This is an in-exhaustive area. Pretty much anything goes here but there is some guidance to pay attention to. Perhaps unsurprisingly, baby diets are not dissimilar to pregnancy diets, so you’re probably more prepared than you might think. If you’re vegan or have other dietary preferences/requirements make sure you check how this will affect baby; you may need to ensure you’re providing essential vitamins, etc, elsewhere.
First up, things to avoid:
- Nuts. At all in whole nut form. Nut butters can be ok but test for allergies first and be aware that some nut butters are very thick and sticky which can cause problems in tiny mouths.
- Raw shellfish. Food poisoning is something to avoid. Also, shellfish allergies should be tested for.
- High-mercury fish.
- Honey. For the same reason as pregnant women should avoid it — honey can contain the bacteria responsible for botulism. Not a big deal for adults, no fun for babies. Steer clear until over 1.
- Low-fat foods. Fat is important in our diets, not only nutritionally and as a good source of calories, but also as it helps the body detect that it’s had food and is full. This is good for the grown ups, too – a little full fat yogurt, for example, will leave you feeling fuller than a lot of the low-fat equivalent. Also worth noting that low-fat versions generally have a higher sugar content.
- Cow’s milk. You may already know if your baby has a cow’s milk protein allergy or is lactose intolerant. Cow’s milk is safe to use in cooking and as an ingredient (so in cheese or porridge is fine) but don’t use it as a ‘proper’ drink until after 1.
Next, things to go careful with:
- Eggs. A surprising amount of babies are intolerant of egg. This doesn’t always last and you can (on doctors instruction) add egg back in over a period but introduce them carefully in the first instance and make sure they’re properly cooked through.
- Seafood. As above – test carefully for allergies and make sure it’s properly cooked.
- Sugar. Multiple reasons for this: it’s unnecessary carbs, it’s terrible for teeth and it’s addictive meaning it leads to poor dietary choices later. Don’t add refined sugar to things like porridge, sweeten with fruit instead. I’m not saying don’t ever have anything sweet, but try lower sugar recipes for baking. If you can avoid over-sugaring when they’re small, they won’t feel the need for sugar when they’re big. Watch things like fruit juice (if you give it, dilute with water and follow up with something like cheese to counteract the acids).
- Salt. You probably know that adults are recommended no more than 6g of salt in a day. For the under 1s, it’s 1g. That’s not a lot. Be aware of what you’re adding to food and create flavour with herbs and spices instead of extra salt and stock cubes.
- Small foods. I’m thinking along the lines of nuts here: sweetcorn kernels, peas, cheerios… a good rule here is not to give it until baby has a really good pincer grip — that is; they can pick things up, confidently, between thumb and forefinger.
- Grapes. Don’t give grapes whole under the age of 2. They can be cut in half (longways, top to bottom) when baby is a bit bigger but make sure you’re paying attention.
Finally, things that are good places to start:
- Fresh fruit and veg. Nice and easy as most fruit and veg doesn’t require a lot of work. Some ideas:
- Steam vegetables like carrots and broccoli ’til very soft in the early days, gradually firm it up as baby becomes more confident.
- Cut peppers and cucumber into chunky sticks. Cucumber is especially good right out of the fridge for sore, teething gums.
- Avocado is horrendously messy but has some good fats and baby will enjoy smearing it everywhere.
- Core apple and slice into rounds (equator way, not pole to pole, if you get me),
- Cut mango and melon into fingers.
- Banana splits itself into handy, baby sized fingers if you stick your finger in the end and give it a wiggle.
- Water. Babies don’t actually really need much to drink when weaning as they’re still getting the majority of thirst quenching goodness from their milk. However, it’s good for everyone to have a glass of water with a meal and there are some good cup options available for baby to practice with.
- Porridge. Make with whole milk or breast milk. Bake it or microwave it until it’s pretty solid and cut into fingers, like squishy oatmeal bars. Stir in squished berries, cooked apple, or mashed banana with a little cinnamon. Incidentally, most baby porridges are just ground oats so save yourself some money and just use regular oats (which you can then also use in crumble toppings, oat bars, etc). If you’re feeling like you need it to be finer, blitz it in the blender for a few seconds but baby should be fine with it as is.
- Pasta. The pasta tubes and twists go down pretty well and spaghetti is excellent (horribly messy) fun. Stir in some soft cheese (the garlic and herb ones are pretty good for a quick sauce) or a tomato sauce and be prepared to clean everyone and everything.
- Rice. Try fruity rice pudding (watch the sugar) or a mild curry (stir in yoghurt to cool any lingering heat).
- Toast fingers. Some people have said there can be digestive issues with too much wheat too early on. Do your research if this is something you’re worried about or if there’s family history of wheat intolerance. If you’re all ok with it, toast fingers with banana, cream cheese or avocado spread on are good for gumming on. Cut sandwiches into easy to hold fingers, too.
- Fritters and pancakes. Banana or blueberry pancakes make a good breakfast if you’ve got the time. You can store batter in the fridge if you have time to make it earlier. Pea or sweetcorn fritters can be batch made and frozen, then heated from frozen in the microwave. Make them in the blender, then mix in a handful of whole peas or sweetcorn as baby gets bigger.