I hope you’re all having a fab summer so far. I’m here to share some no-nonsense, easy, quick and nutritious little recipes that I hope your babies will enjoy. Everything here is nutritionist-checked to be safe from six months onwards, but even if your ‘babies’ have graduated from weaning stage, keep reading as these recipes make great creative activities for little hands during the summer holidays.
Kate first featured Young Gums here on CM a little under a year ago. I’d recently started my recipe-sharing Instagram blog, which is about a real mum making real, wholesome food for her real baby. No shots of the cliché pristine mother feeding a smiling baby with an oh-so-cute squidge of puree on his nose. My #feedfeed is about honest, creative baby cooking…with a nod to the latest food trends. I share daily inspiration and chat around a wide variety of healthy, interesting dishes that parents can achieve with basic ingredients in minutes…not hours. And if my own baby doesn’t like a dish, I don’t share it.
In the past nearly-year, a lot has happened. I’ve been lucky enough to meet hundreds of new mums and dads, sign a global book deal, write a book about modern baby weaning, spend time at photoshoots, design studios and test kitchens, be interviewed and give presentations, and take part in panel debates. I’ve set up a company around the blog, built a website, and signed up for a university course. I met some of my all-time food heroes (Mary Berry, Rick Stein, Yotam Ottolenghi, Skye Gyngell, Bee Wilson, and the adorbs Melissa Hemsley) and every month I seek out and meet more incredible, passionate food producers and makers. But a few days ago the biggest thing yet happened: I quit my job.
Motherhood changes us all in ways we can’t predict. I didn’t expect to feel so upset and confused about the crappy, conflicting and outdated advice I received about how to wean my baby. I didn’t expect to feel so let down reading the ingredients lists of some of the big-brand baby food products. I didn’t expect it to be so hard to find baby cooking resources I could relate to. And I didn’t expect to find such pleasure in cooking for my baby. It isn’t a chore, it’s the most creative thing I do all day and I want other busy parents to feel that too.
No-one is more surprised than I am to see me handing back the job I dreamt of having and worked so hard for (head of strategy at an award-winning creative marketing agency in London). If I’m honest, I let the job become a big part of my identity. I’m scared I’m going to regret giving it up, and I’m wondering if my quite careful recent cash management is going to have been quite careful enough once the salary cheques stop landing. But I’m so inspired by other new mums I’ve met who have made similar leaps, as I’m sure many of you have…any advice for a newbie?!
Even though I’m lucky enough to have worked for a very supportive company that helped me with the decision and with the transition (I know that’s far from the case for everyone, infuriatingly), stepping out of any hard-won career to work for yourself (with a baby to look after) is kind of terrifying. Sure, I’m excited, and am definitely looking forward to being more flexible with my time, but I enjoyed my job. I was the first woman to ever do the role, and the youngest person too. I leave behind a team I love – we did some great work together. But. Back when I was trying to decide whether and when to quit, a mum-friend told me this: this job has pushed me to think and act way beyond where I thought my limits were, and motherhood has taught me to be braver (and more responsible!) than I thought I was. So here I am, finishing up my first week of working for myself.
If this is the first time you’ve heard of this thing called Young Gums, what’s it all about? Well it’s an Instagram community (and a new Facebook page, Twitter feed, set of Pinterest boards, blog, and next Spring, a book) where new parents can find a variety of easy, quick, cheap – and genuinely healthy – recipes to make for their babies. Suitable from 6m onwards, my food is made with simple, real, whole ingredients. Nothing artificial, nothing factory-processed. No salt. No refined grains. No sugar (or sugars in disguise like honey, rice malt syrup, stevia, date syrup, jars of apple sauce and so on). The only things I use to sweeten foods is fresh fruit and occasionally, unsweetened dried whole dates.
I’ve always been passionate about good food and good health. My recipes are inspired by the places I go with my family and the things we eat, whether that’s a wander around our local market (Broadway Market, East London), a city break to a design festival in Barcelona, or flying to a wedding in 40-degree heat with a speed-crawling baby! I mix baby-led-weaning and spoon-feeding. I call it ‘Baby Led Spoon Fed’: soft, spoon-able textures and food that’s grip-able to dip, dunk and explore (often I build both into the same recipe). Why? So parents can make up their own mind about how to serve the meal. A lot of parents I meet see benefits in both methods of feeding, and so do I.
My food is bold and unlike what’s often traditionally thought of as ‘baby food’. There’s scientific evidence suggesting that exposing a baby to a broad repertoire of foods from the start can help the child grow up feeling confident and comfortable with a varied diet, and maybe even help them avoid becoming a fussy eater.
Of course nearly every small child will become really picky about what they eat at one or more points during early childhood, but I’m hoping my daughter will be happy eating all sorts of things as she grows up and starts expressing more and more of an opinion about what she fancies eating (or doesn’t!). On this subject, eating together is a big part of my food philosophy. Babies learn by watching and most find the dinner table a pretty interesting place to hang out. I share a lot of one-pot recipes that a family can throw together, and eat together (just add salt/chilli to your portion…!).
What’s my baby going to be eating this week? The sun is shining, the BBQ is fired up, and there’s loads of interesting fruit and vegetables in season. Here’s a weekend breakfast-brunch, a dinner idea you could easily scale up for a whole-family barbecue, and a magic ‘anytime’ icy treat:
PJ Pancakes are a bit of a tradition in our house. Quick, simple and so tasty, these pancakes work well as soft, grabby slices for a weaning baby to dip and dunk, or as American-style stacks for older kids and adults. I use flours like spelt, rye or buckwheat in my pancakes as I think they perform just as well as refined white flour but bring so much more nutrition to the dish. I make all sorts of different toppings but this time…summery banana and lime nectar. This quick little dish is very clever nutritionally-speaking: protein, great plant fats, a nice blend of fast and slow-release carbohydrate, and a long list of naturally-occurring vitamins and minerals.
WTF DO I DO?
Mash two bananas very smoothly with a fork. Put half in a small bowl and zest half of a fresh lime into the mash using the fine-grating plane of a regular box grater. That’s your dipping nectar sorted.
Now put a flat frying pan/skillet on a high heat while you mix up your batter. Add a couple of teaspoons of coconut oil. It will cover the base of the pan as it melts. Using the rest of your mashed banana as the base of your pancake batter, crack in two eggs and a regular-sized teacup of flour (about 200g; I used buckwheat). Mix well. There are two secrets to great pancakes: cook them quickly in a very hot pan; and don’t overcrowd your pan. Pour small circles of batter into your pan, about 7cm in diameter. I do three per batch. Cook pancakes for 60-90 seconds, then flip and repeat. Cut one in half to ensure it’s thoroughly cooked, then get stacking! Slice a couple into three fat fingers and pile up in front of your baby. Use your nectar for drizzling or dunking, along with a bit of natural yoghurt, if you fancy.
Lamb Kofta Lollipops
A sunshine sharing dish that works whether you’re eating indoors or out, Baby B loves these juicy, aromatic little lamb koftas. Koftas are an age-old sharing dish in families right across the Middle Eastern region. The word comes from an old Persian word meaning ‘to grind’, and everyone thinks their mum/granny does it best. While I was pregnant I fell quite passionately in love with the koftas at the Turkish streetfood truck that rolls into Broadway Market every Saturday afternoon, and started experimenting with making my own. Now we have entire kofta BBQs where the grown-ups have theirs with big feta salads, salty olives and crunchy toasted pittas B and friends have theirs little lollipops with a creamy cucumber yoghurt dunking dip.
Nutritionally this meal provides a lot of excellent protein – in the lamb and the Greek yoghurt (it contains more than regular plain yoghurt). Grated cucumber and finely-diced red onion bring easily-digested fibre, vitamins C, K and B1, plus potassium, phosphorus and magnesium. Cumin adds aromatic depth, and is known to contain phyto-nutrients that have a powerful antioxidant effect. Parsley might seem a bit ordinary but nutritionally it’s anything but. Full of micronutrients, I use it by the bunch in all sorts of dishes.
WTF DO I DO?
Finely dice half a small red onion and throw it into a bowl with a generous handful of minced organic lamb, a squished garlic clove, a teaspoon of ground cumin and six finely chopped leaves of parsley. Mix everything together then with clean hands, form little lollipops around wide wooden lolly sticks or metal teaspoons (you’ll slide the meat off the stick before serving, or allow the spoon to safely cool before serving it as a lollipop). This mixture should yield three or four, depending on size. Lay the lollipops onto a hot BBQ or place into a hot, flat pan that’s been lightly greased with olive oil to prevent sticking. Carefully turn and allow to cook until meat is thoroughly cooked through. While that’s happening, grate an inch or so on cucumber into a couple of tablespoons organic plain Greek yoghurt. Let the meat cool to a safe temperature then either leave on or remove from, the sticks/spoons. Depending on where you are with teeth, serve koftas whole with yoghurt to dunk, or mash a couple of koftas into the yoghurt and serve by spoon.
One-ingredient magic ice cream
As we hum through the mother of heatwaves, my baby gets hot and bothered FAST and needs cooling down FAST. Here’s a sweet little anytime treat. Made in seconds, this soft, creamy treat tastes just like ice cream but has none of the added sugar, preservatives, or chemical sweeteners. It’s lovely served plain and simple…or you can get creative with different flavours. Bananas are the star of the show, bringing potassium, manganese, Vitamins C and B6, fibre, and efficient fast-release carb. If you want to dial up the protein, add a teaspoon of smooth almond butter. If you’d like it to go pink…add a berry. Go tropical with a bit of canned coconut cream and lime zest. Or aromatic with a pinch of cinnamon or nutmeg.
WTF DO I DO?
This recipe takes seconds, but does involve a little plan-ahead. Slice or dice a couple of ripe bananas and put them in a lidded container in the freezer before bed the night before. In the morning, take a couple of handfuls of frozen banana pieces and break them up into your blender with a small splash of water/your baby’s usual milk, plus any additions you like.
The perfect blending duration will vary depending on power of your blender and size of your banana pieces, but the key to success is this: lots of small pulses. I use a NutriBullet and it takes 30-45 seconds of pulsing, max. Pulse your bananas for a second or two at a time, stopping every now and again to open the lid and shake or scrape any unblended pieces towards the blades. All of a sudden you’ll have the kind of beautiful soft-serve peaks that’d make Mr Whippy weep. It melts fast in this heat so have your hot little friend bibbed-up and ready for action!
A Guest Blog from Beth Bentley