advice?

This goes for new businesses, becoming a mom, or the current crisis… having a support system is huge. It’s the difference between something pulling you under and feeling overwhelming, or being a shared moment that you get through together. Even now, virtually or otherwise, lean into your support system.

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