Wednesday, 21 March 2018
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Summer 2017

Spoon-feeding versus baby-led? Purees versus solids? It’s still a hot topic in the weaning debate but when it becomes time to start introducing new foods into baby’s diet, dietitian and nutrition expert Vanessa Clarkson says don’t panic!

Arguing against the traditional method of spoon-feeding, Vanessa points out that in the first year of life, baby is still very much reliant on breast milk or infant formula which means there is no immediate gap in their nutritional requirements that suddenly needs plugging.

She comments, “The more opportunity you can give a baby to practice the skills needed for self-feeding, the quicker they will get a handle on them and perhaps, most importantly, one of the key benefits of baby-led weaning is that it encourages babies to tune-in to their own feelings of hunger and fullness. Babies and young children have very good appetite monitors and these can very quickly be overridden if someone else is deciding how much should be eaten.”

Vanessa urges parents to have faith that your little one will eat if they are hungry and instead to focus attention on your role in being patient and providing them with appropriate options that are tasty as well as nourishing. And as baby grows into the toddler stages, be reassured that it is a completely normal part of development in the early years for children to suddenly develop a dislike of food/s that they previously ate with abandon.

She adds, “In the first couple of years of life, the theory goes that this is probably a leftover survival mechanism from a time when newly-mobile toddlers might inadvertently eat foods that were dangerous. Fussiness around food is completely normal and care-givers must be persistent in offering rejected foods, as tedious as it may become. We learn to like foods by being repeatedly exposed to them and it can take many many tries to instil a liking for something. My best tip is to try offering the food in different formats, so for example with carrot you could try raw and cooked, grated, sliced, spiralized, and so on. Don’t give up and be positive with even the smallest of wins. If by the time they’re ten, you find yourself still putting thimblefuls of grated carrot into their frittata, then maybe take a step back and reassess – there’s not a single nutrient in carrots than you can’t get elsewhere in the diet. But while they’re little, keep going.”


Fragrant Chicken Broth with Broccoli and Noodles
Makes 4 adult portions or 8 baby portions
Preparation time 15 minutes
Cooking time 20 minutes
DIETARY INFO Dairy-free/gluten-free option (use gluten-free noodles) & nut-free


1 tablespoon coconut oil
2 large organic free-range skinless chicken breast fillets (about 500 g/1 lb 2oz), sliced
5 spring onions (scallions), finely chopped
½ mild green chilli, seeded and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 x 2 cm (3/4 inch) piece of fresh root ginger), peeled and crushed
2 litres (70 fl oz/8 cups) chicken stock or 1 litre (35 fl oz/4 cups) chicken stock and 1 litre (35 fl oz/4 cups) unsweetened coconut water
½ lemongrass stem, woody end bashed with a rolling pin
360 g (123/4 oz/6 cups) broccoli florets
2 tablespoons kuzu, crushed (optional; see note)
180 g (6 oz) wholemeal (whole-wheat) ramen noodles
1 large handful coriander leaves, roughly chopped


Melt the coconut oil in a large, wide-based saucepan or wok, and fry the chicken breast, spring onion, chilli, garlic and ginger for 5 minutes until the chicken is white on all sides and the spring onions have softened.

Add the stock, lemongrass and broccoli, bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, dissolve the kuzu, if using, in 60 ml (2 fl oz/¼ cup) cold water, then pour into the pan. Add the noodles and coriander, and simmer for a further 5 minutes.
Remove the lemongrass stem before serving.

NB for little ones: Strain the liquid for quicker cooling of the broccoli, chicken and noodles. Finely chop the coriander if you’re serving to a toothless one. Depending on their ability, you could get them to slurp the broth from a cup, or support the spoon as they bring this to their mouth.


Makes 12–16 scones
Preparation time 15 minutes
Cooking time 20 minutes
DIETARY INFO Nut-free & Vegetarian


200 g (7 oz/1¹⁄³ cups) wholemeal (whole-grain) spelt flour
100 g (3½ oz/²⁄³ cup) unbleached white spelt flour
2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
90 g (3¼ oz) unsalted butter softened
60 g (2¼ oz/½ cup) oatmeal
1 ripe banana
1 egg
grated zest and juice of 2 unwaxed lemons (remove pips)
150 g (5½ oz) plain yoghurt
100 g (3½ oz/²⁄³ cup) fresh or frozen blueberries


Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F). Line a baking tray with baking paper. Sift the flours and bicarbonate of soda into a large bowl. Use your fingers to break up the butter, and rub it in until you have a texture like very fine breadcrumbs. Add the oatmeal, and mix together until it’s evenly distributed. Mash the banana with a fork, and stir into the dry ingredients.

In a separate bowl, beat together the egg and lemon juice. Decant a quarter of this into a small bowl, add the lemon zest and whisk to make the glaze. Set aside.

Add the yoghurt to the remaining egg mixture, and beat well until combined. Add this to the flour-banana mixture, and bring together with a spoon or your hands until you have a soft dough. Turn out onto the prepared baking tray, and gently press until it is about 2 cm (¾ inch) thick. Spread the blueberries on top, and carefully press them in, so that just the very tops are peeping out.

Use a pastry brush to glaze the top of the scone with the egg glaze. Use all of this, even if it looks quite wet. Bake for 20 minutes until golden brown on top.

Slide the scone onto a chopping board using a palette knife, and carefully cut into 12–16 fingers while still hot. Transfer to a wire rack, and leave to cool for about 10 minutes. Serve while still warm.

NB for little ones: Ensure the blueberries have cooled before serving.

Note: Kuzu (or kudzu) is a Japanese root used in its powdered form as a thickening agent for many dishes. It’s gluten-free and lacks the starchy taste of other thickening agents.

Follow Vanessa @vanessaclarkson on Instagram

Real Food for Babies & Toddlers by Vanessa Clarkson is published by Murdoch Books RRP £14.99

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