If you're a busy mum (is there any other kind?), baby-led weaning is the easiest option. With help from baby food legend Annabel Karmel, we're here to tell you why - and give you three delicious recipes that the whole family can scoff...
Gone are the days of babies existing on a diet of, well, mush. Baby-led weaning has surged in popularity in the last few years – but it can be a confusing concept for mums who’ve had it drummed into them from older generations that babies must be spoon-fed.
Queen of feeding little people, Annabel Karmel, is here to take the fear out of finger food. Her new Baby-Led Weaning Recipe Book is full of recipes that the whole family can enjoy. But before you slap down the wipe-clean floor mat and get stuck in, here are a few things you need to know…
1. You have all the kit already
While pureeing can at times feel like a military operation, BLW is just an extension of what you’re doing already – you can just let the little one help themselves to whatever you and the rest of the family are eating, providing it’s not high in salt. You don’t necessarily need baby cutlery or plates – it’s all about letting them reach for the foods they want with their own hands. So it can be a money-saver too!
2. It’s a great option for mums on the move
If you’re forever dashing around, BLW is by far the easiest option – no more exploding purees or mouldy old spoons cluttering up your handbag! You can just take a packed lunch to share with your baby or buy food out and about – the beauty of BLW is that nothing (aside from whole nuts and foods high in salt) is off limits; there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy a yummy jacket potato, hearty sandwich or wholesome salad with your baby.
3. It might make them less fussy
Every parent lives in fear of raising a fussy eater (we’ve all met that kid who will only eat orange foods, or won’t let anything touch on their plate…) but some research has found that babies who’ve been baby-led weaned are more likely to enjoy a wider variety of foods and accept new foods more willingly. And because they’re in control of the amount they eat, it’s thought they’re less likely to suffer from obesity as they grow up.
4. It’s the sociable option
Spoon-feeding a baby can sometimes feel like a chore – but if they’re simply sitting down to eat with the rest of the family, it’s fun for you as well. They can join in with “conversation” (yep, “babababababaaaaa!” counts as dinner table banter….) and enjoy the social side of eating – definitely a huge plus if like to eat out or host parties.
5. You might even enjoy it…
The great thing about baby-led weaning is that it can benefit the whole family – because you’ll have it in your mind that your precious baby will be tucking into whatever you’re cooking, it could spark your enthusiasm for cooking and have you knocking up a wider variety of delicious, healthy meals.
If you need inspiration, Annabel Karmel’s Baby-Led Weaning Recipe Book is a great place to start your BLW journey.
Here are three of our favourite recipes from it that you’ll enjoy just as much as your little one…
Chicken, Cherry Tomato and Sweetcorn Quesadillas
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Makes: 6 child portions
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into strips
1 teaspoon runny honey or maple syrup
1 onion, finely sliced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
100g / 4oz fresh cherry tomatoes, chopped
50g / 2oz tinned drained sweetcorn
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
50g / 2oz grated Cheddar cheese
6 small tortilla wraps
yoghurt, for drizzling
a pinch of paprika
Heat half the oil in a frying pan, add the chicken and honey and fry for 3–4 minutes until golden and cooked through. Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside.
Add the remaining oil to the pan. Add the onion and thyme and fry for 5 minutes until soft. Add the tomatoes, sweetcorn, balsamic vinegar and chicken and cook for 2 minutes, then transfer to a bowl.
Wipe the frying pan clean. Add one of the wraps to the pan. Spoon a third of the chicken mixture on top, sprinkle with a third of the grated cheese and place another wrap on top.
Push down and fry for 2 minutes, then flip over and cook for another 2 minutes. Slice into wedges.
Repeat with the remaining tortillas, filling and cheese and serve the wedges, drizzled with yoghurt and sprinkled with the paprika.
Mini Energy Balls
Prep time: 20 minutes (excluding chill time)
Cook time: 5 minutes
Makes: 30 balls
200g / 7oz pitted dates
3 tablespoons smooth peanut butter
3 tablespoons sunflower oil
40g / 1½oz desiccated coconut
3 tablespoons sunflower seeds
125g / 4½oz porridge oats
40g / 1½oz raisins
20g /¾oz pecans, very finely chopped
1 tablespoon chia seeds
20g /¾oz Rice Krispies
A pinch of salt (for babies over 12 months old)
Put the dates in a saucepan with 100 ml/4 fl oz boiling water. Cover with a lid, bring to the boil and simmer for 2 minutes, then remove from the heat and set aside for 5 minutes.
Transfer the soaked date mixture to a blender or food processor and blitz until smooth (or blend in a bowl using a stick blender).
Place the peanut butter and date mixture in a saucepan and melt over a low heat until smooth. Remove from the heat and add the remaining ingredients to the pan. Mix well, then shape into 30 equal-sized little balls. Place the balls on a plate and chill for 1 hour before eating.
The balls will keep in the fridge, stored in an airtight container, for up to 5 days.
Salmon, Quinoa & Spinach Balls
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 5 minutes
Makes: 30 balls
75 g/3 oz quinoa
1 sweet potato
85 g/31⁄2 oz fresh white breadcrumbs
175 g/6 oz skinless, boneless, salmon fillet, sliced
40g/1 1⁄2 oz spinach, roughly chopped
30 g / 1 oz grated Parmesan cheese
5 sping onions, sliced
1 teaspoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon sweet chilli sauce
2 tablespoons plain flour
Sunflower oil for frying
A little salt and pepper (for babies over 12 months old)
2 teaspoons sunflower oil
1 large leek, trimmed and finely chopped
1⁄2 teaspoon white wine vinegar
4 teaspoon plain flour
300 ml/10 fl oz unsalted or weak fish stock
100 ml/4 fl oz milk
1⁄2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
20 g/3⁄4 oz grated Parmesan cheese
50 ml/2 fl oz single cream
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon fresh chopped dill
1. Cook the quinoa in a pan of lightly salted boiling water for 12 minutes until tender, drain, rinse then leave to drain in a sieve for about 10 minutes.
2. Prick the sweet potato with a fork and coo it in the microwave for 7-10 minutes or bake at 2000C/4000F/Gas 6 for 45 minutes. Once cool, remove the skin.
3. To make the dill sauce, sauté the leek in the oil for 4-5 minutes until softened. Stir in the vinegar and cook for 30 seconds, then stir in the flour and cook for 1 minute. Add the fish stock, milk and mustard and cook, stirring, for about 4 minutes until thickened. Remove from the heat, stir in the Parmesan until melted then add the cream, lemon juice and dill.
4. Blitz the sweet potato in a food processor with quinoa, breadcrumbs, salmon, spinach, Parmesan, spring onions, fish sauce and chilli sauce, and some seasoning (if using), until finely chopped.
5. Shape the mixture into 20 equal-sized balls. Lightly coat the balls in the flour. Heat a little oil in a frying pan and fry the balls in batches for 5-6 minutes until golden and cooked through. Serve with the dill sauce.
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 out now and filled with 120 quick, easy and nutritious recipes, essential advice and tips to let your baby take the lead.