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 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!
To keep the holidays cheery, we’ll want to make sure that we are 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 are eating, assuming you are eating unprocessed and healthy food yourself! Since the holidays often means indulgence 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 so 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 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 baby!)
It’s best to choose a piece of red 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 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 is no choking risk with a big bone like this believe it or not, as there is no way for it 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 baby in small quantities, but just be careful not to go overboard. 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 is honey in the glaze, which should be avoided completely for all babies (pasteurized or not) before the age of 1. Finally, if there are any bones in the ham, make sure they are completely removed before serving it to baby.
Gravy and sauces that keep meat moist is 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 some 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 are 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! Mashed or roasted in long or large round pieces, either way is great for your baby to dig their fingers right into and explore. Put it right onto your baby’s high chair 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 so long as they are 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’s 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 baby (especially a new BLWeaner).
Homemade bread stuffing is a great choice that packs all sorts of holiday flavours and is wonderful for 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 not 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 are 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. Note that 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 will 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 are 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 Christmas dinner. The distractions are many (people talking, looking at baby, music on, kids screaming). 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 seat 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 have done your research (and hopefully taken my online course!) and it’s safe when 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.
- 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 of course optional, however may make it easier on you setting 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. Often times, dinners are late and 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 at the dinner table!
I hope you all enjoy your holiday meals and really have fun with letting baby partake in their first of many celebrations with you!