Baby-led weaning is all about sharing healthy food with your baby. Most food that is good for you is good for your baby, too. So as long as you offer a varied, balanced diet that is made up mainly of fresh and healthy ingredients, and avoid the few foods babies shouldn’t have, you won’t go wrong. Your baby will be well on the way to developing a taste for nutritious meals that will help him to make sensible food choices when they are older.
A Healthy Diet
A healthy diet for the whole family is one that provides all the necessary nutrients in roughly the right proportions, and gives you all plenty of energy.
In the first few months of eating solids, there’s no need to worry about balancing the different types of food for your baby because they are still just exploring; their milk feedings (breast milk or formula) contain all the nutrients they needs. And, unless there are allergies in the family, there’s no need to introduce foods one at a time (as parents used to be advised to do) because by six months, babies’ digestive and immune systems can cope with a wide variety of foods. If your baby shares healthy meals with you, as soon as they begin to need extra nutrients, they will be readily available for them.
We find it useful to think of food in four main categories: fruits and vegetables, carbohydrate rich foods, protein-rich foods, and calcium-rich foods, plus a fifth, smaller group: fats. Adults (and older children) should aim to have plenty of carbs, with smaller amounts of protein foods, calcium-rich foods, and a small amount of fat. Babies’ needs are slightly different, although having five fruits and vegetables a day and eating fish at least twice a week is good advice for both babies and adults.
Fruits and vegetables provide important vitamins and minerals. Try to offer as many differently colored fruits and vegetables as you can—they all provide different nutrients.
Carbohydrate-rich foods provide energy, and many also contain protein, as well as some important vitamins and minerals. Examples are: wheat, rice, oats, and other grains (and foods made from them, such as bread and pasta), as well as starchy vegetables such as potatoes and yams.
Protein-rich foods are vital for growth. Meat, fish, eggs, and cheese are all full of protein and are excellent foods for babies. Tofu and quinoa are the highest plant sources of protein, while dried beans and legumes (such as beans, chickpeas, and lentils) and nuts are also protein-rich.
Calcium-rich foods include dairy foods such as milk, cheese, yogurt, tofu, sesame seeds (for example as in tahini), almonds, and canned fish with soft, edible bones, such as sardines.
Fats provide energy in a concentrated form. Some fats are important for the healthy functioning and development of the brain. They are found in good quantities in fish (especially oily fish), avocados, nuts, and seeds. Fats are also plentiful in meat, eggs, and dairy foods. Adults shouldn’t have too many saturated fats (mainly animal fats, from meat, cheese, and butter) and the whole family should avoid trans-fats, or fats that have been hydrogenated (as in some margarines, and store-bought pies, cookies, and cakes).
Extra Needs for Babies
Babies and young children need more fat and calcium than adults. Breast milk and infant formula contain plenty of these important nutrients, but as babies gradually start to have less breast milk or formula, (usually from about nine months onward), they need to get fat and calcium from the rest of their diet in order to grow and develop healthily. So although a low-fat diet may be better for their parents and older siblings, children under two years old who aren’t relying on milk feedings should have full-fat dairy foods (milk, yogurt, butter, and cheese) to ensure that they get all the nutrients and energy they require. Oily fish with edible bones are a good source of both fat and calcium.
Iron and zinc are the first nutrients that babies start to need in addition to those provided by breast milk. Most babies are born with stores of these minerals to last them well beyond six months, but it’s a good idea to offer foods that contain them early on, so that your baby can help himself to them as soon as he needs them. Most foods that are rich in iron are also good sources of zinc. Slow cooked meat (especially beef) is the best source, and fish and eggs also provide plenty. Tofu, dried beans and legumes, and dark green leafy vegetables contain good amounts of iron (and zinc)—although it’s not as easily absorbed as it is from animal sources.
These recipes are all baby-led weaning favorites. They are easy to make, tasty, and nutritious, and will provide a range of tastes and textures for your baby to explore and for everyone to enjoy. Don’t be afraid to experiment with the recipes—they are not set in stone. Most of them are fairly simple, and the ingredients or amounts (or even methods) can often be changed or adapted. We’ve made some suggestions, but really it’s up to you.
Some Notes on Ingredients
• Try to use fresh ingredients as much as possible, and, when you can, go for produce that is seasonal, locally grown, and organic. The flavor of these foods is often better, and with organic foods you can guarantee that your baby won’t be exposed to the chemicals commonly used in food production.
• Where a recipe includes milk, this means whole cow’s milk, unless otherwise stated. Most of the recipes should also work with other animal milks or with rice or soy milks, but we can’t guarantee this.
• Flour is assumed to be wheat flour, also called all-purpose flour, unless otherwise stated. Generally, it is considered safe for babies over six months to eat wheat, but it may be an ingredient you prefer to avoid if you have intolerances in the family. Spelt flour is made from a type of wheat that is easier to digest than ordinary wheat. Or you may prefer to use a gluten-free flour, such as buckwheat (not wheat, despite the name), rice, corn, or potato flour. Gluten-free flours are generally okay for cooking, although they may result in a slightly different texture and won’t work in recipes that use yeast.
Don’t be surprised if your baby shows no interest in breakfast in the first few months of eating solid foods; all many babies want first thing in the morning is hugging and a milk feeding. Once your baby is ready to join in with breakfast, however, there are plenty of ways you can adapt your usual food or try something new.
It’s easy for adults to get into the habit of having the same thing for breakfast every day, but it’s a good idea to vary what you offer to your baby so that they have the chance to discover different tastes and textures and get a good range of nutrients.
The recipes that follow will give you some ideas for tasty alternatives to your “usual” breakfast—and many of them will work just as well for lunch, too.
1. Super-Cooked Egg
An overcooked fried or poached egg is solid enough for a baby to pick up easily and is a good way to help them discover the difference between the white and the yolk. Just fry or poach an egg as normal (using the minimum amount of oil if frying), but leave it cooking until the yolk is firm all the way through. Let it cool for a while, and then trim off any crispy edges.
2. French Toast
French toast makes a great breakfast—or your baby may enjoy it as a cold snack.
Serves one adult and one baby
- 2 eggs
- A little milk (optional—it makes the eggs go further)
- 4 slices of bread
- Oil or butter (preferably unsalted), for frying
In a bowl, beat the eggs and add the milk, if using. Dip the bread into the egg mix, turning as necessary to coat both sides. Heat the oil or butter in a frying pan and fry the soaked bread on both sides over medium to high heat until the egg is thoroughly cooked and the whole thing is golden brown.
Cut into pieces (finger shapes are usually easiest for young babies; toddlers may prefer triangles) and serve immediately, or once cool enough for your baby to handle.
3. Scrambled Eggs
Scrambled eggs make a healthy start to your day—just check that your baby’s portion is cooked through before offering it.
Serves one adult and one baby
- 3 eggs
- 1 tablespoon milk (optional—it gives a softer consistency)
- Pinch of freshly ground black pepper (optional)
- Small pat of butter (preferably unsalted)
In a bowl, beat the eggs then add the milk (if using) and black pepper to taste. Melt the butter in a nonstick frying pan over a gentle heat. Pour in the egg mixture and keep stirring as it thickens. Continue for five to ten minutes until all the egg has set. (You can also cook scrambled eggs in a bowl in the microwave. Use the high setting and cook for about one minute, stirring and checking every fifteen seconds.) Serve immediately, or once cool enough for your baby, with toast, a bagel, an English muffin or a croissant.
4. Drop Scones (Scotch Pancakes)
Drop scones are pancakes made with a slightly thicker version of classic pancake batter (see opposite). They can be served for breakfast or—with added fillings—for lunch. Like all pancakes, they work best when the pan gets really hot, so don’t be surprised if the first one isn’t quite as good as the rest.
Makes up to twenty drop scones
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 egg
- ⅔ cup milk, plus more if necessary
- Oil (or butter, preferably unsalted), for frying
Stir the flour and baking powder together in a mixing bowl, make a well in the center, and break the egg into it. Pour in half the milk, then beat or whisk the ingredients together, starting in the middle and gradually working in the flour. Slowly add the remaining milk and continue beating until any lumps have disappeared and the consistency is like heavy cream, adding more milk if needed. Heat a flat griddle or large nonstick frying pan with a very thin coating of oil.
When the pan is really hot, pour in small amounts of batter—about two tablespoons each time—so it spreads to three to four inches. Cook for a few minutes, until the edges are cooked and the top is set almost to the middle, then flip over the drop scone and cook it for the same length of time on the other side. If you have a big pan you can cook several drop scones at once.
5. Light Lunches
This section has lots of ideas for meals that won’t take too long to prepare and won’t leave you feeling too full.
Cheese and Lentil Wedges
These tasty wedges are great for picnics or as a snack.
Serves two adults and one baby, generously
- 1 cup red lentils, rinsed thoroughly in cold water and drained
- 2 cups water
- Oil or butter (preferably unsalted) for frying
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- ¾ cup (3 to 4 ounces) grated cheese
- 1 teaspoon dried mixed herbs
- 1 egg, beaten
- ½ cup fresh breadcrumbs
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Put the lentils into a pan with the water. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for ten to fifteen minutes until the lentils are soft and all the liquid is absorbed. Check occasionally and skim off any froth. Meanwhile, heat the oil or butter in a frying pan, add the onion, and fry until soft.
Preheat the oven to 375°F and lightly grease a nine-inch cake pan. Drain the lentils and the onion and put them into a mixing bowl. Add the other ingredients and mix well. Press into the prepared pan using the back of a spoon. Bake for about thirty minutes. Allow to cool slightly, and then cut into wedges.
6. Bubble and Squeak
This traditional British dish is great for babies once they are able to pick up handfuls of food and push it into their mouth. It’s also a great way to use up leftover vegetables.
Serves two adults and one baby
- 1 pound potatoes cooked and mashed (leftovers work best)
- 8 ounces cooked cabbage, chopped
- Pinch of freshly ground black pepper (optional)
- ½ teaspoon dried mixed herbs, or fresh equivalent (optional)
- Oil or butter (preferably unsalted), for frying
Put the mashed potato, cabbage, pepper, and herbs into a bowl and mix well. Heat the oil or butter in a frying pan, add the potato mixture to cover the base of the pan, and flatten it so it’s about ½ to ¾ inch deep. Cook until the mixture is browned on the bottom, then turn it over and cook the other side, so it’s browned on both sides and the middle is heated through.
If you have a small pan you will need to cook the mixture in batches, adding a little more oil to the pan and preheating it each time. Alternatively, you can make individual patties of bubble and squeak by cooking small amounts separately.
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