ROSCOE VILLAGE — When Rachel Levin Albert gave birth to her oldest child, Taliah, friends and family showered her with gifts.
"At the end of the day I think I ended up with 40 blankets," said Albert, a human resources manager for GE Capital Real Estate. "I probably never touched half of them."
What she really needed during the middle of the day, alone at home with her newborn, was food. Preferably something she could eat with one hand.
"I would either completely not eat or order something completely not healthy," she said. "There was no meal planning. That was the last thing we wanted to think about."
Merav Benson, 31, of Roscoe Village, had a similar experience when she became a mother two and a half years ago. One too many midnight bags of chips — "I ended up eating whatever I could, stuff you can shove in your mouth" — inspired Benson to start Moment for Mom, a delivery service that provides fresh meals to new mothers.
Benson, a business school grad who previously worked at Kraft Foods, devised a flexible online ordering system that allows customers to choose what they want to eat and when they want to have it arrive at their doorstep.
Menu options go far beyond the traditional dinner casserole. Breakfast, lunch and even snack items are available and a mom's parenting partner can get in on the action, too. Moment for Mom offers dinner and dessert for two ($55) all the way up to a week's worth of meals for mom plus dinner every night for her partner ($375).
All of the meals designed to meet the the specific nutritional needs of new mothers, particularly those who are breastfeeding.
"There's so much focus on the baby in the beginning," said Benson, who is pregnant with her second child. "The mom thinks of herself last, but it's so important for her to be well taken care of and nourished. This is really about taking care of the person who's taking care of the baby."
Benson enlisted the consulting services of Rebecca Lepp Fertel, a registered dietician and owner of Nutrition Fast Forward.
"I said, 'Merav, where were you 10 years ago?'" recalled Lepp Fertel, herself a mother of two. "In the hospital, they just send you on your way, they don't give you a guidebook. I didn't receive any nutrition information."
One common mistake most new mothers make, according to Lepp Fertel, is trying to lose weight immediately after giving birth.
"It's so counterproductive," she said. "When you're breastfeeding, you need an additional 500 calories per day. The more you eat, the more satiated the baby will be."
Lepp Fertel focused on a balance of protein and carbohydrates to provide moms with sustained energy. "We tried to incorporate more protein," she said, explaining that because protein is digested at a slower rate, it helps maintain energy over a longer period of time.
Other menu items include key nutrients for a baby's development and mother's health, such as calcium, iron, B vitamins, vitamins A and C, whole grains and Omega-3 fatty acids. Benson also insisted that as many meals as possible — for example, a breakfast quiche and an orange waffle with flax seed — accommodate one-handed eating so moms could multitask or juggle a baby in their other arm. Wraps went through several rounds of rejection before Benson found a sauce that wouldn't ooze if the meal were eaten standing up.
Benson is particularly proud that Moment for Mom includes snacks like granola bars and trail mix. "No one ever thinks of snacks," she said. "You can be up at three in the morning and really hungry."
"I thought that was a brilliant idea," Lepp Fertel said of the snacks. "With small meals your energy stays constant."
Although the idea behind Moment for Mom seems like common sense, starting the business proved in many ways more difficult than delivering a child.
"It took two to two and a half years to figure out the best way to serve these moms," Benson said. While she came up with the idea in spring 2010, she did a pilot a year later before officially launching the service in August."To me, there is such a huge need," said Albert, who vowed to share the service with others.
"This would never have been a gift I would have given someone before I had a baby. You like to show up to a shower with a big gift," she said. "This will be my go-to present."