Cooking for babies doesn't have to be difficult or stressful. I took a slightly different approach to weaning with each of my three children.
At the moment I have a couple of good friends just starting out on their weaning journey. This inspired me to share my experiences here with some tips, ideas and vegetarian baby food recipe suggestions.
Read on for my brief introduction to cooking for babies. This is based on my personal experience. I am a home cook and mother of three, not a chef or nutritionist.
If you're about to start weaning then I hope you find the following post about cooking for babies useful.
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Firstly here are some basics about weaning:
Getting started with weaning
- The advice in the UK is to wait until your baby turns six months old before giving solid foods alongside milk.
- You can then choose to start your baby out on purées, go down the baby led weaning (blw) route or do a bit of both.
- This is essentially using a combination of some purées, some more solid food and some finger foods.
Purées for babies
- It's a good idea to start with vegetables before moving on to fruit.
- Over time you can blend different flavours then gradually include more lumpy textures.
- Many people prefer to give their baby purées for their first foods as they are worried about choking.
Baby led weaning
- Baby led weaning (or blw) simply means letting your baby feed him or herself from the word go.
- No purées or weaning spoons, they can (with a few exceptions including honey, whole nuts, too much salt or sugar and some types of fish or shellfish) eat whatever you're eating.
- Often it can seem like your baby is eating very little if you take this approach but usually they soon get the hang of it.
My weaning story
My first baby was weaned on purées using a weaning spoon. He started out on fruit, vegetables and baby rice. Soon he moved on to dishes like cauliflower cheese, lentil dal and pasta.
As a baby he ate absolutely everything I offered him and enjoyed it all. I would never have predicted what a picky eater he would turn out to be!
My second baby refused point blank to be spoon fed so we ended up adopting more of a baby led weaning approach.
By the time baby number 3 came along I barely had time to think let alone make purées so he just ate whatever everyone else was having.
Top tips for cooking for babies
- Try to eat at the same time as your baby. Ideally eat the same thing or similar so that they can see you eating and get an idea of what to do. Liz Sergeant, from Well Nourished Club, agrees.
She says: "Try to eat at the same time your baby eats. Having a relaxed meal times together will encourage your baby to imitate your behaviour by trying new food and using cutlery."
- Try to relax and not get stressed about mealtimes.
If your baby is just playing with their food in the early days that's ok - it's all an important part of the learning process.
Babies can pick up on stress and this can make mealtimes difficult for them.
As Liz Sergeant says: "Remember babies have bad days (or weeks) when they are feeling under the weather, are tired, teething or going through a developmental phase etc. Don’t worry, just be consistent, stay relaxed and continue to enjoy yourself."
- Pick the right time. For the first tastes of food regular mealtimes are less important than picking a time when they're not tired, too full or too hungry.
After a nap when they're not due the next milk feed - but haven't just had one - is a good time to start.
- Don't try to put pressure on your child to eat. It may have short term results but in the long run is a bad idea and can cause negative associations with food.
- Kelly from Weaning the Nation says that what mattered to her the most when deciding what foods to use during weaning was:
"More than anything I tried to keep the family all eating the same food throughout weaning and to practically be able to do this I had to follow the rule: 'Do not serve anything to your baby that you would not like to eat yourself (ie, tasteless 'baby mush'), and do not eat anything that you would not want your baby to be eating (ie, junk food!)' This kept us all pretty healthy and happy for the whole of our weaning journey and that would be my advice to any new parent."
- Meal plan and batch cook as much as possible. Having a plan and knowing that you have a stash of food that your baby can eat in the freezer makes the whole process a lot easier.
- Try to cook one meal for your family. Even if you're feeding your baby purées you can still do this. For example roast sweet potatoes as a side for your dinner and puree some for the baby.
- Babies don't need bland mushy food. Now is the time to try lots of different tastes, flavours and textures. Don't be afraid to use spices. Go easy on the chilli powder but many babies love other spices.
What you need before you start cooking for your baby
You don't need to spend a lot of money on equipment.
However, a good highchair, plenty of bibs and some plastic or bamboo bowls, plates and spoons are invaluable.
Here's what we used for weaning:
- The Tripp Trapp* high chairs are lovely and I have friends who still use these for their seven year olds - with the baby harness removed of course! If you can't afford this then the Ikea one is a good alternative. We used the Ikea Antilop highchair* for all three kids. The tray removes for easier cleaning - I used to put it in the dishwasher sometimes after particularly messy meals. The baby does need to be able to sit up well although you can now buy a supporting cushion* to help keep them upright.
- Weaning spoons like these by Tommee Tippee* or these Oogaa Baby vehicle weaning spoons*.
- A silicone plate like this Oogaa Baby divided plate* (for slightly older babies) or for a more environmentally friendly version try a bamboo dinner set like this one by Bobo&Boo*.
- Ice cube trays or small pots with lids* for freezing purées in portion sizes.
- A blender. I used an ordinary hand held stick blender* but my friend has this Philips Avent Blender Steamer* and she swears by it.
Recipes to cook for your baby
Some of these recipes contain nuts. If you have nut allergies in your family check with your doctor first.
- Porridge fingers - this is one of most popular recipes on my blog
- Sweet potato, spinach and ricotta pancakes
- Carrot cake oaty bars
- Apple and cinnamon flapjacks
- Sweet potato spelt pancakes
- Simple curry sauce with hidden spinach
- Mild potato and cumin curry
- Sneaky Veg sauce
- Butternut squash cheesy oatcakes - better for slightly older babies
- Beetroot and poppy seed oaty bars
- Courgette and potato fritters
- Sweetcorn fritters
- Baby friendly hummus
- Pea and mint risotto
In theory all of these recipes could be given from six months. However, babies vary in when they're ready for different foods and textures.
If you would like to learn about feeding babies in more detail then I highly recommend the baby starting solids class by Simone Emery of Playing with Food*.
She's based in Australia but the online class can be taken at any time and from anywhere in the world. Simone also has some excellent resources for helping with picky eaters, which I have found invaluable.
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