Christmas Dinner & Your Plant-Based BabyDec 20, 2020
A Christmas dinner is probably the biggest meal you cook and eat all year, I know it is in our house! If this year you have the added excitement of introducing your baby to the festivities for the first time, there is an added dimension to consider… How to make your festive food baby-led weaning friendly.
In this article I share some tips and considerations that will make preparing food for you and your baby easy and stress free on Christmas Day. Wherever you are on your food journey, whether you are already adapting family meals to suit your little one, or maybe you haven’t yet felt comfortable to do that and have been cooking separate meals. You might have started with purées but want to move to baby-led weaning. Considering all of the tips below should make it easy for you this Christmas and of course can be applied to any meal throughout the year.
Read on to find out my top tips for adapting your menu so the entire family can enjoy your plant-based feast.
5 things to avoid in cooking this Christmas...
If your baby is still under 1 year old then the maximum recommended intake for salt in the UK is 1g per day. Your baby consumes sufficient salt through breastmilk or formula milk and does not require any other salt in their diet. Once solid food is introduced many foods already contain a small quantity of salt without you physically adding any extra to food or cooking. So AVOID adding salt to the food you cook at home. Adults who prefer additional seasoning can add extra salt to suit their taste directly to their meal at the table.
2. Pre-packaged foods
Packaged foods around Christmas time are a good example of food likely to contain increased quantities of salt. Foods here would include: gravy granules, packet stuffing mixes, plant-based sausage and any pre-packaged snacks. Packaged foods often also have increased quantities of sugar too which is also best avoided for your baby.
3. Whole nuts
In the UK it is recommended that whole nuts should be avoided until your little one is 5 years old. Offering well chopped, ground or nut butters are a safer choice. Try to offer nut butters only mixed in as part of a recipe, nut butter alone can be quite thick and sticky and can pose a choking risk, so is best to avoid in isolation.
Needless to say your baby’s food should not contain alcohol so anything you would like your baby to eat on Christmas Day, refuse the temptation of cooking with or soaking your food in. This includes in soup, risotto or other sauces even if the alcohol is 'cooked off'. Opt for using lots of herbs, spices, dried mushrooms, reduced salt stock etc. to add plenty of delicious plant-based flavours to your food.
Your baby has a natural preference for sweet foods mostly due to the natural sweetness of breastmilk. However, introducing foods with added sugar could form the start of encouraging a baby’s sweet tooth, which can lead to fussy eating over time. When your baby starts solids they have a natural curiosity for new tastes and flavours which is a great time for you to offer green and bitter foods in the early days of weaning. Research has suggested that this can lead to greater acceptance of a range of foods, including vegetables, in the long term.
Another reason to avoid added sugars in food for your baby, is that it can lead to an increased energy high followed by a sudden crash which may cause upset & irritable behaviour. Finally the exposure of sugar on milk teeth isn’t ideal at such a young age.
Other things to consider for your plant-based baby...
Flavour, Flavour, Flavour
Add lots of flavour to meals by adding herbs & fragrant spices. Your baby will enjoy the exposure to flavour. Babies like their food to be interesting too. Christmas food lends itself nicely to lots of herbs such as sage, thyme, rosemary and fragrant spices such as star anise, cinnamon and cloves to name a few. Be creative and experiment with new flavours, as well as the usual types of spices you would normally enjoy in your food.
Safe preparation - size & shape
When your baby is learning to manage solid food in their mouth and swallow safely it is important to prepare food in a baby-led weaning way before offering it to them to reduce the risk of choking. When offering a Christmas dinner ensure individual foods are offered in a safe size and shape. Long finger foods or round foods quartered are two easy places to start. Not all foods fit in to these categories so use your judgement here.
Round food such as:
Sprouts – cut in to quarters, length-ways similar to an orange segment or shredded with a knife
Chestnuts – well cooked chestnuts are soft and can be crumbled or cut in to quarters
Carrots or similar veg – avoid cutting in to circles, a safer shape would be long sticks cooked until very soft
A variety of textures ensuring the size and shape is cut safely. Imagine your baby’s delight when they can switch between the silky smooth of a carrot vs the rough skin of a roast potato. As adults we are likely to now take this for granted, however your baby's senses will be heightened to these textures as its part of their learning and new experiences.
When considering textures it is best to test the food to ensure you are able to squeeze it easily between your finger and thumb before offering to your baby. This helps to ensure it is soft enough, especially when your baby is just starting out at around 6 months. Whether the food is raw (like berries and banana) or cooked (such as carrots, potatoes and apples).
Family meals and role modelling
Your baby learns how to eat by watching you and others eat around them. With that in mind pull your baby’s high chair up to the table and encourage them to join in the fun, festivities and delicious plant-based food with you this Christmas.