Christmas is a time of joy, of course, but if you're in the middle of weaning your baby right now, you might be forgiven for also feeling a tiny bit unlucky – after all, it's not the easiest thing to be pureeing organic pumpkin whilst simultaneously preparing turkey and trimmings for twelve.
But fear not, wise parent: Christmas is actually the perfect time to add some amazing flavours to your baby's repertoire. (And if you're way too busy for the food processor right now, that's okay – we're here to help!)
Taste matters – now and for the future!
Flavour is definitely important – in fact, it's one of the key parts of weaning, and it's something to keep in mind from the very beginning.
Here's why. Your baby is born with a taste for sweet, high-fat foods – not coincidentally, like breast milk – because they provide lots of energy for that growing little body. Young babies also tend to be wary of bitter tastes initially, which is probably a protective instinct to keep them from putting mouldy or poisonous things in their mouths. (Clever little sprouts!)
When weaning time comes around, though, it’s a golden opportunity to expand your baby’s taste horizons. At around 6 months, babies tend to be more open to new tastes and textures than they may be later on – and several studies have found that introducing stronger flavours early on has a direct effect on babies’ food preferences later in life, as well as their tendency toward fussy eating habits.
In short, if you want a toddler who noshes happily on broccoli or loves a mild curry, it’s best to introduce them to plenty of exciting flavours from the start. Of course, these new tastes are a bit of a shock at first – keep the camera handy, as the faces they make are often priceless! But if your baby refuses a new food that’s nutritious, keep trying. Babies are more likely to accept a new taste the more they are exposed to it – and a bit of enthusiasm and praise from Mum and Dad will often help the spinach (or swede, or parsnip) go down.
Don't skip the lumps
Texture is important, too: one study of nearly 8,000 children showed that if babies were introduced to lumpy foods before nine months of age, they ate significantly more food groups at age 7 (including a whopping 10 kinds of fruits and veggies). And those lumps and bumps also help your baby develop the mouth and tongue muscles that will soon come in handy for talking!
Of course, nothing you do can guarantee your baby will skip the dreaded picky-eating stage, and most toddlers do end up with a few ‘difficult’ foods during this time. But offering plenty of variety early on is your best bet – and it will help set your baby up for a lifetime of healthy, happy eating to come.
Holiday tastes for your baby to try – and a few to avoid
At this time of year, most of us have foods in the house that don't get a look in the rest of the year – and that's a shame! Many of them are perfect for your baby to taste as well. Here are a few:
• Brussels sprouts: If you're roasting or steaming some sprouts for the adults, try pureeing or fork-mashing a few for your baby, too. Brussels sprouts and other brassica vegetables are ultra-healthy, so giving your little one a taste for them now is a move that will definitely pay off down the road!
• Turkey: Mild and full of protein, turkey makes great baby food. Older babies can hold and gnaw on larger bits, and even the littlest ones can taste some breast meat, maybe pureed with a bit of breast or formula milk (and some roast pumpkin, if you have any!)
• Cranberry relish: A tiny bit of this zingy condiment will be sure to get your baby's taste-buds tingling! Offer a bit on a clean spoon or finger and watch the reaction...
• Mash: Set a bit aside before adding any salt, and let it cool – your baby will probably be quite happy to dig in even without a spoon (if you can handle the mess factor!)
• Cheese: A holiday cheeseboard is a great chance to let your baby try bits of stronger flavours like hard or pasteurised goat's cheese and aged Cheddar – just cut off tiny slivers and let the fun begin!
However, not everything on your festive table is baby-friendly: you'll want to avoid anything that's got alcohol in it, obviously (so no plum pudding or egg nog!), and steer clear of choking hazards like whole nuts, grapes and chipolatas until your baby is older and very comfortable with finger foods.
And of course, if you have a dozen for dinner and it all gets a bit too hectic to puree, we've got your back: My First Sunday Dinner is a moreish blend of healthy veg and roast turkey, perfect for an easy and nutritious holiday meal!
What's on your baby's festive menu this year?