Weaning your baby? Read Vlogger Michela Chiappa’s secrets to successful weaning - because who wants to raise a picky eater? This fabulous foodie advice will help you relax at mealtimes, plus we’ve got a few ready-in-minutes recipes to try too!
Michela, Romina and Emanuela Chiappa are food writers, chefs, bakers, café owners and parenting vloggers, raised in South Wales in an Italian household where food was all about family.
As mums themselves, their interest is in healthy eating, cooked in minutes to make life easy.
Michela’s area of expertise is baby weaning, and here, she shares a few tips and tricks as well as some easy recipes your little ones will love.
What’s the philosophy behind your new book Baby at the Table?
We aim to inspire people to eat like Italians – where food and family are at the heart of every child’s upbringing.
One family, one meal. The social side of cooking and eating is done together as one unit and helps develop core social skills as well as hopefully avoiding picky eaters.
Eating one meal as a family also helps parents save time and stress on preparation.
Are your own children good eaters?
I have two children – Fiamma, three, and Serafina, who’s one - and my sister Emi has Fiorenza, one, and is six months pregnant with her second.
Fiamma can eat a plate of spaghetti bolognaise in under five minutes
Fiamma and Serafina are little food tanks. Serafina stuffs a handful of raspberries into her mouth in one go and Fiamma can eat a plate of spaghetti bolognaise in under five minutes. Fiamma’s first word was ‘ancora’ (which means ‘more’) and ‘torta’ thanks to the influence of her nonno (grandfather) who continuously offered her sweet treats!
Serafina’s first word was ‘pappa’ which is Italian baby talk for ‘food’.
But they have some dislikes too. Fiamma has always rejected any form of yoghurt or cream and Serafina doesn’t like fresh tomatoes, and yet both will devour a Porcini mushroom risotto and lasagne!
You were brought up in an Italian family in Wales: what was the attitude to family mealtimes?
Food is at the heart of everything we do as a family – holidays, weekends, special occasions are all dominated by one phrase: ‘what are we going to eat?’.
We love sitting together, chatting, catching up around a table and our kids are completely in tune with this. They love being part of a big group of people and they understand the importance of sitting together at the table.
They sometimes wriggle, and Fiamma has recently learned the word ‘yuk’, so they’re definitely not perfect! But we find that sitting all together definitely helps (plus there are more hands on deck to take turns dealing with any tantrums!).
Weaning is something you feel strongly about…
Eating well and having children who understand good food and nutrition is hugely important to me, because food isn’t just what you put into your body, it holds a much bigger importance: appreciating cultures, family, morals and manners etc.
Food shouldn’t be something we are forced to learn about
But food shouldn’t be something we are forced to learn about, it should be part of us and this is how my sisters and I were brought up... and it starts from the early years.
However, when I started weaning my baby, I couldn’t believe how little, and in some regards limited, information there was to help parents. In my opinion there aren’t any weaning books which give simple advice and recipes for parents; what is out there seems overcomplicated and perhaps a bit outdated.
Equally, when you look online, there is so much information (often contradictory) which I found really confusing. I wanted to create a simple book for busy parents who are keen to give their kids good wholesome food and encourage them to appreciate good nutrition long-term.
Weaning is a hot-button topic for many parents: it can be enormously stressful, can’t it?
Absolutely, on so many levels – what to feed, how much, what to do if baby isn’t eating something, baby is spitting out food/playing up, organising yourself to cook meals in advance, how to take food out and about, choking etc. The list goes on. Add that to a screaming or crotchety baby and it can be really tiring and stressful for any mum.
That’s why we wrote this book – the advice is simple, the recipes easy for anyone to try, there are loads of tips, hacks and ways to simplify your days...the no-cook purees are lifesavers!
And to top it off, the whole book has been health-checked by a qualified nutritionist to give parents that extra comfort and reassurance.
What are your best weaning tips?
For me, the mantra I kept going back to for my pregnancies and early days was ‘happy mum, happy child’.
Do whatever makes you feel less stressed. If cutting up your baby's apple into tiny pieces is going to relax you more because of choking worries, then do it. Listen to your own heart and do what makes YOU comfortable as a mum.
Listen to your own heart and do what makes YOU comfortable as a mum
But try to be adventurous. Once your baby has gone through the main food groups to check for allergies, try to vary the flavours you give your baby as much as possible.
Variety is key and a baby can reject something even 10 times before they start enjoying a new flavour so don't give up or feel disheartened. Just try to keep mealtimes a fun time of exploration rather than a stressful experience.
And remember that for the first few months of weaning, your baby gets most of their nutrition from milk - so the weaning is more a journey of discovery than a necessity. Think of it as a play session and try to enjoy it.
What are you cooking for your family this summer?
I keep a few favourite recipes that I know I can get on the table in 5-10 minutes so that if we dash home late with hungry children I can rustle something up quickly!
Our pizza bagels are always a hit and as long as you always keep three ingredients in your kitchen, this dish can be on the table in five mins!
All you need is a jar of passata in your store cupboard, some grated mozzarella (or any other cheese) in your fridge and some bagels in the freezer. In minutes you can have your bagel under the grill and Pizza Discs on the table. It's recipes like these that can keep kids happy and your blood pressure nice and low!
Baby at the Table by Michela and Emanuela Chiappa is published by Michael Joseph, £16.99.
Try one of Michela’s yummy weaning recipes