Parents often ask me for my suggestions for how to include their baby in family mealtimes. There are so many benefits to making family meals baby-friendly once you start weaning your little ones and it’ll soon become the norm. If you bring your baby’s highchair to the family table and let them be part of your family meals, your baby is so much more likely to learn feeding cues, how to eat and even what foods to enjoy from watching you. It’s also likely to be more of a fun occasion at mealtimes if they are part of the mealtime with you. And from our perspective as parents, involving baby in our own meals can massively reduce the burden of preparing separate baby food, saving both time and money.
As families, many of us are busy for sure, but trying to eat together as a family whenever practical, lays the foundation for your child to develop healthy eating habits as they grow and can also may help to combat fussy-eating behaviours in toddlers. So, what are the best ways to make baby-friendly family meals? These are my tried-and-tested tips.
10 best ways to include your baby in family meals
1. Eat with your baby from the outset
Bringing your baby into your OWN mealtimes as early as you can in the weaning process means they’ll immediately get used to being part of family mealtimes. They’ll watch other members of the family, learning how to start to feed themselves by watching you.
2. Adapt your own meals for baby
Dissect the ingredients on your plate and offer some of the meal to baby as finger food. If you’re having chicken or salmon, for example, you can offer them some in little strips or chunks. Ingredients that are harder for them to eat can be mashed, like chickpeas, tougher meats or mushrooms.
3. Think outside the box
Sometimes all that’s needed to make your family meal suitable for your baby is a little extra chopping, mashing or mincing. Family favourites like spaghetti bolognaise, pie or stew can all work really well for babies with a little extra prep to make them textures suitable before serving.
4. Rethink seasoning
Your baby ideally shouldn’t eat salt but this doesn’t mean the rest of the family has to eat bland food. There are so many ways to add flavour to family meals using fresh or dried herbs or spices. If you do still want to add salt to your portion, you can do so at the table rather than during cooking so that you can all still eat the same dish.
5. Don’t be afraid of flavour
At the same time, don’t think that your baby will never eat something with a little extra seasoning to it! I know of so many babies who like baby dahl, seasoned with just a little bit of cumin or dried coriander or other similar adventurous dishes. My two always loved baby kedgeree when they were little and we all love fajitas with a little paprika. Start with just a pinch of spice and gradually add more as they accept the taste of it. My weaning course has 20 nutritious, baby-friendly recipes, including dahl and kedgeree which are equally delicious for parents and older siblings, too.
6. Add extras to your plates
Another trick is to take an unseasoned base recipe like dahl or fajitas, serve this to your baby and then adapt it for yourself (rather than the other way around). Dried chilli flakes or sriracha hot sauce are an instant and economical way to turn baby-friendly food into something much more grown-up! I also add things like crispy fried onions, mounds of fresh chopped coriander or dollops of yogurt to my curries, leaving them plainer for babies or toddlers.
7. Offer smaller portions to baby
Don’t overwhelm your baby with a huge plateful of food at family mealtimes. Offer a small portion and then let them go in for seconds from the table if they are keen.
8. Give both familiar foods and variety
Ensure you offer baby foods they’ve accepted and then show them some new tastes that the rest of the family are enjoying as part of the communal meal. Offer baby a little taste of these ingredients on the side of their familiar food, or perhaps give them a dollop of yogurt or some grated cheese on top of their serving if everyone else is eating those, too.
9. Role model healthy eating for your baby
Having a new little member of the family at the table is a great way to build up variety in your own mealtimes. You may find that you’ve got stuck in a rut cooking the same old vegetables for yourself, for example, but now that you are weaning your baby, you’ll be encouraged to serve a wider range. When we are motivated to cook healthily for our baby, it can keep us on track with eating more variety ourselves. And hopefully as your baby grows, they will continue to accept a wide variety of foods if these are always served up at the family table for all of you to enjoy.
10. Follow your baby’s lead
If your baby is showing an interest in your plate of food, let them have a taste. Quite often meals that you might think of as suitable only for you are actually suitable for them, too – and vice versa! All members of the family, big and small, can eat porridge for brekkie, soup or quesadillas for lunch, and curry for dinner. Just ensure that you know the advice about which foods are not yet suitable for babies under one.
Above all, enjoy your family mealtimes together with your baby! For more tips on feeding your family, menu planning and getting organised in the kitchen, you can order my new book now:
Charlotte’s Newest Book
Following on from her bestselling books How to Wean Your Baby and How to Feed Your Toddler, this book brings Charlotte’s trademark approach of practical support and nurturing step-by-step guidance to help you manage the juggle of family life.