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Rethinking Baby Food: 7 Meals the Whole Family Can Enjoy

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Whether you make your own baby food or rely on the convenience of pre-made baby food, wouldn’t it be nice to just feed your little one what’s already on the dinner table? While images of last night’s pot roast may not translate into “baby food,” your little one can enjoy the same foods you eat! Blended foods like butternut squash for your infant can also make a great soup base for the rest of the family! So grab a blender and knife, add some creativity, and transform every day staple meals into foods that are age appropriate for your infant or toddler.

There are many benefits to serving your little one meals enjoyed by the rest of your family, and convenience is just the start. Children often observe and imitate their parents and are therefore more likely to accept new foods when they see their parents eating them. Liking and eating a variety of healthy foods often translates to more balanced and nutritious meals for your child.

Keep in mind: health and food safety should be top priority. Avoid foods that are choking hazards (like grapes and hot dogs) and prioritize healthy, nutritious foods. Keep fast foods and choking hazards away from your child’s feeding tray.

We’ve provided modifications to seven staple family dinners, so your whole family can enjoy them. While the meal adaptations are designed to be age appropriate, every child advances at his or her own pace. Pediatricians, feeding experts, and parents all offer slight variations as to what, when, and how to introduce new foods and textures. Mom and Dad know best, so tailor these meal modifications according to your child’s current feeding level and your feeding philosophy. If your child is not ready for a type of food, texture, or consistency listed below, simply modify or omit the food and save it for when your child is ready. Enjoy!

Home-prepared carrots, spinach, turnips, collard greens and beets should only be fed to babies 6 months of age and older as they are higher in nitrates. If the foods above are commercially prepared, they only contain trace amounts of nitrates.

Chicken soup with shredded chicken breast, carrots, green beans, and whole wheat macaroni.
•    Toddler (12 months +) If your toddler has not mastered eating with a spoon, simply deconstruct the chicken soup and serve the shredded chicken, macaroni, chopped carrots (1/2 inch pieces) on a plate. Allow him or her to drink the broth from a small cup or bowl. If your toddler has mastered eating with a spoon, simply serve the soup as is but be sure that the vegetables in the soup are ½ inch pieces to avoid choking hazards.
•    Baby (6-12 months) If your infant has just started out on solids, puree the carrots and green beans in water, chicken broth, breastmilk or formula. If you have introduced chicken to your baby, blend the soup in its entirety; adding broth according to desired consistency.

Black bean quesadilla with whole-wheat tortilla, cheddar cheese, black beans, diced tomatoes, chopped onions, guacamole, and plain Greek yogurt.
•    Toddler (12 months +)  Depending on your child’s age and current feeding skills, the quesadilla can be served as is, cut into bite-sized pieces, or deconstructed – if serving deconstructed, dice into ½ inch pieces: avocado, shredded cheese, beans (mashed or regular) and diced tomatoes.
•    Baby (6- 12 months) If your infant has just started out solids, try pureeing avocado with some banana and add breastmilk, or formula to achieve desired consistency. For older babies or babies with advanced feeding skills, the elements of the quesadilla can be served deconstructed, with the black beans mashed.

Veggie Meatloaf (carrots, mushrooms, and onions) with mashed potatoes and green beans.
•    Toddler (12 months +) – Cut the green beans into ½ inch pieces, pull apart the meatloaf and serve mashed potatoes as is.
•    Baby (6-12 months) If your infant has just started out on solids, blend the mashed potatoes with the green beans and add water, beef broth, breastmilk or formula to achieve desired consistency.  If you have introduced meat to your baby, blend the meal in its entirety, adding beef broth to achieve desired consistency. For older babies or babies with advanced feeding skills, the elements of the meal can be served deconstructed as stated above for toddlers.

Spinach linguine with turkey meatballs, tomato sauce and minced spinach
•    Toddler (12 months +)  Cut pasta into ½-inch pieces and pull apart meatballs
•    Baby (6-12 months) If your infant has just started out on solids, blend the pasta and spinach and add water, low-sodium chicken broth, breastmilk or formula to achieve desired consistency.  If you have introduced meat to your baby, blend the turkey meatballs, adding beef broth to achieve desired consistency. Serve with pasta cut into ½-inch pieces. For older babies or babies with advanced feeding skills, the elements of the meal can be served deconstructed as stated above for toddlers.

Lean-Beef Stew with carrots and potatoes
•    Toddler (12 months +) Shred the tender beef and cut the potatoes and carrots to ½ – inch pieces to avoid choking hazards.
•    Baby (6-12 months)  If your infant has just started out on solids, blend the potatoes and carrots, and add iron-fortified rice cereal, water, beef broth, breastmilk or formula to achieve desired consistency. If you have introduced meat to your baby, blend the meal in its entirety, adding low-sodium beef broth to achieve desired consistency. For older babies or babies with advanced feeding skills, the elements of the meal can be served deconstructed as stated above for toddlers.

Chicken Cutlets with baked sweet potato fries and tomato and butternut squash dipping sauce.
•    Toddler (12 months +)  Cut up the chicken cutlets into “fingers.” For younger toddlers or those without molars, shred chicken, and top with butternut squash sauce.  Serve fries as is.
•    Baby (6-12 months) If your infant has just started out on solids, blend the sweet potatoes (roast with fries separately) and butternut squash. Add iron-fortified rice cereal and water, breastmilk, or formula to achieve desired consistency.  For older babies or babies with advanced feeding skills, shred the chicken, and cut sweet potato fries into ½-inch pieces.

Salmon over brown rice with spinach and carrots (salmon contains omega-3 fatty acids important for baby’s brain, heart and lungs)
•    Toddler (12 months +) Separate salmon with fork for ease of eating, and chop carrots to ½-inch pieces to reduce choking hazard. Ensure there are no bones!
•    Baby (6-12 months) If your infant has just started out on solids, blend the rice and carrots and, add water, low-sodium chicken broth, breastmilk, or formula to achieve desired consistency. If you have introduced fish to your baby, blend the meal in its entirety, adding low-sodium chicken broth to achieve desired consistency. Make sure there are no bones! For older babies or babies with advanced feeding skills, the elements of the meal can be served deconstructed as stated above for toddlers.

If your baby struggles with constipation, be sure to speak with your doctor. You can also try adding peaches, pears, and plums at meal time.

Tip: All the vegetables for your baby should be soft (easily mashed with a fork). If you prefer your veggies on the crunchy side, simply remove the majority of the vegetable from the steamer or oven, and leave the remaining amount to cook longer to soften for your baby.

Check out these easy baby meals for moms on the go, pasta with carrots and kale, and quinoa with chicken and vegetables.



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About the Author

Lisa Williams, M.A., is currently interning to become a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. As a busy, new mom, she appreciates the importance of making healthy foods that her whole family can enjoy!


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