Yes, you can…and in fact you should!
There are so many seasonal foods at this time of year that are perfect for babies even those at the start of their weaning journey, so there is no reason why your baby can’t join you at the festival table.
Christmas dinner is one meal that is almost always eaten together as a family and this is the ideal learning opportunity for your baby, not only to watch you eating and learn how but to see the fun and festivities that social eating occasions bring, which will influence their eating habits for the future.
At the start of weaning
If you’re at the very start of weaning winter vegetables are perfect. We know from the research that by offering bitter vegetables early in weaning babies are more likely to continue eating these well into their childhood. They can help prevent fussy eating!
The humble Brussels sprout has a starring role here, but broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and green beans are fab too. If you are baby-led weaning just present well-cooked veggies in stick shapes to your baby, and if traditional weaning is your method you can puree any or all of these with a little of your baby’s usual milk. If they go too runny simply thicken up with a bit of baby rice.
Other Christmas veggies are perfect too. Parsnips, carrots, and swede are all traditional Christmas dinner veggies and are a little sweeter so if your baby has had her first taste of those bitter veg, go with these too.
Once weaning is established
It’s absolutely fine to add a little bit of (almost) everything to your baby’s Christmas dinner plate. At this stage veggies alone aren’t going to fill your little one up and so you will want to give her some of the potatoes and turkey too. You can even add a bit of cranberry sauce too!
The dark turkey meat is an excellent source of iron and contains a little more fat too and so will keep your baby feeling fuller for longer.
It’s best to avoid gravy as this is very high in salt however you are making up a Christmas dinner puree, you can thin it down using low salt baby stock or a little of their usual milk.
If you are baby-led weaning, just present a little bit of everything, making sure it’s soft enough for them to manage. And by the way, bread sauce makes an excellent dip!
Do I need to cook my baby’s Christmas dinner separately?
Don’t make what’s already a busy day even more complicated, you really don’t need to cook your baby’s food separately, they can have all the same herbs and spices and oils and butter that you usually cook with. Just take out their portion from your roasting tin before you add any salt. You also need to remember to avoid drizzling honey over your parsnips as babies shouldn’t have honey till they’re over 1.
Foods to avoid
Avoid the gravy for babies under 1 unless you are making gravy from scratch using meat juices, cornflour and some low salt stock.
Stuffing is usually salty too and so a little taste is fine but don’t be tempted to give more than that.
I’d also advise avoiding pigs in blankets (sausages wrapped in bacon) as both are processed meats which will contain too much salt for under 1’s to handle.
Honey needs to be avoided until 1 year of age due to the risk of food poisoning, so avoid honey roast parsnips and carrots.
What about the Christmas pudding?
When it comes to dessert, a spoonful of Christmas pudding isn’t going to do any harm. Ok yes, it does contain sugar but I’m a great believer that the experience of trying new food is really very important. Exposure to different tastes and flavours during weaning is crucial and Christmas pudding is one of a kind.
Sugar itself is a simple carbohydrate and isn’t a problem as long as your baby doesn’t have too much of it. The general advice is to avoid sweetened foods until after their first birthday for fear that they will develop a preference for sweet-tasting foods over savoury foods. Babies sweet taste buds are very mature and so sweet foods are always preferred.
If your baby has purees you can blend Christmas pudding with a little milk or cream or offer it as finger food. The dried fruit in Christmas pudding is another source of iron and good for fibre too which can help your baby’s poo too!
Chocolates or sweets, however, are a definite no for little ones, even if this is considered ‘just a treat’ or a ‘one-off’ for Christmas, chocolate contains caffeine, something that babies can’t handle, they don’t have any other useful nutrients and will leave your baby wanting more and encourage that ‘sweet tooth’.
Encouraging a healthy relationship with food
Sharing meals with your baby, eating the same (or very similar) food as you is really helpful too. Babies learn how to eat, and what to eat, by copying the people they trust most which will be mum and dad. We know that children who rarely share meals with their parents tend to be fussier and eat a much smaller range of foods than children who have regular family mealtimes, so make Christmas an opportunity to share a family meal and show your baby how it’s done.
What about leftovers?
And on Boxing Day, you can do it all again with leftovers.
Just make sure to reheat everything till piping hot then allow it to cool before serving to your baby as this reduces the risk of any unwanted food poisoning bacteria that may have gathered overnight.
My Top tips for Christmas day.
Pull their highchair up to the festive table so they can see all the different serving dishes, smell all the different smells and watch and interact with others around the table.
Try and stick to nap times, easier said than done if you are visiting family and friends, but a well-timed drive around the block and nap in their car seat can be the difference between a happy baby and a grouchy one.
Christmas can be sensory overwhelming, think of all the Christmassy smells, music, lights, tinsel and noise especially if you have a houseful of visitors, it can lead to sensory overload so do try and pace your festivities allowing for some calm, quiet time in between.
Take lots of photos and movies of the day. I have (an almost) 13-year-old and a 10-year-old and we love looking back at their first Christmases in the lead up to the festive season!
Sarah Almond Bushell MPhil, BSc (Hons) RD MBDA – Registered Dietitian & Children’s Nutritionist