The holidays are an exciting time for all of us, but especially so when you have a baby in the home ready to start solids! Things get ten times more exciting! Most of us can’t wait to introduce them to the deliciousness that is Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. In fact, it’s one of the most rewarding aspects of the fact that “baby eats what you eat”. They can partake in the flavours and textures of the family holiday meal, just like everyone else!
But, to keep the holidays happy, we’ll want to make sure that we’re being extra safe with what we offer baby, and also that we keep nutritional needs (and restrictions) in mind the entire time. Generally speaking, you really can serve your baby what you’re eating, assuming you’re eating unprocessed and healthy food yourself! Since the holidays often mean indulging in food that isn’t always available year round, there may be some not-so-healthy, or processed, food on the table. Good news is, it’s easy to find lots of good options to serve your baby from the typical spread that’s available for holiday meals, with little to no modifications.
Let’s go through some of the staples and breakdown how to serve them:
Meat like turkey is one of the best options for your baby. It’s high in iron, which is important to include in most meals for your baby, and as long as the turkey isn’t too overdone, it’s moist and juicy, and a wonderfully appropriate food to serve. A lot of times, the turkey is brined and has absorbed a lot of salt, which obviously isn’t ideal for your baby on a daily basis. However, for one special meal, a bit of brined turkey isn’t going to affect them. I would remove the skin however, which contains a lot of the salt (plus, it’s a choking hazard for babies!)
It’s best to choose a piece of dark meat as it’s more moist and contains the highest amount of iron. You can pull off long pieces, about the size of your finger (along the grain is best), and serve it directly to your baby that way. You can also serve a turkey drumstick directly to your baby (oh trust me, this is safe AND fun!). I show you how you can safely serve meat on a bone to your baby in my online course “Baby Led Feeding – a baby led approach to introducing solids”. It makes it so easy for your baby to hold and suck off lots of high-iron juice. There’s no choking risk with a big bone like this, believe it or not, as there’s no way for them to break off the bone and accidentally choke on it!
An uncured freshly cooked ham is also a high iron option that can be a good choice for feeding your baby. However, be careful of cured hams that are prepared in a brine, or that are smoked. The salt content of cured hams can be pretty high, and smoking can mean added chemicals like nitrates/nitrites are present. A piece of plain ham (even if cured) and served in a long finger shape again, isn’t going to harm your baby in small quantities, but just be careful not to go overboard. If there are any bones in the ham, make sure they’re completely removed before serving it to your baby.
Another thing to be very careful of is the glaze that is put on the ham. Besides the fact that it’s usually high in sugar, most of the time there’s honey in the glaze, which should be avoided completely for all babies (pasteurized or not) before the age of 1.
Gravy and other sauces that keep meat moist are typically recommended to increase palatability and moisture of the meat for your baby. However, a lot of times gravy is packaged and very processed with high amounts of salt. Combining that with the rest of the meal, which already has more moderate/high amounts of salt, can be an overload, so I would avoid the packaged or purchased gravy altogether. Homemade gravy options are going to be better for sure. Ask that you’re able to set aside some gravy for baby before any salt is added into it, or even just request that a bit of the turkey drippings are set aside before making the entire gravy. You can just reheat this and douse the turkey meat in it for a moist, high fat, and healthy option for your baby!
Potatoes are a great food to serve when baby led weaning! Whether mashed, or roasted in long or large round pieces, both are great ways for your baby to dig their fingers right into them and explore. Put it right onto your baby’s high chair tray, or serve on a preloaded spoon, like the Num Num Gootensil. Don’t be afraid of strong flavours that may be in it (like garlic) or seasonings and herbs (like dill, rosemary, sage, parsley, thyme etc). These all just add to the flavour experience for your baby (which helps prevent picky eating!). Note that if the mashed potatoes have bits of potato skin mixed in, you will want to be careful of these pieces and remove them to avoid choking.
All vegetables are perfectly fine as long as they’re cooked (roasted, steamed, etc.). Long pieces of carrots, green beans, sweet potatoes, broccoli, and parsnips are all great, nutrient rich options. They don’t need to be cooked all the way – just softened up for your baby to gum on. A dish like a green bean casserole is an especially great option for your baby, as it’s already in a BLW friendly shape and texture. Note that unless it’s sliced peppers, cucumber, or tomatoes, you should avoid raw veggies (like in a veggie dip tray), as these are all considered choking hazards for your baby. Again, be careful of any glazes that may contain honey (usually dishes like cooked brussel sprouts or carrots are ones to watch out for).
Cranberry sauce is a great way to add moisture and sweetness to the meal, which again, is something that makes eating a lot easier for babies and adults alike! I would avoid canned cranberry sauce for the fact that it contains highly concentrated amounts of added sugar. A little dab won’t be the end of the world, but don’t make it a real big part of their meal. What you can do is either request a low or no-added sugar version be made, or you can bring your own! Click here to download my very favourite low sugar cranberry sauce recipe that’s great for the whole family! Always make sure that the whole cranberries are mashed before serving it to your baby (especially a new BLWeaner).
Homemade bread stuffing is a great choice that packs all sorts of holiday flavours, and is wonderful for your baby to explore. Though it’s soft, the bread is not usually too gummy, because it’s baked, which makes it a safer choice. Just make sure to offer a little bit at a time so as to avoid overstuffing, and difficulty maneuvering the bread around in the mouth!
Cheese is perfectly appropriate for your babe, including soft cheeses like goat or blue cheese (so long as they’re all pasteurized). Picking off larger pieces from a cheese board, and offering it to your baby, is a good way to keep them happy, especially if waiting for the main meal to be served. Although olives are high in salt, you can serve some quartered and pitted to your baby for a new flavour to go with the cheese! You’ll definitely want to avoid processed meat, like prosciutto and salami – just saying – it’s not the best choice.
Things like pumpkin pie, sweet potato pie, and apple pie may be staple holiday desserts for everyone, but your baby doesn’t know that yet. They of course contain added sugar that is not healthy for your baby to be getting, and likely they won’t be yearning for a taste so long as they don’t know what they’re missing. That being said, being healthy also means that you can enjoy these “sometimes” foods without stressing too much or letting it consume you, so perhaps your choice may be that you serve a small amount to allow them to get the full experience that the holiday’s bring. This choice is always up to you, and never let anyone make you feel like you should question yourself. Remembering that this is a once-or-twice-a-year event, may put things into perspective.
Key points to keep in mind when feeding baby over the holidays
- Avoid starting your baby on finger food for the very first time at a large family event like Thanksgiving/Christmas dinner. The distractions are many (people talking, music on, kids screaming, everyone watching your baby eat). This is a time that your baby shouldn’t be overstimulated, as it’s still a new experience that requires some concentration, and having less things to be distracted by, means a safer feeding experience. You may want to practice a few times the week or two prior to the big holiday meal, so that it’s not so new and your baby knows what to expect when you put them in the highchair.
- You may want to prep your family and friends by letting them know that your baby is self-feeding (and what that means) and not to be alarmed or intervene in the process. Never let a family member try to feed your baby a piece of finger food themselves by putting it directly into their mouth. Explain that you’ve done your research (and hopefully taken my online course!) and it’s safe when your baby is able to do it themselves. Gagging is expected, and is not the same as choking, and the best thing that can be done is not to make a big deal of it, if it happens. If you’d like some tips on how to approach these conversations, check out my blog on managing “helpful” tips from families over the holidays.
- Bring some simple supplies you may need to make feeding easier if eating at another’s home. My suggestions are a portable highchair (the Totseat portable highchair is a good option!), a pre-spoon like the Num Num Gootensil, a long sleeve bib, a cup for drinking, and a suction mat like the EzPz portable placemat. These are all optional, however they may make it easier on you in order to set your baby up for a comfortable and safe meal.
- Keep your expectations low. Remember that your baby’s milk, sleep, and eating schedule may not work with the family dinner’s holiday eating schedule. Oftentimes, dinners are late and your baby may not be hungry when everyone else is finally ready to eat. Avoid holding off on their feeding schedule to make it work with the rest of the family. If you need to feed them before everyone else eats – go for it! However, if your baby is awake during meal time, even though they may not be hungry, it may be nice to pull the highchair up nice and close to the dinner table and let them be included in the meal! You could even offer them a teether, or their spoon, to play with and gum on, while everyone else eats!
I hope you all enjoy your holiday meals and really have fun with letting baby partake in their first of many celebrations with you!