My mission has always been to help give babies, children and families the very best start in life with my recipes. I’ve been writing cookery books for over 26 years now (with book numbers 44 and 45 coming out this summer!) but when I was writing my first book, the idea of owning a cookbook on feeding your baby was unheard of. I was always told that babies and toddlers only liked bland food but I put that to the test and found it wasn’t true.
Just like us, babies like tasty food, so I set out to challenge the status quo with my recipes. It’s hard to believe today that this was ever the case, but at the time all I wanted was to give parents the confidence to cook delicious homemade meals for their baby or child, including recipes that were packed full of flavour.
For me, I think that ‘home cooking’ equals ‘good food’. It’s an act of nurturing and caring for your family. Plus, weaning can be an amazing experience for babies. In those early months, when they are first moving onto solid foods, they’re starting on an incredible journey. They’re learning about everything that makes food delicious: texture, smell, consistency – and taste as well. Babies grow more rapidly in their first year than any other in their life. There’s a window of time when your baby is aged between six months and one year, when they’ll be pretty good at trying all kinds of food so I always encourage parents to make the most of this window of opportunity.
There has been a lot of debate surrounding ‘baby-led weaning vs. purees’ and which method to adopt when first starting out. Baby-led weaning is now hugely popular with many looking to introduce soft finger foods alongside purees and some parents adopting this approach exclusively.
The idea behind baby-led weaning is that this method forgoes purees and spoon-led feeding. Instead, you simply let your baby feed themselves. This means babies join in with family mealtimes and are given the chance to explore a variety of foods, tastes and textures for themselves. The view is that this encourages your baby to develop healthy eating habits for life.
Here are my top tips for parents planning to incorporate baby-led weaning into their baby’s routine:
1.Start with softer fingers foods such as cooked sticks of carrot, broccoli and sweet potato, and chunks of banana, avocado and cucumber. First tastes like steamed carrots should be cooked until soft but not too mushy so that they can grab it with their fist (I would suggest cutting food into 5–6cm batons or sticks so that half is held in a baby’s hand and the other half sticks out).
2.Don’t overwhelm your baby with too many food options at the beginning. Just a couple of pieces of food or a small portion of a family meal will be adequate.
3.Don’t worry about serving meals on plates or bowls when you start out. The likelihood is it will end up on the floor anyway!Just place the food straight onto their highchair tray.
4.Invest in a washable bib. I’m delighted to have partnered with Bibetta on an exciting new collaboration to create a neoprene, Annabel Karmel-branded Ultrabib - it looks great and is so practical. Neoprene is ideal bib material as it’s naturally waterproof, stretchy and soft, tough and durable and can be washed in the machine or by hand. Plus, it is virtually stain-proof which makes it the perfect material for entering the wonderful world of weaning!
5.BLW is about making family mealtimes a social experience. While finger foods are important (particularly soft foods at the beginning), there’s no reason why you can’t serve them a portion of cottage pie, a mini roast dinner, or some salmon and roasted cauliflower. Just be sure to leave out the salt.
6.Don’t worry if your baby doesn’t like certain foods – it’s important that they explore a wide variety of foods independently. Try and think of mealtimes during the early stages as playtime, when baby explores different tastes and textures and gets comfortable with different foods.
7.Let your baby pick up food with their fingers when they start baby-led weaning. Babies must learn to move foods safely around their mouths, so don’t put food in their mouth. That way they will only pick up foods they can manage.
In speaking to parents, dietitians, nutritionists and healthcare professionals about the various approaches to weaning, combining both methods at the beginning – purees and soft finger foods - is the best option and one that many parents are finding the most realistic to adopt.
My mantra is simple; experiment with a wide variety of healthy foods and flavour combinations at the very start of a baby's weaning journey. Once you’ve mastered the basic steps, you’ll soon be on the road to weaning victory!
Whether you’re about to wean and thinking of exploring the baby-led weaning approach, or simply looking for new baby-friendly finger foods and family meals to liven up your mealtimes, Annabel Karmel’s new Baby-Led Weaning Recipe Book is filled with 120 quick, easy and nutritious recipes, essential advice and tips to let your baby take the lead. Visit www.annabelkarmel.com for more information.