When it comes to feeding one’s baby, the topic is always so charged. There are so many options and opinions on the “right way” to go about introducing solids. And it doesn’t help that there are a plethora of choices that make it all the more confusing for a parent who wants so desperately to get it right. Luckily there are new brands on the market that are addressing parental needs in the expanding age of information.
Cerebelly is an organic, plant-based baby food brand and the brainchild of Dr. Teresa Purzner, a practicing neurosurgeon and dedicated mother of 3. The brand celebrated their launch in New York this September featuring samples of the Cerebelly’s unique baby food flavors, which include combinations like sweet potato and mango, carrot and chickpea, pea and basil, and white bean, pumpkin, and apple. We tasted from a white bean, pumpkin, and apple baby food pouch, and the puree truly was yummy, with a taste profile and texture similar to a fall pumpkin soup.
But while their products are delicious and nutritious (they’re plant-based and low in (natural) sugars), what’s most impressive about the brand is the well-researched science behind each and every puree. Cerebelly is a targeted investment not only in the overall health and wellness of your child, but in the development of their brain through some of its most crucial years of growth – an investment they will continue to benefit from for the rest of their lives.
We had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Teresa Purzner to discuss her life as a working mom, her background in neuroscience, and why Cerebelly is a brand you should trust when choosing what to feed your growing babies.
(Everything we learned from Dr. Teresa was eye-opening, relatable, and so important for moms to know – it was almost impossible to cut anything out! We promise, it’s worth reading every word.)
MAMA GLOW: What inspired the name “Cerebelly”?
DR. TERESA: So, we went through a lot of discussions and iterations in trying to figure out the name. And “Cerebelly” – we ultimately landed on it because it’s “cerebral,” so brain, and actually my favorite part of the brain is the cerebellum. And then, we didn’t want to ignore the rest of the body, of course… So, “cerebral” and “belly,” Cerebelly! We actually had a whole competition trying to find names, and it was my brother Nick, the co-founder, who ultimately came up with Cerebelly.
MG: How did your background in neuroscience help you with the brand development?
DR. TERESA: It was the reason for founding it, it was the reason why I didn’t just hope someone else would do it. So, the whole concept is the idea that it’s supporting each region of the brain as it’s growing in its first few years… It wasn’t until I went off and did 6 years of dedicated research on brain development, I realized how different the different regions of the brain are and that each region really requires its own specific signals to grow properly, and each of them are growing in their own little windows of time… That was all sort of the origin why I started making very specific foods for my children… It was knowing all of these things that are important for brain development and then going to the grocery store and finding out that all those nutrients I needed just were not represented in baby food pouches, and then realizing my kids need those nutrients – I’m going to have to give it to them. So, solving the problem for my kids, but then realizing how about all the other kids? And it’s scary being a new mom, right? I didn’t know what I was doing when it came to food. I had to figure it out for myself. So also just the idea of taking care of this one part of all the terrifying parts of being a new mom, and helping moms know that if they go to Cerebelly, they have not only brain-based but also organic, non-GMO, we test for heavy metals – all the problems I had with the baby food industry in general, having taken care of them in a single product.
MG: How do you believe Cerebelly differentiates itself from other, commercial baby food brands?
DR. TERESA: I think there’s a lot of ways, but there’s 3 big ways. One, of course, is the brain-focused aspect. The fact that it grows and adapts with your child. That when we give age recommendations, it’s not because at 12 months we’re giving slightly chunkier food than at 6 months. It’s because there are different nutrients, because your baby’s brain at 12 months is not what it is at 6 months. We know that – your kid’s a totally different kid, right? So that personalized, adaptive nutrition that’s focused on providing nutrients for the brain as it grows. That’s sort of the clearest one. But the second one, which I think is really big, is the fact that they’re all vegetable-based. The great majority of baby food out there, even if the pouch has spinach, kale, or whatever on the front, it’s predominantly apple or banana or pear, and then a little bit of vegetable. Whereas our pouches, all of them the first ingredient, so the majority ingredient is a vegetable or legume. And then the third one is just going above and beyond in every aspect of the development of the products. When I was at Stanford, I also developed a drug for kids with cancer, and that’s a very rigorous, extremely intense process… whether it’s brain surgery or drug-development or science, I approach things very rigorously and very thoroughly. So with Cerebelly, I took that same sort of attitude and put it to baby food development. Things like heavy metals – I have a real problem with the fact that there are heavy metals in baby food. It seems unambiguous that that should not be the case. So we made sure the soil in which our ingredients are grown are the right type of soil, that it’s organic and non-GMO… Our DHA, I wanted it to be a non meat-based DHA and I wanted it to be water-extracted… Every aspect of it, we did it at 110%. And I think that is a very different way of approaching baby food in general, but a very normal way of approaching brain surgery.
MG: The Cerebelly baby food flavor combinations are unique, imaginative and certainly more complex than many of the flavors we commonly associate with baby food. Where do you find the inspiration for your baby food flavor combos?
DR. TERESA: I actually can’t take credit for that. I did the brain part. I basically gave the nutrients that I wanted and the levels that I wanted – which we had to do in 4 ounces, which is a very small amount of food to deliver all the requirements. But then we partnered with amazing nutritionists, people who are influencing nutrition on a global scale. We talked to them and said “Okay, if I want this, how would you go about creating a product that has all the needs that I want, but also tastes delicious?” And that’s hard. “Tastes delicious” is really hard, actually, and I don’t know how to do that. I’m not a chef. So, this group of nutritionists then took all my requirements and made an actual delicious, exciting, wonderful product out of it… And we would try it. I’d be at home with my kids, we’d be eating it, giving it to our friends. Iteration after iteration, and then finally we landed on the combinations we have now, which I’m very happy with.
MG: Do you have any tips for moms of picky eaters, and can you speak to the importance of providing your child with healthy and diverse food options?
DR. TERESA: I completely empathize with moms of picky eaters. My first child is an extremely picky eater. My next two, maybe because I started earlier on with more foods and a lot of vegetables, they’ve been fine. But it’s a challenge, and it can be a little bit heartbreaking because you’re trying so hard. And the meal is a time, at least in my family, when you’re sitting and talking and you’re trying to enjoy yourself, and when one kid is not eating, it’s a battle, and you don’t want to ruin the dinner time by trying to force food. So what I would say is just keep trying. Just keep trying. There’s a lot of good evidence showing that introduction of a diverse set of food right from the beginning is helpful in creating healthy habits in the long-term. There’s also good evidence showing that you have to introduce the same food up to 10 times before a child will actually accept it. So, if they reject it, just do it again. And if they reject it [again], just keep doing it and doing it and then, for the most part, ultimately, they’ll eat it. But, it’s hard. It’s hard. But the nice thing, if you think about Cerebelly and the way that we approach vegetables because they’re so vegetable-dense, is having it blended with a little bit of fruit so there’s still that diversity of flavor but some amount of sweetness for the child, naturally from the fruits… It’s easiest to set the habit right from the start, than to feed them sweet, fruit-based pouches most of their lives and then switch over, partially because it’s habit-forming, but also their palettes become more mature over time. So when they’re younger, they’re more accepting of things that maybe they won’t be later on.
MG: A unique feature of Cerebelly is a personalized quiz that helps moms choose the baby food products that are best suited to their baby. Why is that individualized support an important resource for mothers when choosing what to feed their child?
DR. TERESA: So the product is primarily age-based. One of the reasons that Cerebelly is able to be made now and not even 5 years ago is that our understanding of early human brain development in the postnatal period, so those first 3 years of life, we have really beautiful studies now that used MRIs on normal, healthy babies in combination with machine learning. And those two things together, we now have a far more nuanced understanding of different regions as they’re growing. So before would be 4-5 different general regions of the brain and what they’re doing, what we have [now] is about 40 different regions that we’re able to follow based on these other studies… So, a lot of [the quiz] is age-based. But, that being said, undeniably kids are different. There’s a distribution. And so, if we can get more information on what the child is doing, the child’s behavior is simply reflective of what’s going on in the brain, right? … So we brought that information in as well to get it a little more tailored to the child, rather than just age-based. But it is a predominantly age-based recommendation.
MG: What are the biggest challenges and rewards for you as a working mom of 3 and female founder?
DR. TERESA: The hardest struggle is not having enough time. And so I miss my kids all the time. And, for me, it hasn’t gotten easier. Every time I’m away from them, I’m thinking about them. And it’s hard – your kids obviously don’t want you to leave. So balancing that all, I think, is a struggle. But my kids also get to see their mom doing something she really believes in and she’s passionate about, and sacrificing… And I think my kids, in the big picture, being able to look back and see “you put your money where your mouth is.” Don’t just tell your kids “give up your cookie to your brother.” Their mom actually did give up her most important thing, which is time with them, to help other people. Because the missions of the things I’m doing – neurosurgery, or drug development, or research, or Cerebelly – is so clearly important and for the right reason, I think it’s easier.