As moms, we all want to give our kids a healthy start, and that’s why so many of us have made our own baby food. From those adorable first bites to enticing picky toddlers, feeding our kids can be rewarding, a struggle, or (in most cases), both. That’s one of the reasons we love Cerebelly, a new brand of baby food developed by neurosurgeon and mom Teresa Purzner. As an expert on brain development, Teresa knew how crucial proper nutrition was during her children’s first few years. But as a busy working mom, she knew how difficult it was to make food that met the high bar she set. When she couldn’t find something that fit the bill in the grocery store, she developed her own. Now, Cerebelly is available at www.cerebelly.com and also at Whole Foods, Target, Kroger and Wegman’s stores nationwide. We spoke to Teresa about why the first few years of a child’s life is the perfect time to focus on their nutrition, her nutrition criteria for Cerebelly, and more.
Can you please tell us how Cerebelly came to be?
As a neurosurgeon and developmental neurobiologist, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the brain and, in particular, early brain development. When I had my own kids, I had a strong appreciation for how critical and unique those early years are for your long-term cognitive potential, so I wanted to make sure they were given all the building blocks they needed. During those first 3 years, different regions of the brain grow at different times and each region requires its own specific set of nutrients to grow properly. I wanted to make sure my kids were getting the right nutrients at the right time to ensure their early brain development was well supported. There were 19 nutrients that I was focused on and, being quite busy, first thing I did was make my way to the grocery store to find baby food pouches that would provide those nutrients. The first thing I noticed was just how many pouches there were and how overwhelming it was to differentiate them. I started turning over pouch after pouch, hoping that the dark leafy greens on the front of the pouch would be represented in healthy levels of nutrition on the back of the pouch. But I couldn’t find the nutrients I wanted – of the 19 I searched out, I could only find 3 or 4.
So I became that mom that woke up at 5am to steam vegetables, grind up sunflower seeds, and mix pureed sweet potatoes and blueberries with whole fat yogurt. In this way I had solved the problem for my own children, but I couldn’t ignore the fact that this same problem still existed for every other child. There was a clear gap between what I knew children should be eating and what was available to parents at the supermarket. I created Cerebelly to bridge that gap. We didn’t stop at just the brain related nutrients either – if I was going to dive into making a baby food you can be sure that I was going to make the best possible baby food I could think up. So I partnered with world-class pediatric nutritionists and pediatricians to make sure we covered the whole body. We turned to farms that were not only organic, but were hand-selected for the soil the vegetables were grown in to avoid heavy metals – a disturbingly common problem in baby food. We didn’t just want omega-3’s in the food, we put out water-extracted, algae-derived DHA. Every pouch had to have a vegetable or legume as its first ingredient, which meant we had to steam rather than boil the purees (not a trivial task – we had to buy our own machine to do it). What we finally came up with is a baby food that’s not only delicious and nutritious, but also organic, non-GMO, 100% plant-derived, vegetable-first, dairy-free, and gluten-free, with no added sugar that’s tested for heavy metals before every batch is put out. I’m pretty proud of the end product.
Amazing! What else do most people not realize about brain development in babies and toddlers?
The first 1,000 days starts in utero—and the development that happens in the first 18 months of life is critical in setting your child up for success. The cells that they have at age 3 are the same cells they will have when they are 80 years old. That to me is incredible—and also speaks to how important it is to nourish them the best you can because once that window of development closes, there isn’t any going back. That’s not mean to be alarmist, it’s just neuroscience (we call them “critical windows of brain development”) – and I think that if most moms know that (which honestly, I didn’t even fully appreciate until I started studying it at Stanford), they would look at those first bites of food in a whole new way, which is ultimately what I’m hoping we do with Cerebelly.
How is Cerebelly specifically formulated to meet the needs of growing brains during this window?
Outside of trauma and disease, there are three basic determinants of early brain development: genetics (the mom and dad), the environment (the way you interact with your child) and nutrition. Each region of the brain has a specific window during which it grows and decades of research has shown that specific set of nutrients are required for each region. We looked at those nutritional needs and worked backwards from there. Which foods had the most choline? What’s the best source of DHA? We were, and are, really fortunate to have an incredible team of world-class pediatric nutritionists, dieticians and food experts who worked together to bring our products to life.
What are the biggest things to consider when choosing a baby food?
We like to say “flip your food” because the vast majority of food on shelves has been lacking the basic needs for your baby’s brain—forget the list of up to 20 that they actually need! All of Cerebelly’s pouches have 16 or more nutrients that support the critical stages of your baby’s brain development. That was incredibly important to me as we developed the product – to be honest and upfront about what we are feeding your kids. Not just some marketing tactic or ploy – but give them real meaningful nutrition. It’s also why we made all our pouches veggie-first – when veggies are your first ingredient, your sugar profile is significantly lower and your kids don’t get used to sucking on these really sweet pouches that ultimately lead to poor eating patterns as they get older.
If moms are already making their own food, where does Cerebelly fit in?
I think a lot of moms take great pleasure and pride in making their kids food and there’s so much value in doing that which extends well beyond the nutritional profile of the food you create. If you want to make your kids food, then I honestly recommend looking at what is in our pouches and trying to mirror that. Before we made Cerebelly, I was up at midnight grinding squash seeds, steaming leafy greens, picking just the right oils – because it was the only way I could get those nutrients in their food. I had no time and it meant waking up at 6am, but given what I knew I couldn’t not do it! By the time I had my second and third kid, Cerebelly existed and the squash seed grinding stopped haha! One thing I’ve been scratching my head over is how to mom source the right ingredients. At Cerebelly we’re really conscientious about things like heavy metals and contaminants (hence the clean label award!!) – but I’m not sure how you can do a similar screening at home since organic ingredients seem just as vulnerable to things like heavy metals. I’ll have to think about it!
Anything else you’d like to share?
Being a parent is hard. It’s hard if you don’t work and it’s hard if you do work. I’m still a practicing neurosurgeon and there isn’t a day when I feel like I’ve nailed that balance. We carry a lot of guilt around with us, a lot of the time. The last thing I want to do is give parents another thing to worry about – quite the contrary, I created Cerebelly in a way where I really felt I could help alleviate the guilt at least around eating and set kids off on the right path for long-term vegetable eating! I wanted parents to have something that they felt great about – not guilty. Are the first 1000 days a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in early brain development? They are. But are there other really important opportunities coming their way? Definitely. I think the best we can do is just keep trying to support these wonderful little beings the best we can throughout this life-long adventure.
Interested in trying out Cerebelly? Go to Cerebelly.com and use code LOCALMOMS35 for 35% off your first order!
This post is sponsored by Cerebelly and was first published on our parent site, The Local Moms Network.