As a young(ish) mum to my gorgeous toddler, Nina, ensuring that my child gets the best start in life is my top priority and a big part of that is what she eats and what we eat together as a family. When I began to wean Nina at six months of age, I knew I wanted us to eat the same meals so that I could teach her how it's done and so we could enjoy food together. I quickly realised that there was a lack of family-friendly recipes and What Mummy Makes was born! I began developing recipes that meant I only needed to cook once, so not only was Nina fed and happy, but I was too. I soon noticed that cooking just one dish per meal isn’t the only benefit to enjoying family meal times together. Nina gained so much by watching me set healthy eating habits and I encouraged her to try new foods and taught her how to pick up, chew and swallow. And in time, her speech and cutlery use developed because she was watching me and learning from my actions.
Weaning and feeding your family doesn’t need to be stressful, but I appreciate how daunting the pressure of cooking for your loved ones every day can be. My mission is to take the worry out of it, to inspire you with a variety of recipes and help give you the confidence to feed your family well. Here are my top tips and tricks for feeding your baby from six months of age, and there are plenty more guidelines and recipes to be found in my new cookbook, What Mummy Makes.
Try to offer a wide variety of food every day
Even if you fear they won’t eat it, exposure is key to minimising fussiness in the long run. If your child is exposed to new flavours and textures on a regular basis, being presented with an out of the ordinary food won’t be a daunting and scary prospect, and they are more likely to give it a go.
Take the pressure off
If your little one licks it and says “yuck” and doesn’t want to eat the rest of the meal, don’t worry! They won’t go hungry! The less pressure they have to try a food, the more likely they will try it in the long run.
Get the eating environment right
If possible, always feed your child in the same room every day and if you have a particularly fussy eater, it may help to keep eating times as consistent as possible too. Try to eat around the dinner table if you can, with your child sitting in a chair suited to their age. When first weaning use a high chair, then a booster seat for a toddler and move to a big kid chair once the urge to get up and down from the table has passed. Try to avoid distractions by removing the telly or placing their favourite toys out of sight. And lots of smiling and happy vibes make a huge difference to encouraging eating. Try to talk as much as possible and put family-friendly music on in the background. If they’re having fun, then they will be more open to enjoying their meal.
Eat together when you can
Pretty much every meal you can think of can be enjoyed together, you just need to be mindful of salt and sugar content and of avoiding ingredients which aren’t suitable for your child’s age (there is plenty of nutritionist-approved advice on this in my cookbook). Try to serve most foods in finger strips so its easier for your baby pick up and feed themselves.
Get kitted out
You don’t need much to start weaning, but there are a few things that will definitely help. A comfortable seat and a plate so they can mimic eating like you is a good place to start, and if your child is at weaning age, a sturdy suction plate will really help. I recommend the bamboo bamboo plates because, with the plates' mega strong suction, little fingers will find it hard to chuck their entire dinner on the floor! And I also recommend soft-grip utensils with soft tips to be kind on their little gums, an open or free-flowing sippy cup to encourage the skill of drinking liquids by sipping rather than sucking and a catcher bib and / or a long sleeve bib to save all those cute outfits.
Not every meal needs to be gourmet (or any!)
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to cook elaborately every single meal. As long as the dish is well balanced with protein, carbohydrates and lots of fruit and veg, then it doesn’t matter if has taken two minutes to put together or sixty! The What Mummy Makes cookbook has meals varying from three-minute pastas to family-friendly feasts and all of the recipes in the book can be whipped up in thirty minutes or less!
Save time in the kitchen with the tips and tricks in my book
When you have little ones running around needing your attention, shaving off a few minutes here and there when prepping meals can be really handy. Try boiling a kettle instead of waiting for a cold pan of water to come to the boil so you can cook your pasta much quicker. And when you have it boiling away, rest a wooden spoon on top of the open pan to stop the water from bubbling over. Lots more tricks like this are listed in the What Mummy Makes cookbook.
Set up quick activities to give you a few moments to prep your cooking
If you have a clingy baby who won’t let you put them down while you're prepping food, try investing in a sling so baby can still have those precious cuddles while your arms are free. For older children, turn unused pots and pans into a drum set (if you don't mind the noise), or strap them into a high chair, tape a few pieces of masking tape to their tray and there's five minutes of entertainment while you whip up breakfast!
Utilise your freezer
When feeding your family, your freezer can be your best friend. I try to make extra of most meals so that I can pop leftovers in the freezer. Cooking just once for multiple meals saves you time and energy. The What Mummy Makes cookbook has lots of advice on freezing guidelines along with a whole chapter of recipes dedicated to building your freezer stash.
Feeding your family is a necessity, but it doesn’t need to be a chore. Cook food which you will want to eat and enjoy sitting around the table spending family time together. Some of my fondest memories of my daughter are of us eating and laughing together with no other distractions.