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To the mama trying to raise a healthy eater, we see you.

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I can still remember the feeling when my pediatrician gave me the news. “Your baby’s doing great, you can start introducing solids, mom!” he said cheerfully at my son’s six-month appointment. I smiled and tried to sound upbeat as I hugged my squirmy baby in my lap, but inside I was feeling incredibly anxious about this new milestone. I felt like my baby and I just got comfortable with formula feeding and now I had to figure out a whole new way to feed him. What if he doesn’t like what I give him? And how do I make sure he gets the most nutrients possible into that little belly of his? I went home and made a plan: I would make everything myself. From scratch. And organic. No matter how much time it consumed of my day.

It didn’t last long.

After what felt like ten lifetimes spent painstakingly steaming fruits, vegetables and proteins day in and day out, then carefully parsing them out into tiny containers, then labeling each one by hand before sacrificing all of my freezer space (and my sanity), I couldn’t do it anymore. Apart from the fact that loading up on organic produce cost a small fortune, it was also wearing my patience as I awoke even earlier to stand bleary eyed over a food processor every morning, and with each bowl that ended up tossed onto the floor — or splattered across my kitchen — I thought to myself, “There has to be a better way.”

Mom feeding baby

“Striving for variety over the course of the day and week vs. perfection at each and every meal should be more of the goal.”

As the aunt of a child with a nut allergy, I was determined to help my son avoid a similar fate, so I also started introducing foods that would help him (hopefully) build up a tolerance to these allergens. I made sure to ask Dr. Casares about this as well, and she said guidance is two-fold.

First, she said to always speak with your pediatrician before introducing your child to a potential allergen, and also to look at the research. “Guidance on allergen introduction has evolved based on the latest science. In late December, the USDA and Department of Health and Human Services released the 2020 – 2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans including recommendations for babies from birth through 24 months.” The new Guidelines recommend proactively including potentially allergenic foods such as peanut and egg, along with other complementary food” she told me. Also, Dr. Casares emphasized that, “This is especially important for peanuts, since research shows that introducing peanut into your baby’s diet earlier on may help lower the risk for developing an allergy.”

“There are better days ahead, I promise.”

That’s when I consulted the experts (read: fellow mom friends) for some strategizing and, if I’m being honest, moral support. One of them said something that struck me as so simple, so logical, that I stopped worrying about it that instant and never looked back. She said, “You know you don’t have to make everything for him yourself in order for him to eat healthy, right? They do make nutritious, quality baby food — it exists. Give yourself a break, he’ll probably like them.”

So I tried her advice, and she was right. After reading the labels on no less than a dozen different baby foods and purees, I finally found something that I felt comfortable starting to give to my baby — Gerber infant cereal, which is fortified with iron and other nutrients to support healthy growth. I started first mixing the cereal with a little bit of formula, and then introduced things like banana and sweet potato purees. I watched in awe as his little food-covered face devoured each spoonful, and eventually graduated to more complex mixtures of veggies and fruits, like banana apple pear and carrot sweet potato pea (he was obsessed with the latter, I can still picture his little orange face).

“There are better days ahead, I promise.”

That’s when I consulted the experts (read: fellow mom friends) for some strategizing and, if I’m being honest, moral support. One of them said something that struck me as so simple, so logical, that I stopped worrying about it that instant and never looked back. She said, “You know you don’t have to make everything for him yourself in order for him to eat healthy, right? They do make nutritious, quality baby food — it exists. Give yourself a break, he’ll probably like them.”

So I tried her advice, and she was right. After reading the labels on no less than a dozen different baby foods and purees, I finally found something that I felt comfortable starting to give to my baby — Gerber infant cereal, which is fortified with iron and other nutrients to support healthy growth. I started first mixing the cereal with a little bit of formula, and then introduced things like banana and sweet potato purees. I watched in awe as his little food-covered face devoured each spoonful, and eventually graduated to more complex mixtures of veggies and fruits, like banana apple pear and carrot sweet potato pea (he was obsessed with the latter, I can still picture his little orange face).

“There has to be a better way.”

As part of my job as a writer for Motherly, I am lucky enough to have the opportunity to speak to a wide variety of experts on motherhood. I reached out to a board-certified pediatrician and mom blogger Dr. Whitney Casares (@modernmommydoc) to get her perspective. In addition to her work as a practicing physician, she’s an author and a mom herself, and what she told me about parents not needing to strive for perfection in introducing babies to new foods made me feel a lot better. Essentially, striving for variety over the course of the day and week vs. perfection at each and every meal should be more of the goal.

According to Dr. Casares, “A variety of nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and protein foods like meats are important to start feeding to your baby around six months of age to help establish a healthy diet pattern early in life, and to ensure that children get the appropriate nutrients they need for growth and development.” For this reason, Dr. Casares advises her patients to “Eat the rainbow” — especially fruits and vegetables of all colors and types — to help ensure that babies don’t just prefer one thing and to take stress off both parents and baby.

This made a lot of sense when my pediatrician also suggested that I give my son a product containing peanut and other allergens in it — like a puff — so that his body would acclimate. After doing a little research, I decided on Gerber’s BabyPops Peanut variety, because it contains peanut flour, with the added bonus being that it’s adorable to watch your child work on his fine motor skills by carefully picking up and eating them. He still enjoys them today.

I’ve also learned little “hacks” for making sure that feeding my son is a little easier, like automating some of the process. Gerber offers this organic subscription box with age-appropriate foods, pouches, snacks, etc., so it’s easy for me to have new items for his developmental stage on hand. And now, the older he’s gotten, I’ve been giving him more of the table food that we’re eating rather than preparing everything just for him. It helps lower my time in the kitchen, as well as making sure he’s eating a good variety. Mamas of picky eaters, I know how tough that is, but we’ve been pretty fortunate to have a toddler that eats most things we give him — although he likes to share it with the floor.

Looking back on my struggles to give my son nutritious food, my hesitation to give him anything store bought, and how I didn’t know if I could sustain that much work (spoiler alert: I couldn’t!), I’m glad I finally relaxed a little, did my research and consulted my village for some advice. I now have a toddler who is healthy, growing like a weed, a fantastic eater, and most importantly, has a mom who isn’t depleted all the time. But I never forget the road it took to get here, and how helpful it is to have pre-made baby food options I can trust to “feed” my baby as well as I do. So, to the mamas out there still in the thick of it, hang in there. There are better days ahead, I promise.