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The Real Girl: An Interview with Haylie Duff

When you talk to Haylie Duff, one of the first things you’ll notice—other than her charming, down-to-earth tone—is how important family is to her. Haylie often recalls fond memories of her home life, particularly with her younger sister and fellow actress, Hilary Duff. Growing up, they weren’t just siblings, they were inseparable best friends; something that anyone with siblings of their own will tell you isn’t exactly common.

At just eight years old, Haylie made her first stage appearance alongside her sister in a production of “The Nutcracker.” From an early age, it was clear that the two were natural born performers and though they would both find fame in the years that followed, for Haylie, a strong sense of family has always kept her grounded.

Still remaining close with her sister, Haylie now has a family of her own with her fiancé Matt Rosenberg and their two-year-old daughter Ryan. She’s spent most of her life in show business, but she’s often seen as someone who so many of us can relate to—particularly in her daily family life. On her blog, “The Real Girl’s Kitchen”—which would later turn into a cookbook and eventually a TV show—Haylie shares her favorite original recipes with fans and followers. While she’s gotten quite good in the kitchen, she doesn’t claim to be an expert, but rather a “real girl” who loves “real food.” The Digest caught up with Haylie to chat about her blog, family life, new children’s clothing line and the trials and tribulations of being a new mom.

What was the inspiration behind “The Real Girl’s Kitchen” blog and subsequent cookbook and TV show which aired on Cooking Channel?

I think the biggest inspiration started with me getting my first home and having this nice kitchen that I had no idea how to use. I grew up in a family that really cooked a lot, so for me I never really learned how to cook because I was always cooked for. Then I moved out on my own and I didn’t know how to feed myself. So it started out of my not knowing how to cook and sharing the trials and tribulations of being a real girl in the kitchen just trying to figure it out. My mom still laughs, she can’t believe it. At some point it changed over and I was like, ‘I’ve got the hang of this.’ I think that’s why so many people have related to it. If I can figure it out, anyone can figure it out.

Do you find that your passion for home cooking led you to change your daughter’s eating habits? Do you think she is more open to trying new things as a result?

No. She’s two now but she used to be such an adventurous eater, and now she’s like the boss lady. She decides what she’s going to try. Everyone warned me that this stage was coming and I just didn’t want to believe it. But it’s here and it’s loud and proud.

As a working mother, what do you find to be the biggest challenge when balancing family and your professional career?

Well honestly, the biggest challenge with balancing is balancing. I’m not always great at it, but I really try to separate the two. You know, when mom goes to work, mom goes to work. But then when mom is home, I’m not great about answering emails on time. It’s hard for me to blend the two. I’m always going to jump when my daughter needs me, even if work is calling. She’s always going to be the one that I choose, so sometimes that balancing isn’t that simple. I think it’s really important that she sees mom as somebody who is fulfilled not only as her mother, but also fulfilled in her own life and what she works on, where she travels. All those things make for a happy mom and therefore a happy child.

How do you like to spend time with your family when you’re not working?

The answer is so simple for me. It’s the little things, like spending time in our backyard. We recently moved into a house that has a bigger backyard and it’s been the best thing for us. All [Ryan] wants to do is run around outside in the sprinkler, climb on the jungle gym—all those simple, slow living type things. I just like putting a blanket out on the grass and coloring or painting. Those little moments, for me, that’s when I feel the happiest. It’s fun to go to the zoo or the aquarium, all those things that take more effort, but afternoons together at home are my favorite.

Family is big for you. What is your favorite family memory from growing up?

There’s a funny family memory that I was just laughing with my sister about, and we actually did a show similiar to it on “The Real Girl’s Kitchen.” When Hilary and I were little my dad used to make lobster, he would do a big bake. One year, I convinced my sister that dad was going to cook all the lobsters. There were lobsters in these big coolers in our house, probably like 15 to 20. We had my whole family coming over, and I convinced [Hilary] that we should set them free by putting them in our swimming pool. As you can imagine lobsters don’t do well in chlorine so I’m not going to tell you the rest of the story. Let’s just say it didn’t end well for the lobsters, or Hilary and I for that matter—we were in a lot of trouble!

From your experience as a young mom, what is one piece of advice every new mom should remember?

I feel like there’s been so much advice given to me since I became a mom. Honestly, I think the best piece of advice is to not listen to anybody. Everybody has their way of doing something, and likes to push what they think is right. But I think the beauty between the bond of a child and a mother is that the mother intuitively feels what the baby needs. And I think to trust your instincts and make the decisions that you feel are right, and not that somebody else has told you to do is maybe the best piece of advice. A girlfriend of mine told me that, ‘don’t do what everybody else thinks’ and it’s served me well so far. Except for nap time! I needed advice on how to get her to nap.

What was the inspiration behind Little Moon Society, your new children’s clothing line designed with Jessica Frank? Who came up with the name?

What’s funny is that Little Moon has been a thing for me since I was a little kid. I came up with it when I was eleven years old. It was the silliest name at the time but when we sat there in my office and we talked about what inspires us from our daughters, the thing that kept coming to the forefront was that they go through so many different phases. One day Ryan is very girly, then the next she wants to play soccer and wear my nephew’s clothing. They’re always going through these different phases, so we sort of thought of it like moon phases. It naturally worked out and the inspiration for Little Moon in general was to outfit kids in comfy clothes that they want to play in, want to nap in—want to do everything in. They’re ethically made in Los Angeles, so it’s clothes that you feel good about buying for your family too.

Ryan was one of the brand’s first models.

She was!

What does it mean to you to not only create something for children that you’re proud of, but to have your own daughter be a part of it?

You know, it was pretty surreal for me to see her in the clothes for the first time. Another experience that was pretty surreal as well was seeing a kid I didn’t know wearing it for the first time. I thought I was going to cry! [Ryan] is the biggest thing in my life, so I can’t imagine not experiencing [Little Moon] with her.

Ryan is starting preschool soon. How do you feel about it? Are you excited? Nervous? Both?

A little of both. I’m really excited, I feel like she’s going to love it. On the other hand I feel like my baby isn’t a baby anymore and I can’t wrap my mind around that I’ll be dropping her off anywhere by herself. But you know, I want her to flourish. I think it’s important to commit to preschool and to do it early so they keep up with their peers. I’m scared for the first day but I’m excited too.

You and your sister both have young children. How much fun is it raising kids at the same time? Do you lean on each other for advice?

We don’t really give each other advice because our kids are in such different stages. Luca is going to be six. When you have older kids you sort of forget the baby stage because you’ve moved on to so many other things. For the most part we’re just there to support each other and vent. We like watching them play together though, it’s so fun and it’s so cute.

Texas will always be your first love, but what is your favorite thing about visiting the East Coast?

I would have to say the food! I’ve lived in [New York] a few different times in my life. There’s just something about the energy. As soon as I land, I feel inspired by the energy that’s there. That and all the good meals!