Do you know what the most nutritious store cupboard baby led weaning foods are?

I’ve had lots of questions these last few weeks from worried Mums who were due to start weaning but are now concerned that they won’t be able to access the ingredients they need because of lockdown and so I thought I would put together this post on weaning with store cupboard ingredients to show you that it can be done and to help you through it.

What you need is a selection of food from each of the 5 food groups in order to get you off to a great start.

Here is my list of store cupboard essentials broken down into each of the 5 food groups: 

How to start weaning in lockdown with just store cupboard ingredients by Sarah Almond Bushell - The Children's Nutritionist

1. Fruits and vegetables

If, like me you’re trying to keep supermarket trips to a minimum, your fresh fruit and veg might run out before you next get to the shops, but there’s nothing wrong with using frozen. In fact frozen veg are often more nutritious especially if they’re frozen at source. 

Often fresh fruit and vegetables have sat for a while on the supermarket shelves and then sat again in your fridge and so probably don’t contain the levels of nutrients they originally did when they were picked.

From a food waste point of view, they are fantastic too, because you only need to take out the portion that you’re going to use for your baby’s meal. And at the start this is likely to be tiny!

Another reason why I love them is because often they’re pre-chopped, saving you a little bit of time (butternut squash which always makes my wrist ache).

How to start weaning in lockdown with just store cupboard ingredients by Sarah Almond Bushell the Children's Nutritionist

My favourites frozen veg are: 

  • frozen peas

  • frozen broccoli

  • frozen spinach

  • frozen sweetcorn

  • frozen cauliflower and

  • frozen carrots.

Frozen fruit is great too, my favourites are: 

  • frozen mango

  • frozen strawberries

  • frozen smoothie mixes

  • frozen avocado (yes you can get this!) and 

  • frozen mixed berries.

Don’t forget that fresh veg, like potatoes, keep for a long time outside of the fridge and are worth stocking up on too.

So once you’ve bought them what do you do with them?

  • Defrost, blend and reheat. Either alone or with your baby’s usual milk if they are a little too thick or stir in a little baby rice if they are a little too thin. 

It is really important to make sure that the puree is piping hot, before allowing it to cool, to serve to your baby, from a food safety point of view.

  • As Finger food. Florets of broccoli, single green beans, cauliflower florets and fingers of cooked carrots are perfect first finger foods. Just defrost and reheat.

  • Add to meals. Once you’re a few weeks into weaning and your baby has tried lots of single vegetables, do try combining these to make new flavour combinations.

  • In porridge. Another favourite of mine for weaning. Frozen berries in particular make a fabulous topping for porridge or overnight oats. See my blog on Baby Porridge and Overnight Oats for 20 different sweet and savoury ideas.

Tinned fruit and veg are fine too but make sure they are canned without brine or syrup. 

2. Proteins

Tinned or dried pulses are fantastic first protein foods. These include lentils, chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans and in fact all types of beans. 

These make excellent baby weaning foods that are rich in iron as well as protein. Iron is one of the critical nutrients that I talk about a lot, because it’s unfortunately one of the most common nutritional deficiencies that we see in babies. 

How to start weaning in lockdown with just store cupboard ingredients by Sarah Almond Bushell - The Children's Nutritionist

This is because the requirement for iron is actually quite high during the second six months of their life. It’s responsible for growth including brain growth and development and not getting enough can actually affect your little ones intellect!

Pulses also provide a little bit of texture when you’re moving from smooth purees onto something a little bit more challenging and in fact this mini change in texture is really important to help them progress through weaning, essentially its part of learning how to eat.

Tinned or dried pulses will keep in your store cupboard for months (or even years) before reaching the best before date.

If you buy dried pulses you will need to soak them overnight in order for them to be edible.

So once you’ve bought them what do you do with them?

  • Blend them to make different versions of houmous, or if you’re a little further on in weaning just mash with a potato masher instead.

  • Add them to dishes. They are wonderful with sauces and often pick up the flavour of any herbs and spices that you’ve used. Think baby’s first chilli or lentil bolognese.

  • Mash and roll into balls to make fantastic finger foods like falafel.

How to start weaning in lockdown with just store cupboard ingredients by Sarah Almond Bushell - The Children's Nutritionist

Tinned and frozen fish are another fantastic source of protein and tinned fish keeps for ages. Buy tinned salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines. 

Look for those tinned in spring water rather than brine as this is a little too salty for your baby at the moment. 

Frozen fish is another great alternative, but do avoid processed breaded ones like fish fingers, they’re not ready for those till your little one is a toddler.

Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines provide another of the critical nutrients that babies need. You may have heard of omega-3 or DHA and EPA. This is what omega 3 fats are made up of.

You also get a whole host of other nutrients including iron, iodine and even calcium if you have fish with small edible bones. Care does need to be taken though, to make sure that the bones are very small and mashed into the fish because they can present a choking hazard to young babies.  

Because of the high levels of mercury found in oily fish and tuna, there is a restriction recommended on the amount of fish that babies eat. Limit your little one to 2 portions per week to be on the safe side.

So once you’ve bought them what do you do with them?

  • Some of my favourite ways to serve fish are actually very simple. For babies just learning to eat, simply flake and pop onto the highchair tray. These are a fantastic first finger food option.

  • For purees you can blend fish with some Greek yoghurt and any of your frozen vegetables to make an amazing taste combination. Frozen avocado works particularly well with salmon.

  • Fishcakes are also fantastic, particularly as a first finger food. You can make them into flat discs or you can make them into round balls by mixing flaked tinned fish into mashed potato. 

  • And finally they make a great sandwich filling,. Once you are a month or so into weaning, you will probably discover sandwiches make a fantastic quick and easy option for meals that your little one can self feed.

How to start weaning in lockdown with just store cupboard ingredients by Sarah Almond Bushell - The Children's Nutritionist

Eggs

If I could choose one food that I could call superfood, I think it would be eggs. Not only do they contain loads of nutrients (including the two critical nutrients, iron and omega-3, if you buy enriched eggs), they also allow you to give your baby lots of different textures, in order to help them developmentally progress through the stages of weaning. 

They are also relatively cheap compared to other sources of protein.

As with other protein foods, eggs are an allergen so when you offer them for the first time, only serve them with foods your baby has already had and then wait a couple of days to spot if they have had a reaction.

So once you’ve bought them what do you do with them?

  • My favourite ways to serve eggs is as an omelette cut into strips or scrambled with a little of your baby’s usual milk. 

  • Scrambled and served with toast and some of that frozen avocado as a quick meal. 

  • Omelettes are fantastic and you can add a range of additional ingredients to enhance to expose your baby to new flavour combinations. Vegetables like spinach and proteins like cheese work particularly well. 

  • You can also make pancakes just by mashing together banana and an egg and frying in a pan or if you want something a little more authentic you can try my pancake recipe here. 

  • And last but not least dippy eggs. Red Lion stamped Eggs are perfect for older babies because eating eggs and soldiers helps them practice their hand eye coordination.

How to start weaning in lockdown with just store cupboard ingredients by Sarah Almond Bushell - The Children's Nutritionist

Nuts and nut butters are a fantastic nutrient rich food for babies and again they are also one of the allergens. 

Research has shown that introducing peanuts in particular at the start of weaning is actually a good thing as it may have a protective effect against developing future food allergies. 

However as with egg and other allergen foods, it is worth only offering peanuts in combination with food your baby has already had and waiting a couple of days to see if they react. 

You need to do the same with other nuts like almond, cashew etc.

Whole nuts are a choking risk but you can grind them down and use them as an ingredient in dishes or often the easiest way to offer nuts is as a nut butter. Bamba is a puffed peanut snack and can be a good way of exposing your little one to peanuts early.

My advice is to choose smooth nut butters particularly for young babies to avoid any nasty surprises when they find a chunk (mixed textures are really tricky to manage). 

Also look for nut butters that are 100% nuts. I like Meridian for this very reason because there are no sugars, salt or additional preservatives added and is relatively cheap particularly if you buy the big tubs. 

Nuts give you loads of nutrients. They’re a protein food and they also contain healthy fats and there is a whole host of micro nutrients, including that critical nutrient iron again. And actually nut butters spread on toast make a really great nutritious quick lunch for busy Mums too.

So once you’ve bought them what do you do with them?

  • The best way to serve nuts at the start of weaning is by mixing them with other foods. For example I’d suggest mixing nut butter with some natural yoghurt to thin them down a little, as on their own they can be a bit thick and pose a choking risk. 

  • You can also make a fantastic smoothie by whizzing up a teaspoon of nut butter, yoghurt and some frozen berries. You can even freeze into a popsicle!

  • Stir a spoonful into your babies porridge in the mornings.

  • Spread some on toast. The heat of the toast will melt the butter making it a little thinner and easier for them to eat. Top tip: use wholemeal bread at the start of weaning because this is a much easier texture for your baby to manage. 

Nut butters also make an excellent handle for slippery foods. For example foods like frozen avocado can be really difficult for your little one to pick up after it’s defrosted because it’s so slippery. Rolling a stick of avocado in nut butter will help them get a better grip.

3. Dairy foods

Yoghurt is one of the best first foods to offer as soon as you’ve gone through the first tastes of vegetables and your baby is older than six months. As with all dairy foods, don’t offer them before 26 weeks.

You can freeze yoghurt and so I suggest buying it in bulk and freezing ahead to keep your supermarket trips to a minimum. 

Yoghurt is a protein food and also an excellent source of calcium and using full fat yoghurt means you’re going to get some extra energy for your little one too which is really important for their rapid growth during the second 6 months of life. 

I really like yoghurt because it provides a great base for introducing new flavours. For example, strong flavoured foods like spinach are much milder when pureed with yoghurt.

Make sure you buy natural yoghurt and Greek yoghurt as from a nutrition perspective, it is even better because it is higher in protein. 

Lots of the kids yoghurts you see on the supermarket shelves contain added sugar and so are best avoided until your little one is older. 

You can buy some children’s yoghurts that are sweetened with fruit however you can just do this yourself with some frozen fruit purees and save yourself some cash.

How to start weaning in lockdown with just store cupboard ingredients by Sarah Almond Bushell - the Children's Nutritionist

So once you’ve bought them what do you do with them?

  • Make a smoothie

  • Stir into your babies porridge 

  • Combine with frozen fruit purees for a fab dessert

  • Mix with peanut butter (as described above)

  • Mix with savoury foods like spinach for a first meal combo.

Meat. The other food that falls into the protein group is meat. Tinned meat doesn’t fare well when it comes to weaning babies as it’s often very high in salt. However if you can get fresh chicken or minced beef or braising steak, it’s worth stocking up and popping them in your freezer because they keep for up to 3 months and can be used to make some amazing first weaning meals.

4. Starchy Carbohydrates

This includes all your store cupboard staples like pasta, rice, noodles, couscous, breakfast cereals and flour. 

Choose both white and wholegrain versions. Wholegrain will provide extra fibre for your baby as well as B vitamins, Iron, Zinc and lots of other minerals, whereas white versions often don’t.

There’s a myth going round that babies and toddlers shouldn’t have fibre, but this isn’t true. By their 2nd birthday they should be having 15g fibre per day which is actually half of the adult requirement.

So once you’ve bought them what do you do with them?

  • Mini pasta shells are great for older babies who are just learning about lumps. A quick and easy dinner is a simple bolognese, you can see my baby bolognese recipe here.

  • Risotto is great too, just simmer arborio rice with low salt stock and flavour with whatever you fancy. 

  • And there’s nothing wrong with a good old bowl of breakfast cereal. Choose unsweetened ones are check that they are fortified with vitamins and iron. They are actually a bit of a ‘superfood’.

  • Long grain rice or couscous makes for a fab salad with some of those frozen veggies defrosted and add some canned pulses like black eyed beans for a really nutritious meal.

  • If you can’t get hold of your usual flour, you can make use of the alternative flours such as rice flour, soya flour and coconut flour to create your dishes. Have a look at this blog
    I was featured in for Yahoo! Style for inspiration.

5. Fats and oils

So the last of the 5 food groups are fats and oils and include butter or margarine and cooking oils.

The healthiest ones are rapeseed and olive oil to use these wherever you can. And in terms of a spread, the olive based spreads are good too. People worry about trans fats or hydrogenated fats in margarines but in the UK our margarines don’t have these added.

Half of the energy your baby needs comes from fat, so don’t be afraid to use them in cooking.

So there you have it, my top tips for store cupboard weaning during lockdown – see it can be done!

And if you’d like a handy shopping list to take to the supermarket with you you can have my suggestions delivered straight to your inbox. Just fill in the form below.

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