MAKING A MEAL OUT OF IT

07:31 Hayley Brockie-Dunlop 0 Comments

COOKING FOR BABIES WHEN YOU CAN'T STAND COOKING

Chilli-ish con carne

Remember that daytime TV programme, 'Can't Cook, Won't Cook'? It suggested people avoided the kitchen for one of these two reasons only. Well I've discovered that there is a third category: HATE COOK.

I really dislike cooking. There, I said it. I can cook, I do cook (because I have to) but I really don't enjoy it at all. I find it boring, messy, and it involves way too much standing up for my liking. Yet despite my disdain for cooking, these days I seem to spend most of my day either planning it, buying stuff for it, doing it, feeding the results of it to Elliott (or myself), and tidying up after it.

I've written previously about how weaning was a stress point in my motherhood journey so far, and a few months down the line nothing really changed, and it's still the thing I've struggled with the most. We kind of found a rhythm, doing a big batch cook on the weekends and feeding the results to Elliott throughout the following week, but one afternoon I made the mistake of reading the "stage three" chapter of Annabel Karmel's baby and toddler meal planner book. It seemed to suggest my baby should be eating full-on meals by now, with freshly prepared pancakes for breakfast, lovingly crafted fish lollipops for lunch and a roast dinner with all the trimmings for tea.

Suddenly I felt stupid for still having bags of vegetable puree cubes in the freezer and for continuing to spoon-feed 75% of his food. I have to be honest, I had a bit of a moment. The moment was enhanced by my attempt that evening to bake a batch of vegetable muffins which went horribly wrong and ended up looking - and tasting - like baked, burnt vomit.

I'm well aware that there are loads of great websites and recipe books out there with some lovely meal ideas, but they all seem to presume that the person reading them enjoys cooking and baking. Not enjoying these things feels strangely risqué, especially as a "mother". But just because I now have a dependant doesn't mean I'm going to suddenly enjoy something that I've always found to be a chore.

Thankfully my wobbles over weaning have now mostly passed and I'm much more relaxed about what I feed Elliott. That's not to say I've suddenly begun to enjoy cooking, but I took a step back and realised that he does have a nutritious and varied diet, even though I do take lots of shortcuts when it comes to cooking from scratch. He also has a massive appetite and is generally a brilliant eater, and for that I'm really thankful. I also realised that just because the food I prepare for him doesn't necessarily exist as a traditional recipe, or have a name attached to it, it is still a proper "meal".

More often than not Elliott eats what my husband and I ate the night before, and by cooking just a little bit extra, minus the salt (and most of the chilli...), and putting it in the fridge overnight, the following day's meals are pretty straightforward to prepare. The current development is his wholehearted, raspberry-blowing rejection of any kind of attempt to spoon-feed him, so onto the highchair tray the food now goes. I can't even begin to describe the mess...

If you're also in the "I want my baby to eat well but without the faff" camp, here are some tricks and shortcuts I've learnt along the way that you may also find useful:

Cheese
Grated cheese is a quick and simple finger food for babies, and something they can get stuck into while you prepare the remainder of the meal. It does have a bit of salt in it, but a little cheese goes a long way and it's nice and nutritious.

Cream cheese
A dollop of full fat cream cheese is a great way to add a twist (and important calories!) to any bowl of mushed food, with the added bonus that it also cools down something that has been in the microwave for too long. Which, in my case, happens often.

Baby rice
This seems to be unpopular among some circles but in the earlier stages of weaning I actually found it really handy as a puree thickener or just to bulk up a puree if I was concerned it wouldn't be filling enough.

Full fat natural yoghurt
Baby yoghurts are all well and good, but my son loves plain natural or Greek yoghurt just as much. You can stir fruit puree into it for a bit of sweetness if you prefer. It's also good dolloped on top of meals for some creaminess. And has the same cooling benefits as cream cheese. Multiple uses!

Sweet potatoes
Most babies love them, but to save peeling and chopping before cooking, I just whack a couple of washed ones in the oven (skin pricked) for around 40 minutes whenever I'm using the oven for something else. You can keep them in the fridge for a couple of days in their skins and scoop out the soft flesh as and when needed.

Potatoes
As above really!

Frozen peas
Unlike other frozen veg, peas can be re-frozen once cooked. They make great finger food to help with pincer development and babies love the naturally sweet flavour. For a quick and easy puree in the early stages of weaning you can whizz up some cooked peas with a tin of unsalted sweetcorn and a bit of butter. It tastes lush.

Weetabix
Weetabix, whole milk and mashed banana warmed up in the microwave and all mushed together is a really simple and nutritious breakfast. Babies like it, too. Arf.

Chicken
We've got into the semi-regular habit of slow-cooking a chicken on a Sunday (bung a whole chicken in a slow cooker smeared in unsalted butter with some chopped carrots and onions dotted around on low for about six hours) and then using the juicy meat in meals - for us and Elliott - over the next couple of days. If you want to go the whole hog you could even create a baby-friendly chicken stock from the liquid leftover in the slow cooker. Or you could just buy these stock cubes from Boots.

Salmon
If you've had salmon the night before, save a chunk of it in the fridge overnight and flake it up as part of your baby's lunch or tea the next day.

Balls
I kind of stumbled across the realisation that if you combine a load of ingredients you have lying around in a bowl and roll into balls it's a simple way to enable your baby to feed themselves with slightly less mess. A quick example: If you're having rice with your own tea that night, cook a bit more than normal and prepare it a bit early. Mash in a few teaspoons of cooked rice with the flesh of half a cooked sweet potato, flaked salmon (from a tin is fine, but watch out for boney bits - they're fine to eat but maybe not for a young baby), some herbs if you're feeling fancy, and any other cooked veg bits you might have leftover from your meal the night before. Heat the mixture briefly in the microwave and roll into grabbable balls for a yummy meal they can feed themselves. This would work equally well with any other meat or fish, and I guess frying the balls off in a bit of unsalted butter might make them even tastier if you can be arsed. If your baby doesn't eat them invite your mum friends round and serve them as canapes.

Do you have any lazy arse "recipes" to share? Please do!

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