Bonberi founder Nicole Berrie shares healthy-eating tips for babies and toddlers

In this five-part series, wellness entrepreneur and new mom Hannah Bronfman speaks with other moms and experts about all the life-changing topics that come with motherhood — from pregnancy and postpartum health to balancing mom life and a career.

Starting your baby on solid foods can often lead to tons of questions from parents. When should my baby start? What should I feed them? And what if they don’t like it?

While every baby is different, Nicole Berrie — founder of plant-based grab-and-go Bonberi in New York and mom of two — tells new mom Hannah Bronfman to basically keep it simple, at least at first.

But when you’re a self-described passionate eater, as Bronfman says, what if you have a picky eater? “I don’t know if I’d be able to handle that,” the mom of 6-month-old Preston adds.

“I got super excited when I first had Jude,” Berrie says of her 5-year-old son, “and I was like, ‘He’s going to eat everything, and it’s going to be great, and we’re going to introduce all of the spices early so he’s just like my little international kid who will eat anything.”

While experts including the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend exposing babies to a “wide variety of healthy foods” and textures starting at about 6 months old, giving them all of those foods and textures at once is a no-go. As with most everything in life, babies’ taste buds and digestive systems first have to get used to it.

“When we were introducing solids, I started really simple,” Berrie says. “I wanted to introduce a little bit of very gentle fruits, like mashed bananas. I think banana was his first. It was super ripe. I just mashed it up with a fork, and we tried that, and that was so crazy, that reaction. And then we went into avocado.”

After checking to see how her son was digesting each new food week by week, Berrie then started adding a hint of spice.

“I loved incorporating a little cinnamon, a dash of cinnamon in sweet potatoes,” Berrie says. “Or, if we were doing steamed carrots, I did a little dash of cumin. Definitely included a little bit of spice just to activate their palate. I’m a big proponent of including spices, obviously, in my cooking, so I was like why not just a little bit here and there.”

In her son’s first year, Berrie says the Beaba steamer-blender combo was her go-to appliance for making pureed baby food. She was even able to pop some pureed food in the freezer to defrost later.

But, the mom of two admits, some parents just don’t have the time for that. Luckily, she notes, there are so many prepared foods and delivery programs that offer clean ingredients and simple foods that mimic what you would make at home.

Not only that, but Berrie also explains how life can change once you have a second child — as it did with her daughter, Sea, 3.

“It’s so crazy having the second one, because Jude was 2-something when Sea was starting solids, and at that point, it’s like every man, child for themselves. Whereas with Jude, I was spoon-feeding him till so late in the game, Sea [started] baby-led weaning by accident. Like, here’s a banana. Do what you will with it.”

Choosing baby-led weaning by accident

With baby-led weaning, kids are encouraged to use their hands to feed themselves rather than relying on Mom or Dad to spoon-feed them.

“I think she’s a better eater and a more self-sufficient eater because I did the baby-led weaning,” Berrie admits. “I would be a too busy with Jude, who was a little more needy in the toddler phase, and she would just be eating herself, and it’s more about discovery, so I’m a big proponent of baby-led weaning.”

For Bronfman, though, she worries about safety issues when it comes to solid foods.

“Preston still doesn’t really know how to swallow properly, so I’m a little scared of him choking,” she tells Berrie.

While the AAP recommends starting solids at about 6 months, other experts including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note that every child is different What parents should be aware of before beginning solids are these factors: “Your child can sit with little or no support”; “your child has good head control”; and “your child opens his or her mouth and leans forward when food is offered.”

Watch their cues, Berrie affirms.

“For Jude, we started at 6 months. I was like, ‘I don’t want to start before 6 months,'” Berrie adds. “With Sea, she sees me eating, she sees her brother eating, and at like 5 months, even 4-1/2 months, she’s like, ‘What is that? I want the food. I want the food.’ So we started a little earlier with her.”

As with most parenting milestones, flexibility is key. Not only is every child different, but each parenting situation is different, too. Berrie recommends not limiting yourself to a particular parenting box. Mixing it up is OK, too.

“For me, as a mom, it served me better to not have any labels and just be like, ‘Today, we’re baby-led weaning, today we’re sleep-training,” she says. “It’s easier. It gives you less stress to be like, ‘Let’s try this. OK, it’s not working, let’s try that.”

As with everything related to your child, check first with your pediatrician if you have any questions about milestones or changing routines.

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