Raising healthy adventurous eaters doesn't have to be hard work. If this is your first baby you've probably been inundated by conflicting information, from when to start introducing solids, to what are the best foods to start with, to what foods to avoid.
If you're worried about allergies your concerns may be greater, and the information even more confusing.
In her book We Can All Eat That, Pam Brook looks at the evidence surrounding the idea that the early introduction of allergens can reduce the chance of children developing food allergies.
When is my baby ready for solid food?
There are various signs to look out for that will let you know when your baby is ready for solid food. However, generally you can introduce solids at around six months of age, but not before four months.
Around six months (not before four months)
Signs your baby is ready for solid food will be an increased appetite, wanting to feed more frequently and looking for more after just drinking breast milk or infant formula. At this stage your baby should be able to sit upright - at the very beginning sitting supported on your lap, and later in a highchair. They will be like a baby sparrow showing interest in the foods you are eating as they start to look around for real food, with their mouth open when a spoon of goodness comes their way. As your baby switches from suckling to learning to eat solid foods, their swallow starts to change from a tongue thrust - where half of everything you feed seems to come back out - to a proper swallow, followed by learning to chew.
Why home-made baby food is best
Fresh food prepared at home, free of additives and preservatives, is the best choice for your baby. Their digestive system is immature and still developing, and it's important to choose first foods that are gentle on their tummy. Much of the baby food eaten today is processed and comes from pouches or packets. Processed food is usually quite acidic and, in fact, has to be acidic by law to prevent bacterial growth. You'll commonly see these foods have added citric acid or ascorbic acid. The most acidic foods are the "wet" food in pouches and baby food in jars or tins. It's best to save processed foods for when you are "on the go" and have no other choices and absolutely need the convenience of a packaged food.
Baby's first family mealtimes
When your baby moves from your lap and can sit in a highchair, they're ready for meals with all the family. They will begin to see mealtimes as a special family experience and they will learn so much by watching what you eat and how you eat it. Make it easy for yourself and be prepared for messy hands, hair and faces when you serve baby's first foods.
How to serve baby their first foods
The first time you give baby solid food, choose a moment when they are relaxed and content and just getting hungry. Sometimes the first taste of a new food will be offered on a parent's fingertip. But learning to eat from a spoon is a messy but essential part of your child's development as they learn to enjoy real food like the rest of the family.
Your child can see and smell food on a spoon, and it's part of learning about foods - not just what they taste like but what they look like too. As adults we like to eat food that looks enticing, and it's just the same for baby. Always stay with your baby while they are eating, as they are learning to develop their swallow and their eating skills.
How much food to serve baby?
Keep the total amount of food small - the first time one to two teaspoons may be plenty, progressing to one to two tablespoons of food in total. There should be no rush to replace breast milk or formula with solid foods, so make sure you keep your baby's portion size balanced and don't overfeed - your baby is still learning what a full tummy feels like, and their tummies are much smaller than ours. Your baby will let you know when they've had enough by losing interest in the food or pushing the spoon away.
For the first 12 months your child will be breastfed, or on infant formula. On hot days and between meals, water is the best drink. Developing a taste for water - rather than juice or sugary drinks - is a crucial part of your baby's taste development.
Keep up the breast milk and formula
When you introduce your child to solids it's important to continue breastfeeding or giving them infant formula, which is their main source of nutrition, for the first 12 months. As your child grows and gets much more of their nutrition from solid foods, they will naturally want less breast milk or formula.
- This is an edited extract from We Can All Eat That, by Pam Brook. Hardie Grant Books, $39.99. Pictures Alan Benson
Mild salmon kedgeree
This Indian dish is a warming one-pot winner that can transition into bubble and squeak the next day. Feel free to replace the salmon with boneless white fish fillets. Instead of a hard-boiled egg, a soft-boiled egg can be served to older children and adults.
100g basmati rice
20g ghee or butter
2 x 100g salmon fillets, pin-boned and skin removed
1 garlic clove, finely chopped (just a tiny amount for babies)
1 small brown onion, finely chopped
1 tsp finely grated fresh ginger
1 tsp curry powder (for babies under 12 months use a mild curry powder or omit)
50g baby English spinach, washed and dried
small handful of finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
sea salt (omit for babies)
freshly ground black pepper (just a tiny amount for babies)
lime wedges, to serve
1. Cook the rice in 250ml water, covered, on very low heat until the water is absorbed, and the rice is cooked - this is known as the absorption method. Remove the saucepan from the heat, then lift the lid, cover the pan with a folded tea towel and replace the lid to allow any final steam to absorb.
2. Boil the eggs for seven minutes, then cool, peel and quarter them, and set aside. (Ensure the eggs are well cooked if serving to babies.) In a large frying pan, heat the ghee over medium-high heat. Add the salmon and cook for three minutes each side, or until cooked to your liking. Remove the fish from the pan and set aside.
3. In the same pan over medium heat, sauté the garlic, onion and ginger in the residual ghee for about seven minutes, until translucent. Reduce the heat, add the curry powder and stir well to combine without letting the ingredients stick to the pan. Add the rice, spinach and parsley. Stir and heat through for two to three minutes.
4. Using a fork, flake the cooked salmon and fold it through the warm rice. Season as required. Transfer to serving plates or a platter and serve with the egg and lime wedges.
5. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
For younger babies: purée with egg until smooth - thin with a little water or milk if necessary.
For older babies: if your baby is ready for finger food, coarsely chop the fish and egg and serve as is.
For toddlers: serve as for adults.
Chicken curry with yoghurt and mint
Here's another gentle curry that's so easy to prepare. There are no hot spices so it's perfect for baby and toddler. If you want to spice it up if serving just for adults, add a chilli to the spice paste at the beginning.
10g mint leaves, plus extra coarsely chopped mint to serve
1 red onion, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves (just a tiny amount for babies)
1 tsp coarsely chopped fresh ginger
2 tbsp ghee or macadamia oil
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp garam masala (just a tiny amount for babies)
125g plain yoghurt
2 small zucchini, coarsely chopped
2 tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1kg skinless boneless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces
155g frozen peas, defrosted
salt (omit for babies)
coriander leaves, coarsely chopped, to serve
steamed rice, to serve
lime cheeks, to serve
1. To make the spice paste, blend the mint, onion, garlic and ginger to a smooth paste in a blender or food processor. Add a little oil if it's too dry.
2. Heat a large heavy-based saucepan over medium heat and add the ghee. When the ghee is hot add the spice paste. Cook for five minutes, stirring gently, until soft and fragrant. Add the turmeric and garam masala and cook for another two minutes. Add the yoghurt, zucchini and tomatoes and cook for a further three minutes until the liquid starts to reduce. Add the chicken and stir it through to coat it in the mixture. Cover and cook on low heat for 20 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Add the peas for the final five minutes - you may want to leave the lid off at this stage to reduce the liquid, but leave enough so the curry has its own delicious sauce. (Set aside baby's portion now.)
3. Season the dish with salt to taste. Top with the chopped mint and coriander and serve with the steamed rice and lime cheeks. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two days, or freeze for up to three months.
For younger babies: purée with rice until smooth. Serve with a swirl of yoghurt, if desired. Allow to cool before serving.
For older babies: this makes great finger food. Make sure the ingredients are finely chopped to avoid choking hazards. Crumble poppadoms (if using), as these can be sharp. Allow to cool before serving.
For toddlers: serve as for adults, but allow to cool before serving.
Pumpkin and almond slice
This is a delicious recipe for all ages, as a mid-morning coffee break or pick-me-up, and it's great in lunch boxes or as a first cake for older babies. We prefer to use butternut pumpkin for its natural sweetness, but it's fine to use a different variety.
1/2 butternut pumpkin - makes about 375g mashed pumpkin
250g butter, softened
230g brown sugar
225g plain flour (substitute gluten-free flour if family membersare gluten intolerant or coeliac)
185g quick oats
4 eggs, beaten
80g almonds (skin on), ground or very finely chopped
1 tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger (just a tiny amount for babies)
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg (just a tiny amount for babies)
1/2 tsp salt (omit for babies)
1. Peel the pumpkin and cut it into chunks. Steam for 10 minutes, until the pumpkin can be easily pierced with a knife, then mash with a potato masher - don't purée, as you want to keep some texture.
2. Preheat the oven to 180C. Line a 23 x 33cm shallow baking/slice tin.
3. Whisk the butter and brown sugar using an electric mixer until light and creamy. Stir in the flour and oats. Add the egg to the mixture, along with the mashed pumpkin and remaining ingredients. Mix gently for another 15 seconds or until just combined.
4. Pour the mixture into the tin (the mixture should be about 2cm deep), then bake for 40 minutes. When cooked it should be lightly browned and a skewer inserted into the slice should come out clean.
5. Allow to cool on a wire rack. Serve cut into squares.
6. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three days, or freeze for up to three months.
For younger babies: if they're seven months plus who can chew or gum their food, this is a lovely soft, smooth slice.
For older babies: break off small pieces of the slice to serve.
For toddlers: serve as for adults.
Makes 24 pieces.