The holidays are exciting times to enjoy meals as a family. Your little one shouldn't miss out on the fun, even if they can't safely eat all the same dishes. Here are 11 tips for including baby in holiday meals.
Thanksgiving and the winter holidays are exciting times to enjoy meals together as a family. They're also great opportunities to include your little one in the meal and introduce them to new foods. Your little one shouldn't miss out on the fun, even if they can't safely eat all the same food preparations as the rest of the family. Here are 11 tips for including baby in holiday meals.
1. Serve similar foods to the ones on your plate.
It's best for baby to eat a holiday meal similar to the one their older family members are having, as this exposes them to new foods and includes them in the family's dinner.
As a bonus, since baby sees the rest of your family eating and enjoying similar foods to the ones on their plate, that models the love of those foods!
2. Modify baby's foods for safe eating.
You will need to modify the foods, though, so baby can eat them safely. Adapt the meal to baby's feeding stage – are they eating smooth purees, chunky purees, or doing baby-led weaning and picking up foods? And remove any choking hazards – baby can't have hard or round foods.
Modifying a meal for baby may look like:
- Pureeing turkey or serving it in long, finger-sized pieces for baby-led weaning
- Cooking carrots soft and pureeing them, or cutting the cooked carrots into long, thin strips for baby-led weaning
- Pureeing cooked green beans, or serving them as long pieces for baby-led weaning
- Pureeing or mashing peas
- Serving mashed potatoes or mashed sweet potatoes with no skins
- Creating a no-sugar-added cranberry sauce where the cranberries are mashed
3. Avoid added sugar, salt, and honey.
Babies shouldn't have added sugar, and their salt intake should be kept at a minimum. So watch out for places where sugar and salt usually get added in family meals, and make sure baby's versions of the foods don't have added sugar or salt.
Another food that babies need to stay away from is honey. Honey is not safe for babies under age 1.
If your household is preparing baby's food, you can avoid putting these three ingredients in baby's portion, but if someone else is preparing the meal, ask them about these ingredients.
Some places to watch out for salt, sugar, and honey are:
- Ham (may be salted; also, the glaze often has sugar – and if not, it may contain honey)
- Sweet potatoes (sometimes prepared with sugar)
- Cooked carrots (may be honey-glazed)
- Cranberry sauce (canned cranberry sauce usually has lots of added sugar, so you may be better off bringing your baby some cranberry puree)
4. Spice things up.
Babies can have herbs and spices. In fact, these seasonings help them become more adventurous eaters in the future. So, don't be afraid to sprinkle cinnamon on baby's sweet potato mash, or cook baby's turkey with rosemary.
Herbs and spices are a great way to add flavor without added sugar or salt. It's best to introduce baby to the spices in the family meal before the holiday, though. That way, they've had a chance to get used to these flavors.
5. Bring something familiar.
Baby's still getting familiar with new foods. Just in case baby doesn't like, or refuses, their version of the holiday meal, it's best to bring one of their favorite foods along so they have solids to eat that they enjoy.
6. Plan in advance.
Before the holiday, think through how your baby will enjoy a similar meal to the rest of your family, with the modifications they need, using the tips above.
If you prepare – or your own household prepares – the meal, this may just mean taking the extra time to make baby's portion healthy and safe for them.
But if you're traveling, it's best to talk to the hosting family members about what's being served. Then, you can work with the hosts to determine what baby can eat, or prepare a similar, baby-safe meal to bring.
7. Practice beforehand.
If baby is ready, you might choose to introduce some of the foods you expect to see at the holiday meal beforehand. This way, they're more likely to accept them during the holiday. But that's up to you and baby.
Note: If you plan to feed them solids on the holiday, baby should have experience eating solids before the family meal. A holiday meal with extended family isn't the opportune time for baby to start solids outright, even if they've just started to show signs of readiness.
8. Strategically time other meals.
If you're traveling, you might need to adjust baby's earlier feeding times so they're ready to join, and eat at, the holiday meal. Be sure to adjust for time zone changes!
9. Watch how long food has been out.
The food baby eats shouldn't be sitting out for more than 2 hours at room temperature, or more than an hour if the meal location is hot and humid. Babies are especially prone to foodborne illnesses, so you need to be very careful with this.
10. Keep baby as close as you can.
Move baby's high chair as close to the family table as you can. This way, baby is more included in the family meal and can see everyone else eat while they enjoy their own food. Even if baby isn't hungry at the time, give them a teething toy and keep them close to the rest of the family. Watching others eat will still help them on their food journey as they're exposed to the new foods.
11. Don't sweat the small stuff.
For babies, eating solids is all about getting familiar with new flavors and textures. Breastmilk or formula is still the main nutrition source for babies under a year old, so they'll get the nutrients they need.
If baby doesn't want to eat with family, they may not be hungry at the time. And if they end up needing to eat before the family meal, that's ok too.
Enjoy this new eating experience that baby is having, and focus on the time you both get to spend with family over this meal. It's a time of joy, so let baby experience that joy!
All health-related content on this website is for informational purposes only and does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the advice of your own pediatrician in connection with any questions regarding your baby’s health.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
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