Now that Baby has started eating more and more solids, and is slowly getting more of his nutrients from them, he is reaching the tail-end of the baby-food era, and is inching closer and closer to just eating table food at dinner with the rest of the family. Baby can’t just dive right in with salad and a sirloin, though – he is still working on both the teeth and the skills for that, so before he can reach that point, you’re going to need some transitional, Baby-friendly grown-up meals.
Risotto is a great place to start, both because the soft texture is easy on Baby’s gums, and because it’s a good base-recipe to substitute any kind of protein or vegetable into, depending on what you’ve got in the fridge, your taste, or what Baby will eat. It’s also easy to substitute in brown rice for white, though it will make your cooking time significantly longer, maybe by as much as much as half an hour.
- 1 small onion, two or three cloves garlic, or both
- 1-2 cups vegetable of your choice, chopped
- 1-1 ½ cups protein source of your choice, cubed
- 1 ½ cups rice
- Pinch of salt
- 5 ½ cups broth or broth and wine
A good base-recipe for risotto is to begin by cooking a small onion, a few cloves of garlic, or both, over a medium heat in a large frying pan or sauce pan, until they start to go brown around the edges. Then add your protein source of choice, cut into bite-sized pieces, and your chosen vegetable, and cook until the meat is browned and the vegetables are tender. For vegetarian protein sources, the timeline will be different – seitan will hold up reasonably well during the long cooking time, but tofu is more likely to crumble, and should probably be cooked separately to taste and added after.
When your vegetables are tender, add a cup and a half of rice and a pinch of salt and stir until it’s well mixed. Then add a half-cup of liquid – generally broth, though many recipes use somewhere between a half cup and a cup of wine – either in this initial step before switching to broth for the rest of the recipe, or by adding a splash with each half-cup of broth.
Stir the half-cup of liquid into the rice until it’s almost entirely absorbed, then add another half-cup of liquid. Repeat this step until you’ve used all five and a half to six cups of liquid, and the rice is tender.
2) Burgers and “fries”
Hamburgers or turkey burgers with oven-baked fries are a great starter-meal for Baby. He may still be developing his T-Rex-worthy, carnivore’s jaws full of teeth, but when you’re making regular-sized burger patties for yourself and the rest of the family, it’s barely any extra effort to pull a few smaller pieces into small, meatball shapes that are perfect for a new finger-feeder.
Oven baked fries are also well-shaped for self-feeding, since Baby can grip the long stalk in his hand, but they’re soft enough not to give his any trouble chewing or swallowing.
Just cut potatoes or sweet potatoes into one-quarter-inch thick pieces about the length of the potato, or half-length, if they’re long and you’re worried about Baby managing them. Toss them lightly in olive oil, lay them flat on a baking sheet and bake them at 450 degrees F until they’re crispy on two sides, flipping once in the middle. Once you’ve pulled the fries out of the oven, you can salt the ones for you, though not Baby’s, and jazz them up with any spices you’d like.
3) Pasta with pesto
Pasta is an eternally good finger-food, if you go for the bigger, grippable noodles like bow-ties, elbows or rotini. It’s also, especially with the addition of pesto, one of those kid-friendly foods that adults never really grow out of, and like the rest of the recipes on this list, pesto is a dish that’s easy to adapt to your family’s taste, and to what you happen to have in the refrigerator.
Most pestos are made up of a basil base (though spinach is a fairly common substitution), often with some kind of nut, traditionally pine nuts, but walnuts and almonds work as well, cheese (generally parmesan), olive oil, garlic, and spices to taste. The basic recipe below is easy to adjust to your and your family’s taste.
- 2 cups fresh basil (or spinach, or some combination of the two)
- ⅓ cup nuts
- 2-3 garlic cloves to taste
- ½ cup olive oil
- ½ cup cheese
- 1 tsp salt
- Lemon juice, lemon zest, and black pepper are all optional
Combine the nuts, basil and garlic in the food processor and blend until smooth, then add olive oil and salt or spices, blend, and when it’s smooth, stir in the cheese and toss with pasta.
4) Alphabet soup
Alphabet soup is one of the easiest recipes on the list, and it only gets more fun as Baby gets old enough to recognize the letters! Just bring 6 cups of chicken or vegetable stock to a boil, add a cup of alphabet noodles, a cup of fresh or frozen peas and a cup of fresh or frozen carrots, reduce the heat and let it simmer, stirring occasionally, until the noodles and vegetables are soft and easy for Baby to gum. The vegetables can be substituted for or added to any other vegetable you have around, and you can add to the vitamin C in it by substituting out part of the stock for an equivalent amount of unseasoned tomato sauce. Soup can be messy for new eaters, so if you want to make it even more Baby-friendly, you can strain out the vegetables and noodles for Baby to finger feed themselves, and give him the warm broth in a sippy cup with a straw.