By Dr. Alok Patel
Since the prenatal days (which feels like a decade ago, even though my daughter is only 11-months-old), there has been a clash in my brain between “idealistic pediatrician father” and “real world dad.” The clash still exists but it’s calming, at least when it comes to feeding my rambunctious child, Elora.
I’m a board-certified pediatrician, I’ve worked in three different major US cities, and I’m well aware that the “perfect parent” is merely a hoax, perpetuated by the curated social media world. Yet with my own child, I had a vision of accomplishing three daily goals, per textbook standard:
Let’s narrow in on that last bullet point as it represents the largest disparity of expectation versus reality.
Feeding my daughter a diverse diet was not a daunting goal to me. Both sides of my brain were on board:
Real World Dad: “Obviously, I’m going to find time, always, to make Elora food, from her first days of trying to solids to later on when she has teeth and is ready to level up with varying textures.”
Idealistic Pediatrician Father: “I need to make every bite count, follow USDA recommendations about ensuring we start complementary foods that are both nutrient dense and made with potentially allergenic foods; research shows early introduction to those allergenic foods may be protective against future food allergies. This means I need to regularly incorporate milk, eggs, peanuts, treenuts, grains, shellfish, fish, soy and sesame (which account for 90% of all food allergies)”
The combined voice: “I got this.”
Elora was not a picky eater (yet) but mine and my wife’s work and travel schedule threw a monkey wrench into our meal prep plans. I was juggling long hours between working as a pediatric hospitalist and as a medical news contributor/media host and my wife, a renown event and wedding planner was scaling up to her pre-pandemic hours. Needless to say, there were days my daughter’s solid food intake consisted of mashed up bananas or oatmeal. And there were days, she didn’t get any solid foods and solely took the bottle.
Let’s be clear: there is absolutely nothing inherently wrong with this scenario.This was our rollercoaster reality as parents working full time. I tell stressed out parents that, at the end of the day, calories are what matters. I needed to tell myself this as I realized my daughter’s diet was a far cry from my culinary vision.
I remember joking about making her allergic-food-laden okonomiyaki. I didn’t even have time to do laundry. How was I ever going to get her developing gut exposed to multiple allergens, a week, in a delicious fashion?
Some families have the time and energy to incorporate allergenic foods into all their young babies and toddlers meals. Some days we did. Other days, we were on cross-country flights, in hotel rooms, playing “pass-the-baby” on errand-filled days, or simply too busy to go beyond the fabled fruit pouches. There were also those frustrating moments when my multi-talented wife would make delicacies for our baby only to watch food be thrown on the floor or in this nearby potted plant.
You’ll find all sorts of “parenting-hacks” online and SpoonfulONE Mix-In packets became the “early allergy introduction hack” for us. All of Elora’s favorite soft foods, such as yogurt, oatmeal, and chili (great trifecta here) would get an allergenic leveling up with SpoonfulONE Mix-ins. I once threw random fruits and vegetables into a blender, added a packet, and voila, odd-colored-yet-edible-smoothie-with-allergens-from-16-foods.
On flights, we would put half a packet into a little pureed food or yogurt and then give her the other half, later in the hotel. At the end of a hectic travel day, we felt as if we did her gut immune system proud.
Teething is a biological process that is absolutely as annoying as I was told it would be. Beyond the sleepless nights, there were days where Elora didn’t want to eat anything aside from teething crackers, which are about as nutrient dense as cardboard. We substituted the crackers with SpoonfulONE Puffs and Oat Crackers and fortunately, she happily chomped away, even on those fussy, teething days.
I stress the importance of feeding a diverse diet and making every bite count when I talk to parents about solids. I encourage all parents to ensure their baby’s gut immune system is seeing allergenic foods consistently. Obviously, there are many paths to achieving that goal. Given our absolutely looney schedules, SpoonfulONE products helped us be consistent.
Every family is different, with different resources and time. The only consistent unifying thread is the unpredictability; unlike early-dad-me, take a breath on days when feeding doesn’t go as planned.
May your “idealist” and “realistic” alter-egos come to terms with one another like mine finally did.