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Lucy Mangan: ‘One Ready-Made Meal Won’t Derail My Child Rearing’

Stop slaving over the stove and embrace the food pouch, says writer Lucy Mangan

A few years ago, I was on the bus and watched as a mother got a packet of Dolly Mixtures out of her bag, tapped her perfectly content toddler on the shoulder and said, ‘Do you want a sweet?’ I gaped. He shook his head. She asked him again. I made strangulated noises. He shook his head again. She tore off a corner, proffered them.

This time, now able to see the sweets, and perhaps realising he would get no peace otherwise, he took one. And, of course, once he’d had one he wanted more, so she gave him the bag and he finished it off. I had a stroke.

Mum perspective

Ever since then, I’ve figured that, as long as I’m not actually forcing sweets down my kid’s throat, I’m probably doing OK on the feeding front. So I greeted the news about how some brands of prepared baby food contain only half the meat/veg/fruit/rice/pasta of a home-cooked version with a more appraising eye than I usually do the latest bulletins from the guilt police.

'This is one of those times in motherhood when mathematics saves your ass'

Instead of sending me into paroxysms of shame and worry, I took a moment. Stood back a step and pondered. My first thought was that this is one of those times in motherhood when mathematics saves your ass.

One missed bath, one bottle-instead-of-breast feed, one caked-on poo in a forgotten nappy out of the thousands your baby will experience doesn’t/won’t/can’t mean you’ve derailed your entire baby- rearing project and left your precious child forever vulnerable to bugs, bound to develop asthma, fail all his exams or take up serial killing or stamp collecting in later life. So, the occasional (or even more than occasional) jar-based repast will also leave them unscathed.

Give yourself a break

My second thought was that, even if they are half as nutrition-packed as a home-cooked meal, so what? Don’t we have legal and commercial imperatives that require baby food meets certain standards? Why, yes, we do. Meaning the food is unlikely to place my child at risk.

And my third thought was, ‘I wonder why mothers resort to prepared meals?’ Might it perhaps be for similar reasons that other people – you know, people like these women used to be before they became mothers – do? Tiredness. Shortage of time. Just completely desperate to snatch a few minutes of ‘me’ time before sleep (or psychosis) sets in.

And because they’re busy doing other things. Working, mainly – inside the home or outside – to keep the family machinery and finances operating smoothly. And that’s something at least as beneficial to our juvenile population as home-puréed pear.

For Lucy Mangan's monthly column, subscribe to Mother & Baby magazine here

Lucy’s new book Charlie's Chocolate Factory: the Complete Story of Willy Wonka, the Golden Ticket and Roald Dahl's Greatest Creation is out on September 4th.

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