Part of the family While many of the foods you offer your family may be a little heavy-going for your young baby, there is no reason why you can’t involve him in family meals, and purée some of the elements of every meal you prepare. Babies love to feel part of the crowd, and will enjoy eating the same food as everyone else.
Q My baby keeps reaching for food from my own plate; should I let her try?
A There is no reason that your baby shouldn’t try the food on your plate, provided there is nothing there that could cause her to choke, or which may be inappropriate for babies. In fact, eating from mum and dad’s plate is a good way to introduce your baby to new flavours and tastes, and encourage her to join in with family meals from an early stage. If she particularly likes something, mash it up for her or give her a finger-food sized slice that she can manage herself.
Q We sometimes get takeaways, and my baby is keen for a taste; is this safe?
A As long as it’s not too fatty or rich, or contains foods that are inappropriate for little ones, you can most certainly offer small tastes. There is plenty of research to indicate that children’s tastes are established in early childhood, and the more he learns to eat at an early age, the more varied his palate will be later on. If your baby has food allergies, you have to be particularly careful, as takeaways are often a source of hidden allergens.
Q Can I purée family food for my baby?
A By all means. There are some foods that are inappropriate for babies and you should offer only healthy foods to your little one – avoid salt and sugar.
In the early stages, you will need to ensure that you make a purée that is liquid enough for your baby to slurp up from a spoon, as she won’t have developed her chewing skills yet. It’s also a good idea to establish a few first foods on their own – several types of fruit, and several types of vegetables, for example, before moving on to fish, chicken, and meat. If you launch straight into family meals, it can be difficult to work out which foods are problematic, in the event that there is a reaction. Remember that first foods are just tastes, too, and your little one won’t require a whole balanced meal for some months to come.
Babies can be adventurous eaters, and will probably be happy to pick at lots of things on your plate. If in doubt, give him plain pasta with a little cheese, bread, vegetables, mashed potato, well-cooked scrambled egg, risotto, and any fresh, ripe fruits, mashed until smooth. If there are no concerns about food allergies, and the food isn’t too spicy or salty, feel free to offer your baby tastes of sauces too.
Q Should I offer snacks to my baby if she seems hungry between feeds?
A Snacks are not really essential at this age, as your baby will be getting most of her calories and nutrition from milk. If she is hungry between feeds, you could try offering another small meal, with some purée and finger foods. You should also be sure that she is getting enough milk between “meals” to keep her going. Once again, first foods are about “tastes”, and not designed to fill your baby. If you are out and about, snacks can keep her going, but make sure they are healthy.
Soft ripe fruit such as nectarine or slices or chunks of banana and melon are a good start. Some little ones can manage toast fingers, pieces of bread, rice cakes, and even oatcakes. Be sure to keep an eye on her in case she chokes.
Q My baby refuses to eat meat; how can I tempt him?
A It’s not surprising that many little ones are not keen on meat. It can be very dry if it’s not cooked properly, and difficult to chew if it has not been puréed properly. I would recommend cooking meat or chicken with root vegetables, such as chicken with sweet potato and apple, or beef with carrots and dried apricots. You can also try offering little batons of chicken for him to gnaw on, as he may enjoy helping himself rather than being spoon-fed, and he’ll become accustomed to the taste and texture in this way.
Q At what age is it appropriate to serve dessert to my baby?
A Dessert is something that most children (and adults!) look forward to, in order to round off a meal. It is not necessary, but it does provide some incentive for finishing the main course! There is no reason why your little one can’t have a healthy dessert, such as fresh fruit purée Peach, apple, and pear purée), a healthy homemade biscuit or muffin, some dried fruit, or a yogurt or fresh fruit lolly at the end of a meal.
While every single expert insists that you should never offer a reward for eating a meal, there is no doubt that the prospect of something a little special will tempt children to have one taste or one more bite of their main meal. The secret is to create desserts that are as healthy as their main courses, but with enough sweetness or flavour to make them special. A baked apple with a little maple syrup and raisins would provide a treat for the whole family and can be puréed or mashed for your baby.