Mum Philippa Pearne tells M&B about life after purée - what happens when the next phase of ‘real’ food begins?
Like any other mum, I started the process of weaning my baby on to solids when he was around six months old.
Once I’d got the hang of what he liked, what he didn’t like, how much to give him (and shamefully how to switch on the food processor), I had carrot purée, stewed apple and sweet potato mash coming out of my ears - sometimes literally.
I had a system, I was on a roll and will happily admit that I felt like Super Mum.
As soon as you’ve nailed one phase, you’re suddenly moving on to another
That was until I remembered that he wouldn’t actually be on purée forever. So, as I gingerly placed my Super Mum cape back in the drawer, I remembered the most valuable parenting lesson of all – as soon as you’ve nailed one phase, you’re suddenly moving on to another.
Everyone prepared me for the puréeing stage – I was told about which freezer pots to buy and which liquidised fruits and vegetables to try first - but no one really explained how to wean my new toddler off his beloved mush to ‘proper’, grown-up food.
Because by that point, you’re a pro at the whole ‘baby food’ thing right?
I had a vague idea of what was and wasn’t healthy for my child but I knew nothing about what the right balance of nutrients was, what to offer as a healthy snack or how to deal with a potentially fussy eater.
And when it came to cooking, the idea of creating something quick and easy that had enough flavour (minus the salt), lots of healthy ingredients that my son would actually eat and just the right amount of lumps filled me with confusion and dread, especially as I had zero confidence in the kitchen.
Desperate for inspiration, I did what anyone else would do – buy cookery books, trawl through the internet, download apps and have lengthy discussions with friends and family – anything to just give my now 18 month old healthy meals, guilt-free snacks and fun finger food that didn’t involve having a home economics degree or an obsession with calorie counting.
Slowly but surely, my confidence has started to grow and whilst I have made mistakes and am definitely no expert (I still bring out the fish fingers and ketchup every so often), I have managed to find a good balance between providing something healthy and tasty every day and finding time for myself.
With a little help from some fab nutritionists in the know, here are some things I learned along the way, from one (formerly) confused mum to another.
Home-cooked meals can be easy
If, like me, you haven’t got time to be cooking each meal on the spot, set aside an hour once a week, to make one big batch of something that’s both easy for your toddler to eat and for you to freeze in separate pots, ready for the week ahead.
“Potato-topped pies like shepherds’ pie, cottage pie and fish pie are easy to chew plus they stick to the spoon meaning it’s more likely to make it into your little one’s mouth if he feeds himself,” says Claire Baseley, Ella’s Kitchen nutritionist.
The easiest (and tastiest) fish pie I’ve made is the one on the Annabel Karmel Family Cooking app (£3.99) – an essential download for stuck mums like me, especially as all the recipes are suitable for the rest of the family too. I swear by it.
Another favourite from the app is the Tarragon Chicken Casserole – it takes under an hour from start to finish and goes down a treat. Trust me, if a novice like me can cook it, anyone can.
Ready-made is ok
I used to feel horrendously lazy/guilty/naughty/all of the above for sneakily feeding my son ready-made meals out of a plastic container or pouch when I didn’t have time to pull out all the stops.
But brands like Ella’s Kitchen and Little Dish (not forgetting the Cook kid’s range) specialise in making nutritious and healthy meals for children - where’s the guilt in that?
Minimal salt, minimal sugar, minimal work for you - it’s not lazy, it’s just good sense on a really busy day.
I usually alternate between a defrosted home cooked meal and a ready-made one for variety (and ease). Check out the new Little Dish Pots & Pies range (available from 1st September) – it contains eleven dishes including Mild Chicken Curry, Spaghetti & Meatballs and Veg Ravioli.
Check your quantities (and quality)
Key phrase – everything in moderation.
“The most important thing is variety,” says Claire. “If we lived off kale alone, we’d soon become very ill!” Music to my ears.
Portion size matters too. “Toddlers are growing rapidly but have little tummies that get full very quickly,” Claire explains.
“Give them ‘me-sized meals’ rather than offering the amount you’d serve yourself or any older siblings.”
If you’re confused about what nutritional balance your child should be getting, follow Claire’s ‘5532’ guide; “That means 5 portions of starchy carbohydrates a day (eg potatoes, pasta or bread) 5 portions of a rainbow of veg and fruit, 3 portions of dairy foods (eg cheese or yoghurt), and 2 protein foods like meat, fish or eggs.”
For dairy, Mini Babybels have been my saviour, along with the Yeo Valley Organic Little Yeos Yoghurts.
Keep fruit varied
After discovering that banana was a huge hit with my son, I got a bit over-excited and started giving him one a day.
Big mistake. He became painfully constipated and with it, extremely distressed.
“Giving a range of fruit is the best step, instead of favouring some over others,” explains Lucy Jones, Little Dish nutritionist.
“Each fruit has different nutrients and polyphenols [micronutrients] that are beneficial to long term health.”
My son loves kiwi - I feed it to him on a spoon like a yoghurt so that he eats it all up.
Get some snack-spiration
It’s almost as easy to chop up some fruit and put it in a little pot before you head out ready for on the go emergencies as it is to open an unhealthy bag of crisps.
As well as the salt affecting developing kidneys, “crisps are brittle and can cause choking,” warns Claire. Her favourite healthy snacks include, “pitta fingers or vegetable sticks dipped in hummus or cream cheese, mini rice cakes with nut butter, cubes of cheese with halved grapes, or slices of hardboiled egg.”
The TumTum Nesting Snack Pots, £9 at Jojo Maman Bebe come everywhere with me.
When I gave my son some hummus to try a few months ago, he scrunched up his face and spat it out so I never gave it to him again.
I’ve since learned that it’s important to persevere.
“Keep trying as it may take up to 10 times before they’ll accept a new taste,” says Claire.
“Pop whatever you want him to try on his plate with other foods and gently encourage him to try it.”
Lucy adds, “Try eating the new food in front of your child so he sees you and the rest of the family enjoying it.”
It’s how you present food that might help too; “Children love a picnic because when you lay out choice, they feel like they’re playing a part in deciding what to eat,” Claire explains.
“It’s always more appetising when food is chopped into bite sized pieces, easy to hold and presented with other colourful foods too.”
Need to whip something up quickly? Here are Lucy Jones’ top 5 speedy tummy fillers
Wholegrain pasta with pesto
Chicken or salmon with brown rice and veggies
Baked sweet potato with grated cheese
Scrambled eggs on wholegrain toast
Natural yoghurt mixed with mashed banana, oats and chia seeds.