Keep it simple. Offer simple, real foods – vegetables, fruits, unrefined grains, pulses, fish and meat, smooth nut butters, a little organic dairy. Eating with the seasons is a really easy way to give your baby a wide and ever-evolving range of produce that’s at the peak of its nutrition…and the cheapest it’ll be all year.
Eat together. Babies learn by watching, so why not bring them to the family table from the very start? A weaning baby can safely eat an astonishing array of foods so as soon as you feel happy to, you can start sharing the same meal. Modify theirs by mashing/blending some or all of it, and modify yours by adding salt, chilli, and anything else you fancy. My book is full of easy, baby-safe ‘one family, one meal’ ideas like coconut curries, burrito bowls, fish stew, pot roast and noodle soup.
Go big, early, with flavour. The most striking thing I learned throughout all my research, study and meetings with experts, was quite how broadly a weaning baby can safely eat. It’s a myth that babies need, and like, only mild, bland, repetitive flavours. There are many reasons to give them big flavours while they are young and curious. My book is based on finding safe, appropriate ways to do this.
Give your baby the best of both. After all my research and conversations with expert infant nutritionists and developmental psychologists, I’m of the opinion that we don’t need to make a choice between finger foods and spoon-feeding. There are great things about both modes of feeding so why not expose your baby to both…even in the same meal! Mash/blend part of the meal and leave other parts intact. Dishes like my Magic Fish Fingers with Crushed Pea Dip are built on this principle.
Don’t go overboard with equipment. There’s so much on offer but you need less than you might think. I started out with a just five-year-old Nutribullet, a new extra-little saucepan, and a hacked-together vegetable steamer (clamp a metal sieve in between a pan of simmering water and its lid). Things I recommend investing in are a few rubber-tipped spoons that are soft on gums and don’t heat up on contact with warm food; a simple blender that’s easy to wash, and some nice big bibs (with sleeves or a silicone food-catcher pocket). I like bamboo-fibre bowls and plates rather than plastic, and a nice-to-have is a bamboo bowl with a rubber suction pad on its base…unflingable!
Cook daily. Many of my recipes can be batch-cooked and frozen but I personally really enjoy cooking every day so build many of my recipes in a way that allows you to have a dish on the table in ten minutes flat…sometimes without even having to put your hungry baby down!
Stock up your store-cupboard. Having the right stuff to hand makes any kind of cooking easier. I’m always asked about creating the perfect weaning pantry, so one of the most important pages in the book was always going to be my all-time most-used store-cupboard staples. It’s a mix of inexpensive basics like oats, wholegrain flours, lentils, brown rice and spices, plus some slightly more expensive items like nut butters and coconut oils that I use over and again in many recipes.
Enjoy it! This is a magical, funny, and fleeting stage of new parenthood so try not to let it be shadowed by feeling pressured or guilty about what your baby is or isn’t eating. How we feed our babies is a bone of contention from day one (breast or bottle?) and weaning is surrounded with so much conflicting advice that it’s easy to feel a bit confused and overwhelmed. Weaning often coincides with other big changes like teething or returning to work. I try to take the pressure off by giving parents ways to make cooking a creative and fun experience that’s full of tiny victories. I write as if I’m talking to a friend and I take a really balanced view on home-cooking vs. buying pre-prepared baby food: a lot of shop-bought food isn’t as nutritious as I’d like it to be, as a parent myself, but it’s a very useful aid when you’re pushed for time or travelling, so it definatley has it’s place in busy modern family life. I just urge other mums and dads to put it in its place – as convenience food, not the backbone of our baby’s daily diet.
Young Gums: Baby Food with Attitude by Beth Bentley (Ebury Press, £14.99)