Are you starting solids too early, or too late? Should you make your own purees, or are shop bought jars fine? After they’ve been happily guzzling milk for the first few months of their life, weaning your baby, especially if you’re a first time parent, can seem like a pretty daunting experience. But it needn’t be stressful, says Annabel Karmel, award-winning kids’ food and nutrition expert and author of 17 books on the subject. ‘There’s so much advice out there, and the more there is, the more confused parents get,’ she explains.
There is no hard and fast rule for deciding when to add solids to your babies diet, advises Annabel – while the recommended UK guidelines say weaning should start at around six months of age, she says there is no harm in introducing simple solids from around 17 weeks. There are a number of signs to look out for to see if your baby is ready to try solid foods: the baby may still seem unsatisfied after its usual breastfeed or bottle; they may wake in the night whereas once they slept through; and they may start taking an interest in the food on your own plate. ‘A mother’s intuition is always best,’ says Annabel. ‘If you find that you can hold off until six months, great. Otherwise, don’t feel guilty about giving simple solids a little earlier.’
Start with naturally sweet foods, such as root vegetables, Annabel suggests, as babies are born with a sweet tooth because breastmilk is sweet. Jars are ok, she says, but remember to ensure that your child still has lots of fresh food within their diet too. ‘The thing about jars or pouches is that they are all sterilized, which means that a lot of the nutrients are destroyed, and they don’t really taste like “real” food. While it’s important to have fresh food in their diet, if they don’t get used to the tastes of real food, then they may become a fussy eater further along the line, so in the long term you may be making life more difficult for yourself. Commercial jars have a shelf life of 18 months – as adults we wouldn’t want to eat something from a long life jar, so why would we want to give that to a baby who is growing more rapidly in its first year than at any other time? It doesn’t seem common sense.’
With just a bit of thought, making a nutritious and tasty meal is nearly as simple as popping the lid off a jar, Annabel says. Some of the easiest baby foods can be made using raw ingredients that are nutrient dense, such as mashing banana and avocado together, or pureeing mango, papaya or pears, none of which need to be cooked. Root vegetables can be steamed or baked in the oven to bring out their natural sweetness, then pureed until smooth. From six months, babies will need to be given protein and iron rich foods such as meat and fish, which are essential for their development but can not be found in milk alone.
‘If you take a bit of time cooking up batches at the weekend, you’ll have enough for the whole week,’ Annabel says. ‘You can then freeze it in small pots or ice cube trays, and it will keep for over three months in the freezer. I would suggest making lots of different purees, such as chicken, beef, fish, apple, sweet potato, for example, then freezing them all. You can then plan meals for the week ahead – two meals with meat, two with fish, some of the vegetables and fruit – for a well-balanced diet. When it comes to preparing the food, you can just defrost it in the microwave on the day, or take it out and defrost it in the fridge the night before so you don’t have to be cooking every day.’
When it comes to the preparation, keep it simple – ‘Steam vegetables rather than boil so as not to lose the nutrients in the water, and invest in a handblender, they’re excellent and there’s hardly any washing up. Get lots of little pots for freezing, or ice cube trays are a great option.’
Generally speaking, says Annabel, babies eat pretty well during their first year, so it’s a great window of opportunity to experiment with lots of different flavours and textures in their diet. Read on for some of Annabel’s easy and nutritious recipes to try at home.
Visit www.annabelkarmel.com for more great weaning advice and recipe ideas.
Annabel will be visiting Dubai as part of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in March 2012. On March 9, she’ll be hosting an informative seminar for parents at the Intercontinental Hotel Dubai Festival City. The hour-long Healthy and Fun Food for Children – And All The Family starts at 6pm, and will see Annabel talking about her remarkable life (from her career as a professional harpist, the tragic death of her first child at just 13 weeks, and her transformation into one of the world’s most respected children’s food writers).
Expect plenty of fantastic tips and ideas from the woman who has sold more than 4 million copies of her books to date, let alone starred in her own TV show, and managing a food empire. Phew! This is not to be missed, so book early to avoid disappointment.
Tickets go on sale online at www.emirateslitfest.com on January 24 and for Festival Friends on January 17.
Chicken with Carrot and Apple
Makes 600ml (6 portions)
Suitable for Freezing
From 6 months
‘When my son was a baby, he refused to eat chicken until I combined it with apple which he loved.’
60g leek, finely chopped
25g celery, chopped
75g chopped carrot
1 clove garlic
100g chicken chunks (½ cup)
250g chopped and peeled sweet potato (1¾ cups)
75g chopped apple
250ml boiling unsalted chicken stock or water
A sprig of thyme
• Heat the oil in a saucepan and sauté the leek for 2 minutes.
• Add the celery and carrot and cook for 5 minutes. Add a small clove of crushed garlic and sauté for one minute.
• Stir in the chopped chicken and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes or until the chicken is sealed.
• Add the chopped sweet potato and apple, pour over the stock or boiling water and add the thyme.
• Cover and cook over a low heat for 20 minutes. Remove the sprig of thyme and blitz to a puree.
Makes 500ml (5 portions)
Suitable for freezing
From 6 months
‘You might not have thought of giving your baby lentils but some of my most popular baby recipes are lentil purees. They’re a good source of protein, iron and fibre and are especially good to include in your baby’s diet if you are a vegetarian.’
1 tbsp sunflower oil
50g onion, finely chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped (100g)
2 tbsp celery, chopped
50g split red lentils, rinsed
1 medium (225g) sweet potato peeled and chopped
300ml unsalted vegetable stock or water
30g grated Cheddar
• Sauté the onion, carrot and celery in the oil for about 5 minutes or until softened.
• Add the lentils and sauté for one minute. Stir in the sweet potato and pour over the stock or water.
• Bring to the boil, then simmer covered for about 20 minutes.
• Puree in a blender and stir in the grated cheese until melted.
Fillet of Fish with Carrots, cheese and Tomatoes
Makes 5 portions
Suitable for freezing
‘Fish is an excellent low fat source of protein and it is important to encourage a liking for fish early on. You can use whichever white fish is easiest for you to come by. Here I have mixed it with a tasty cheese and tomato sauce and carrots, so this recipe provides a good source of protein, calcium and vitamins.’
250g carrots, peeled and sliced
225g white fish fillets, skinned
2 tbsp milk
40g unsalted butter
2 medium ripe tomatoes, skinned de-seeded and chopped
40g grated Cheddar cheese, grated
• Steam the carrots for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, place the fish in a microwave dish, add the milk, dot with about 15g butter and cover leaving an air vent. Microwave on high for 2 to 3 minutes. Alternatively, put the fish in a pan, cover with a little milk and simmer for 3 to 4 minutes or until cooked.
• Melt the remaining butter in a saucepan, add the tomatoes and sauté until mushy. Stir in the grated cheese until melted.
• Blend or mash the cooked carrots together with the tomato mixture. Remove the fish from the cooking liquor and flake, checking to make sure there are no bones.
• Mix the fish together with the carrots and tomatoes. For younger babies you can blend the fish together with the carrots and tomato for a smoother texture.
Orchard Fruits with Blueberry
Makes 2-3 portions
Prep time: 3 mins
Suitable for freezing
1 eating apple, peeled, cored and chopped
1 ripe pear, peeled, cored and chopped
40g/ 1½ oz blueberries
1 tbsp baby rice or ½ crumbled rusk (optional)
• Put all the fruit in a heavy-based saucepan.
• Cover and cook over a low heat for about five minutes.
• Puree in a blender and stir in the baby rice or crumbled rusk (if using).
For more of Annabel’s recipes, her books are available at Kinokunia, as well as online through Amazon.com. She also has a downloadable iPhone app, which is packed full of tips and advice on feeding your baby or toddler – available through iStore.