MOST parents will recognise feelings of intense guilt around parenting, but mealtimes can be among the hardest battles.
Rachel Grantham, from Sydney's Eastern Suburbs, was holding down a high-flying job at Commonwealth Bank, but dinnertime with her fussy daughter was almost too stressful to bear.
Four years on, she has turned her daily fight to feed her picky child healthy food into a multimillion-dollar business.
It was when Ava turned one and started eating proper meals that Rachel, who had just returned to work full time, really started to struggle. "I would pick her up from daycare at five and she was already cranky," Rachel, 40, told news.com.au. "I'd be trying to cook nutritious meals, and she'd be hanging off my leg - it was pretty hard. I'd try to feed her, give her bath and get her to bed before 7pm.
"This 90-minute period, I can say hand on heart, was the most stressful part of my day."
Rachel felt "cheated" of the dreams she and her husband Phil had nurtured about becoming parents for the first time. "The time I got with her in the evenings wasn't quality time, it was stressful and awful," she said.
The finance manager decided there must be another way. When she looked around her local supermarket and realised there were no easy, healthy options she could buy, she decided to create her own.
She wanted to make it easy for busy working mums like herself to feed their children proper meals that were simple to prepare.
Rachel enlisted her friend Katrina Hollis, former sous-chef at the famous Bondi Icebergs, and the pair started coming up with delicious, nutritious meals containing cleverly hidden vegetables.
Like the meals she would try to prepare for Ava, they were kid favourites with a healthy twist, from meatballs with a veg-packed tomato sauce to "sneaky" mac 'n' cheese with expertly concealed pumpkin and cauliflower.
They tested the Little Buds meal packs on Rachel's mother's group friends and began selling them at Bondi market, where they were an instant sellout. A hit was born.
"I had to put something special out there if mums were going to feel they were doing the best for their kids," said Rachel. "Especially with your first born, you're really protective, you read all the labels, it had to be fresh, nutritious, balanced and healthy."
The healthy ready-meals were soon on sale in local stores and today, they are stocked at Woolworths and IGA, and roll out at Coles from Monday.
Rachel says helping other mums and dads with the often painful "dinner dash" is what really makes her feel good.
"I think guilt is a really big problem with parents. Am I seeing my child enough? A lot of mums feel guilt if they're not at home preparing a meal.
"We shouldn't have to feel that way. As long as it's nutritious, it doesn't matter.
"We all lead really busy lives, in most families both parents work. If we can give that time back so you're not at the stove, you have a pie in the oven and you're sat playing with your child, that's valuable."
And this business dynamo still isn't finished. As well as growing her brand and having a second child, three-year-old Jack, she's had more ideas.
Her inspiration, Ava, is now six and needs food packed for school every day, so Rachel plans to expand into all kinds of healthy lunch box items. "It's been a journey," she said.
"There are so many unhealthy items out there and few really good ones. We just want the best for our children. The thing I want most is more time with them."
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