How to vary your baby’s diet

A varied diet for a baby, once solid food is established, is essential. Having a variety of meals helps maximise nutrient intake, as well as, gets baby used to trying different foods, textures and flavours, from an early age.

This can in fact, decrease the chance of food fussiness in the toddler years. To make it easy for yourself, from 6 months on, your baby can be served a modified version of your meal, as long as it’s healthy and without salt and strong spices. Latest research suggests parents want to serve their baby’s a balanced diet of meals that are healthy, fresh and diverse in flavour. Here’s a variety of some simple meal ideas for your baby’s first year of life:

4-6 months ‘pureed first tastes’.
At this early stage, it really doesn’t matter whether you give your child sweet or savoury. My preference is for vegetables at most meals with a little fruit thrown in. Babies innately love sweet as breastmilk and formula are both sweet.  So perhaps try the veggies first so your baby doesn’t reject them later. This is the time that you want introduce as many different foods by themselves every 3-4 days. Pureed cooked fruit, vegetables and rice are easier to digest, as well as ripe mashed banana, papaya, avocado, and baby rice cereal. Also include pureed cooked apple, pear, sweet potato, pumpkin, carrot, potato, cauliflower, mild greens like zucchini and green beans, as well as corn and peas (that have both been put through a mouli or food grinder to get rid of the outer husks). Keep it simple and no seasonings yet. Use fresh or frozen fruit or veggies to make it easier for yourself.  Also try using a fresh food feeder for babies who want to put things in their mouth. It’s ideal for fruit, veggies and even meat (from 6 months), without the fear of choking.

6-7 months ‘silky smooth texture’.
By this age, your baby is probably eating 3 meals. You can give your baby almost anything you want, as long as it’s healthy, silky smooth in texture and easy to swallow. Just refrain from allergic foods if there’s allergies in the family, as well as sugar. From 6 months on both iron and calcium are both important minerals for your baby, so the introduction of red meat, chicken, fish, red lentils and full cream dairy (milk and cheese used in cooking as well as small amounts of natural yoghurt to try), are ideal.

Breakfast

  • Choose low sugar and low salt cereals, and alternate. Baby cereals are fine but if your baby is now eating gluten, kids Weet-bix crumbled up and instant oats served with choice of milk (breast, formula, full-cream dairy or yoghurt), are good choices.
  • Serve cereals with fruit i.e. cooked or dried fruit puree, which can be lightly spiced with cinnamon (optional) or mashed banana or papaya, or finely grated ripe pear with the skin removed (should be soft and juicy). Removing skin from fruits like apple and pear before cooking, makes the fruit easier to chew and digest.

Lunch / dinner

  • Approximately 25g of red meat, chicken or fish per day should now be offered. Offer a variety each week. All meats must be cooked well, mixed with vegetables and then pureed. Minced red meat or chicken is ideal but there’s no reason why you couldn’t puree a tender well-cooked steak fillet or roast chicken breast without the skin, with a little water. Braised meats cooked with veggies are tender, delicious and easy to puree. Trying sautéing sliced leek or onion until it’s soft. Add chopped red meat (that’s ideal to braise eg oyster blade) that has been rolled in plain flour, to lightly brown. Add chopped veggies like sweet potato, carrot, mushrooms as well as just enough low salt or homemade stock to almost cover. Bring to boil then cover pot with lid and simmer or bake for an hour or until meat is tender. Puree, adding boiled water if need to.
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  • Ideally one meal should be a puree of meat or fish and veggies and the other vegetarian like veggies or cheesy veggie pasta, pureed.
  • Offer all mixed veggies, cooked and pureed. Peel skins like potato and sweet potato as this will make the veggie easier to chew and digest. Strong tasting vegetables like spinach and brussel sprouts, use smaller amounts and disguise with starchy vegetables or cheese.
  • Red lentils mixed with lots of veggies is a good source protein and an alternative to meat or fish. Not too much though as lentils can be difficult for babies to digest.
  • Offer pureed fruit with or without a little natural yoghurt, after each meal.
  • Cooled boiled water to sip with meals.

7-9 months  ‘lumpy bumpy texture’.
At this age, your baby is more experienced with food, hence ready for more texture. So mash and semi-puree most food. Babies are getting better with tongue control, as well as the muscles in their mouth should be getting a workout, which is ideal for speech development.


Breakfast

  • Continue with cereals with low sugar and salt as suggested above.
  • Cooked fruit can be semi pureed and soft pieces of fruit can be offered.
  • Serve wholemeal toast, buttered and cut into fingers with the crust on (from 8 months on)
  • Cooled boiled water to sip with meals.

Lunch / dinner

  • Mash veggies instead of puree.
  • Add cooked grain i.e. cous cous, rice, quinoa or millet or tiny soup pasta to veggies, for texture.
  • Grate fruit i.e. apples and pears, as well as veggies to add texture.
  • Mince meats for texture.
  • After dinner, offer fresh fruit and yoghurt or cooked fruit and custard, home-made rice pudding with a little fruit
  • Cooled boiled water to sip with meals.

9-12 months ‘finger foods’.
This is the independent age where most babies want to self-feed, if they’re not already. Finger foods, foods chopped up into small pieces and lots of colour are far more attractive to babies now and good practice for the hand-eye coordination as well as the pincer grip. Ideally by 12 months, your baby should be eating foods and flavours, similar to the rest of the family.

Breakfast

  • Continue with cereals low in sugar and salt i.e. kids Weet-bix, natural muesli and traditional porridge, served with milk.
  • Fresh fruit pieces as is or dipped in full-cream natural or vanilla yoghurt. Choose soft ripe fruits that are easy to pickup and hold i.e. small bananas, pear cut into strips and small seedless mandarins. Choose yoghurt that contains either no or little sugar.
  • Wholemeal bread/toast/or mini sandwich with toppings/fillings that stick i.e. mashed banana with a little creamed cheese; well-done boiled egg (that’s if there is no risk of allergy) mashed with a little cream cheese; home-made hummus; avocado and creamed cheese or grated cheese; home-made mashed baked beans. Cut into fingers or half fingers if that’s easier to handle.
  • Frittata with your choice of vegetables and fresh herbs Once cooked, cut into mini squares or rectangles
  • Cooled boiled water to sip with meals.

Lunch / dinner

  • Mini sandwiches as above.
  • Approximately 50g of red meat, chicken or fish should be offered each day. Should be able to serve up small chopped pieces.
  • Mini savoury muffins with more filling than muffin eg cheese, minced meat or fish (tinned tuna or salmon) and grated/chopped vegetables i.e. zucchini, carrot, capsicum, mushroom, corn, peas. Can also be frozen. No need to reheat, just thaw and serve.
  • Cheesy polenta fingers with tuna or salmon and chopped vegetables mixed through before it sets.
  • Semolina gnocchi cut into small triangles and served with a thick fresh tomato sauce rather than a slippery white cheese sauce.
  • Pasta i.e. spirals or large alphabet. Anything easy to hold and breakdown in the mouth, especially if a baby’s teeth aren’t through. Serve with chopped steamed vegetables and grated cheese.
  • Steamed chicken or fish and vegetable dumplings. In a food processor, combine chopped raw chicken or fish and chopped vegetables and a pinch of fresh herbs. Roll into balls and steam ‘til cooked. Freeze uncooked balls and cook as needed.
  • Oven-baked homemade fish fingers served with steamed vegetables.
  • Raw or steamed vegetable crudités are a must at most meals. Also try cutting discs off a corn on the cob and steam or baby Dutch carrots steamed. Both are easy for little hands to handle.
  • Cooled boiled water to sip with meals.
  • Depending how much your child successfully eats in one sitting, you may have to offer snacks between meals.

Snacks

  • Fresh cut up fruit or vegetables.
  • Mini rice cakes or cruskits plain or with a topping.
  • Mini cheese cubes or sticks.
  • For a sweet treat other than fruit, try a homemade mini fruit filled muffin. Rather than adding sugar, try using rice syrup that is low in GI or maple syrup.

The lists of meals to serve up to your baby is endless. These are just some that are easy and quick, and uses ingredients found in most family homes.

By Cherie Lyden – nutritionist and mother – www.lydenvitality.com.