Q&A with food writer Nikki Duffy

Nikki DuffyWhat's the best way to get iron into your toddler's diet? How can you deal with a grumpy baby at mealtimes? Can you (and should you) disguise vegetables as toast? In May 2011, we put your weaning and food questions to Nikki Duffy, author of River Cottage Baby and Toddler Cookbook.

Nikki has been deputy editor of Waitrose Food Illustrated, a weekly food columnist in the Guardian, River Cottage food editor and is now a freelance food writer. 

River Cottage Baby and Toddler Cookbook | Weaning | Toddlers | Finger foods | Fussy eaters | Other

 

River Cottage Baby and Toddler Cookbook

Q. Lavitabellissima:  Which recipe in your book is your personal favourite? And what is the most unusual or unexpected recipe in the book? My Italian sister-in-law swears by horsemeat for iron in a toddler's diet, but I refuse to eat it and definitely won't be making it for the girls. 

A. Nikki: It's so hard to say which is my personal favourite. I'm very fond of the veg soups - particularly the carrot and lentil, and the rooty one - because my children, who are not veg-lovers, will lap them up. I love the lamb curry, which is mild enough for a toddler to try, and the frittata and the egg parcels because both are so versatile and can be used with all sorts of veg. I also really the baked apples and peaches- they're so simple and I love the way you can easily crush either to a pureé if you want to.
River Cottage Baby and Toddler Cookbook

As for unusual and unexpected? Well, I'm not sure - the Brussels sprout gratin? The fish pizza? Maybe some people wouldn't expect chocolate cookies in a book like this, either - but they're a symbol of my belief that nothing should be banned and that homemade sweet things can be part of a balanced and delicious family diet.

Q. BellaBearisWideAwake: I love the River Cottage family book. How much does this recipe book rely on pureés? Is it baby-led weaning friendly?

A. Nikki: It was very important to me that I present a balanced view on both traditional spoon-feeding and baby-led weaning (BLW) techniques - different things work for different people - so both are covered. There is section of purée recipes in the book, but lots of BLW-friendly ideas too. The emphasis is very much on food for the whole family, so I've tried to present purées that anyone can enjoy, even grown-ups (the plum purée is one of my favourites), as well as non-puréed food that small fingers can get to grips with too.

As it happens, I even think purées can be part of a BLW approach: toast or breadsticks dipped into a purée can be a great way to introduce fruit and veg flavours to your child and there's a lovely pic of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's baby daughter sampling pea purée in exactly this way in the book.

Q. jumpingjojo: I'm looking forward to picking up a copy of your book and I'm wondering if you cook from it yourself ? Are many of your recipes cookable in under an hour? Also, I have dairy and egg allergies to contend with in my family - will I find suitable recipes in your book, or at least some that I can use substitutes for?

A. Nikki: I certainly do cook from it myself. This evening, for instance, I shall be making the pork and apple hash for tea. There are lots of quick recipes - I'd say most of them are under an hour, and many under 30 minutes, certainly in terms of hands-on work time.

I'm very aware that many parents of young children struggle with allergy problems, and you will find egg-free and dairy-free recipes. There's an egg-free and dairy-free fruit cake, for example, and I don't put egg in my burgers or fishcakes (you can just coat these in flour for frying, rather than egging and breadcrumbing them). Many of the recipes with dairy products can be easily adapted.

Q. thisonehasalittlecar: I am interested to know where you turned for nutritional advice and guidelines for this book, as I think there is a lot of conflicting or misleading advice around. For instance, what about the dubious "Is your baby getting enough iron?" formula ads on TV, as well as the BLW vs puréeing debate, and guidelines on when to start weaning or steps to prevent allergy changing repeatedly?

"I think you just have to try and arm yourself with up-to-date information from reliable, neutral sources, then trust your own instincts."

A. Nikki: Throughout the writing of the book, I worked closely with a wonderful paediatric dietitian, Frances Robson. She's bang up to date on the latest research on children's diets and she really helped me to anchor the book with plenty of sound nutritional information. I also spoke to various other experts, and bodies such as the Food Standards Agency.

You're quite right: there is a lot of conflicting and confusing advice around. This is partly because some parties have an agenda and it's partly because things can be reported in the media in a lopsided way. But it's also because research around things such as allergies is happening all the time and so what we know is constantly changing. As a parent, I think you just have to try and arm yourself with up-to-date information from reliable, neutral sources, then trust your own instincts.

Q. CMOTdibbler: I'm interested as to why you thought there was a need for a specific baby and toddler cook book, rather than a family cookbook with low-salt recipes. After weaning, there's another 17 years of feeding your children, and if you can get them to develop healthy eating habits young, when they're more open to it (ie when weaning), then you could make a permanent change for the better. By only cooking healthily for the baby, and not making changes for the rest of the family, then surely the baby will move on to unhealthy food too.

A. Nikki: I couldn't agree more. My book is based entirely on the premise that there should be no sharp distinctions between 'baby food' and 'grown-up' food. The recipes - even the purées - are designed for the whole family to enjoy, and there are notes on each recipe suggesting how it can be tweaked to make it more baby-friendly, or adapted as your child grows older.

Adding salt is entirely at the reader's discretion. I completely concur that we should be eating together as families - from the very earliest stages of weaning - and that's what the book aims to encourage.
 

Weaning

Q. CharlotteBronteSaurus: I'm a couple of weeks into weaning my youngest daughter. Her older sister was amazingly easy to wean, so I didn't really look at much of the literature.
My youngest (6.5 months), however, is very grumpy at mealtimes and grumbles throughout. We're fairly certain she's ready to wean (she eats a good amount), and we're trying to offer a variety of foods, but she remains shouty throughout the meal regardless. I would be grateful to hear any ideas on making meals less stressful for us all.

A. Nikki: Mealtime stress is very disheartening - believe me, I know! It's great that you're all eating together though. I wonder what it is that's making your little girl grumpy at mealtimes? Are you spoon-feeding her, or letting her feed herself? If she's not getting much chance to play with her food and experiment with feeding herself, perhaps that would be something to try - she will probably enjoy being in control.

Could she be physically uncomfortable? Is she in a high chair or sat on your lap? It's also the case that mealtimes can actually be quite hard work for a young baby. If she's tired, she might just find it all a bit much, in which case, you could try changing the timing of the meal. And actually, if she's very hungry, that could be making it difficult for her, too.

At this early stage, eating solids is more about experimentation and sampling new flavours, rather than racking up lots of calories. Most expert recommend giving a milk feed a little while before a solids meal in the early stages of weaning, so your baby is not too hungry.

Without knowing more about your situation, it's hard to know what to suggest, but working through a checklist of possible causes of grumpiness is one way to start. My general suggestion would be to relax and follow her lead - if you find something that makes her happier, go with it, even if it means she misses a few meals, or eats less solid food for a while.

 

Toddlers

Q. mylovelymonster: I would love to have some pointers as to how to make sure that my children have enough iron in their diet. Do I need to start cooking liver? I don't think they'd go for that, though. Also, does the book deal with growing your own food? Are there suggestions for simple-to-grow veggies that are super-packed with vitamins? What about healthier recipes for treats like cakes and biscuits, and ice-lollies for the summer? Finally, what about interesting and child-friendly ways to cook with pulses?

"Babies' kidneys simply cannot cope with very much salt so it's important to keep it very low. Between six and 12 months, they should have no more than 1g a day. In practice, this means not adding any salt to food for your baby and being careful with foods that already contain it."

A. Nikki: Meat, poultry and oily fish are the richest and most easily absorbed sources of iron - and there are plenty of recipes for those in the book. Try mackerel with onions and potatoes - it's scrummy. Liver's good too, as you obviously know, and I do have a chicken liver paté recipe, which is so worth a try (I'll be honest, I'm not a big fan of liver, but I happily eat this). Small children shouldn't have too much liver though, as it's very high in vitamin A.

Pulses, green leafy veg, eggs and dried fruit are also useful sources of iron, though the iron from these is less easily absorbed - but if you combine them in a meal with vitamin C-rich foods (pretty much any fruit or veg, really), it will help absorption. In short, there are many different sources of iron you can include in your child's diet.

When it comes to pulses, there are plenty of ideas in the book. I really like cooking with red lentils as these cook down so readily to a lovely soft texture and are so easy to include in soups and purees - even just a handful in a homemade veggie soup will really boost its nutritional content. I've got a red lentil and spinach recipe too, which is yummy.

There's a creamy white bean houmous recipe, which is great as a dip for veggies or pitta bread - and a chickpea falafel. I also put whole chickpeas and beans in mild curries and stews - do watch out with these if you're feeding a small baby though, as they are potentially a choking risk.

I have a few pudding and cake recipes in the book. I don't have a problem with offering my kids sweet dishes like this from time to time - and I try to present them as a normal part of the diet, not 'treats'. I do want to make sure there are lots of good things in these recipes, though: not just sugar but fruit, oats, yogurt, nuts, etc. Where I've included sweet recipes, I've always kept the sugar as low as I can, while still keeping the recipe tasting good.

Homemade fruit lollies are a great idea: just make a fruit purée (lots of recipes for these in the book) and freeze it. Maybe add a little sugar to the purée, depending on the fruit, as frozen things always taste less sweet. You can buy really good little lolly moulds from sources such as Lakeland. A purée is better than fruit juice, as you get the goodness of all the fruit, not just the liquid part of it.

I'm afraid I didn't have space to include info on actually growing your own fruit and veg, though I know this is a fantastic way to introduce your children to lots of healthy stuff. Off the top of my head, I'd recommend growing peas as most children just love picking them straight from the pod and you don't need a lot of space because the plants grow upwards. Tomatoes also - you can even grow these in hanging baskets. If you have got a little bit of space, pumpkins and squashes are great too - they look amazing, they're so delicious and versatile and, to quote River Cottage head gardener Mark Diacono, they're "very hard to mess up"!

Q. MrsSpa: I am planning to start weaning my baby in about a month, and hope to fairly quickly reach the point where she is eating the same as us. I want to know how cautious I need to be about salt? I usually use stocks, bovril, gravy powders, and so on in my cooking - is it OK to use a little, assuming that the amount of salt that will get into her portion is small enough for her to cope with? What about products that contain salt, like baked beans, tomato ketchup, margarine?

A. Nikki: I think you're wise to ask this question. Babies' kidneys simply cannot cope with very much salt so it's important to keep it very low. Between six and 12 months, they should have no more than 1g a day. In practice, this means not adding any salt to food for your baby and being careful with foods that already contain it. That doesn't mean you have to outlaw salt altogether: cheese and bread, for instance, both contain reasonable amounts and no one's suggesting you should ban these delicious and useful foods from your baby's diet. But you shouldn't rely on them too much - don't give toast at every meal, for instance.

I'd be very wary about stock cubes and gravy powders, baked beans and ready-made sauces, as well as processed meats such as ham and bacon, as these can be very salty - which is precisely why small children often like them. We are programmed to like salty tastes, after all.

I would advocate basing your baby's diet around fresh, whole foods - foods in as close to their natural state as possible - so homemade stocks rather than cubes, for instance. If you make most of your own food from scratch, then you have complete control over how much salt goes into it and you can keep it very low. That means you can then be more relaxed about the odd plate of beans on toast or sausages and ketchup.

Q. Joolzy: My toddler and six-month-old baby are both vegetarian. What foods to you recommend to help with developing their chewing muscles? My toddler doesn't like meat substitutes

A. Nikki: I'm not an expert on muscle development but I think any food with texture is going to help your little ones establish chewing skills. Decent-textured bread (as opposed to pappy white sliced) is actually quite good for chewing on. Firm fruits and vegetables too - things like raw carrot, celery or apple - demand a bit of effort. These are not ideal for young babies, as they can be a choking risk, but should be good for an older child.

 

Finger foods

Q. Camperfan: I am weaning my youngest son, who is 6.5 months. I would like some ideas about nutritional finger-foods that are more substantial than steamed veggies (and preferably ones that make zero mess, like some sort of miracle food?). I would also like some ideas on cooking seasonal UK stuff such as spring greens in a way that is family friendly. My oldest is great with stuff such as clams (!), prawns, all fish, but not so great with green things.

A. Nikki: If I had a recipe for mess-free food, I'd be a very rich lady by now. You've just got to go with the mess, I think - not least because it's good for your child to be able to explore food freely, and to feel it on their hands and face. It helps prevent anxieties about food later on.

Good, substantial finger foods might include toast or homemade breadsticks dipped in a veg-and-lentil purée, paté, houmous or smeared with avocado. Strips of well-cooked omelette are a good idea too, or fingers of frittata. Polenta 'chips' are perfect for grabbing and a nice alternative to toast, and you'd be amazed how well some babies can manage shoveling plain noodles into their mouths. I used to make very simple puff pastry tarts with a few veggies and a bit of cheese on top and cut them into fingers for my girls when they were little.

As for greens, I think it's often all in the way you cut them. Take the time to shred green veg really finely, then cut the shreds into short lengths, and they can be incorporated into a dish in an appetising way. Cut like this, steamed cabbage is lovely stirred into buttery mashed potato. Wilted, drained, squeezed-out and finely chopped spinach is another versatile green: it can be stirred into a pasta sauce, cooked in a frittata, or combined with onions and cheese on a pizza.

And much as I wouldn't want to advocate relying on cheese too much, the old cauliflower cheese treatment often entices youngsters to try green veg such as broccoli. Purées and soups are another way to present green veg: I have a recipe for a leek, cabbage and potato purée which is really tasty.

"Good, substantial finger foods might include toast or homemade breadsticks dipped in a veg-and-lentil puree, paté, houmous or smeared with avocado. Strips of well-cooked omelette are a good idea too, or fingers of frittata."

Q. woodlands: I'm struggling a bit with snacks for my ten-month-old DS. I understand that by 12 months, babies should be on three meals and two snacks per day, and he is definitely ready to replace mid morning and afternoon milk feeds with snacks. I don't always remember about snacks until it's almost the next meal time, and I am never quite sure what to give him. Ideally, I like to give him something fairly un-messy, like raisins and rice cakes, but maybe I should embrace the mess a bit more, get him kitted out in bib and high chair and give him an orange or something? Any other ideas for mess-free and healthy snacks?

A. Nikki: First, I wouldn't get too hung up on giving your son precisely three meals and two snacks every day. Yes, it's important to offer your child several opportunities to eat throughout the day - but he's still very young and I would go with the flow of what works for you and him. There's no point rushing to fit in a snack when it's nearly tea time, just to tick the box.

Also, be cautious about replacing milk feeds with snacks at this age: foods such as rice cakes or oranges are nowhere near as nutritious and calorie-dense as breast or formula milk. The current advice is that, by the end of their first year, babies should still be having at least 500ml formula or breastmilk a day.

If you do want to give him nutritious snacks, see my answer to CamperFan on substantial finger foods; things like toast and a dip or pate should keep him busy and interested - and, of course, you can rarely go wrong with a banana! (Incidentally, I think the idea of bibbing him up and letting him go to work on an orange is still a very good one, just maybe not something you need to do every day.)

 

Fussy eaters

Q. Grumpla: Do you have a foolproof method for disguising vegetables (any vegetables) as a slice of toast? Because I am beginning to think that unless you do my son will never eat one. Ever.

A. Nikki: I hear you, I really do! I have two very veg-shy children and I know the frustration it causes. I understand the urge to get some lovely fresh greens into your offspring. But, I really hate that word 'disguise'. I just don't think it's wise to trick a child into eating something - it doesn't foster a healthy relationship with food. There are different ways to present vegetables, however. For me, soups, purées and other dishes where the vegetable is chopped small have worked well. My girls will eat finely chopped onions, tomatoes and mushrooms on a pizza, for instance, or a bowlful of carrot soup (as long as it has crunchy croutons on it) - while they would never eat a carrot stick.

"You might not be able to disguise a vegetable as a piece of toast, but you could bake a soda bread containing grated carrot or parsnip."

If the veg just won't go down at all, think about the other things your son is eating. When I clear away yet another plate with a little pile of broccoli carefully left on the side, I comfort myself with the fact that my children both eat fruit until it's coming out of their ears, and this will provide them with the same range of vitamins and fibre that vegetables would.

If your son is eating a good range of other foods, you're going in the right direction. And, beyond that, I think it comes down to perseverance and 'modelling' - by which I mean, keep trying, keep offering and make sure you eat plenty of veg yourself, so he can learn that it's normal and nothing to be afraid of. You might not be able to disguise a vegetable as a piece of toast, but you could bake a soda bread containing grated carrot or parsnip, or spread a piece of toast with a pea pureé or a cheesy courgette dip.

Q. rainbowrain: I have a one-year-old who has suddenly decided he will not eat fruit. He used to eat grapes, had about a week of eating bananas but now won't eat any, and gags if he does. Any tips on how to encourage him to eat more fruit? We sometimes juice apples or carrots which he will drink, but he will not eat pieces of apples and spits them out. We introduce lots of different fruits allowing him to play and explore if he chooses. We're also having problems with giving him breakfast as he's never liked baby rice and doesn't drink milk (bar breast milk, which I will be weaning him off soon). Any advice?

"Green veg often have a hint of bitterness to them, and this is why I think they are among the more often rejected foods. It's been well documented that a child may need to try a new food many times before they gain the confidence to actually eat it - and this is more true with bitter flavours than sweet."

A. Nikki: It's entirely normal for children of this age to go through all sorts of food fads, or to reject foods that they have previously eaten. It's extremely frustrating but not, I think, something to worry about too much.

As I've said above, it's a good idea to look at what else your little boy is eating. If he's eating vegetables, that's great, he'll be getting loads of vitamins from them. The fact that he'll drink juice also means he'll also be getting some fruit goodness (do be careful with juice though - it's really not great for children's teeth - try to serve it with meals, and don't let him suck it from a bottle or a cup on and off for hours on end).

I think you're doing exactly the right thing by continuing to offer lots of fruits and let him explore them. I'd stick with that approach, and try offering them in different ways too. Try homemade fruit purées mixed into plain yogurt or dolloped on porridge. Perhaps he'd eat baked apples, crushed with a little cream or yogurt, or fruit baked into a crumble or cobbler?

The same approach goes for breakfast. If he doesn't like cereals or milk, try different things: toast, oatcakes, yogurt, porridge, pancakes, omelette, eggy bread… Some children, like some adults, just never really enjoy breakfast - though of course we need to try and encourage them to eat it. But, if you find he's happier to eat a substantial snack a little later in the morning, go with that instead.

Q. Laurarj84: I would be interested to see any suggestions about green things to eat! My 10.5-month daughter is a good eater and loves carrots, potato, sweet potato, parsnip, cauliflower, sweetcorn, and all the fruit you can throw at her, with oranges, bananas and pears being her favourite. But she won't eat much green stuff like beans, peas, broccoli and crucially for me, because of their moisture content, cucumber and salad leaves. I thought all kids liked cucumber! So I'd love some suggestions as to how to incorporate them into meals, so that she will at least give them a go. I thought green beans were probably just too tough to get through with only two teeth but cucumber is easy!

A. Nikki: First of all, let me reassure you, not all kids like cucumber. Neither of my daughters will touch it, nor ever have. Annoying, I know! Second, it sounds like your little girl eats a truly fantastic diet! Just take a moment to enjoy that!

Green veg often have a hint of bitterness to them, and this is why I think they are among the more often rejected foods. It's been well documented that a child may need to try a new food many times before they gain the confidence to actually eat it - and this is more true with bitter flavours than sweet (hence the popularity of sweet potato and parsnips).

So my first comment would be to just keep trying. Even if she picks up the green veg or gets just a tiny taste on her lips, she's started on the road to eventual acceptance of that food later on. Beyond that, I'd refer you to my answer to Grumpla on purées, soups and 'chopped-up' things such as pizza toppings and pie fillings, and also to my answer to CamperFan, with regards to ways to present green veg.

Q. Paschaelina: Any tips for disguising meat? My eight-month-old son will not touch it. Anything else goes in and out and sometimes even down, but meat gets the pursed lips and shaken head, even disguised in bolognese-y type sauces.

A. Nikki: As I've said, I really don't like the idea of 'disguising' foods, as I think it only leads to mistrust. But I do understand your desire to get him to try it. However, he's very young still, and meat is perhaps the most challenging food, texture-wise, for a young baby to cope with. And of course, he might just be unsure about the taste.

"I don't like the idea of 'disguising' foods, as I think it only leads to mistrust."

Try not to worry too much at this stage. If he even pokes it about a bit, or gets a taste on his lips, he's beginning the journey. As with all cases of refusing a certain food, I think the best approach is two-pronged: first, keep trying, and keep offering it in different ways (homemade pates or even purees - poached chicken thighs can work well in a purée, maybe homemade burgers, stews, mild curries) and, second, make sure you eat it and he can see you doing so, so he learns it's normal and good.

Q. Summerlightning: Have you any specific advice to deal with really fussy eaters? My 2.5-year-old is awful - currently he only really reliably eats pesto pasta and cheese or houmous sandwiches. We all eat together several times a week - and he eats nothing usually (will eat plain pasta if pasta based) - though he sits happily with us and stirs it around and happily tells us he has broccoli and that he doesnt like it, etc.

Is this right approach - I worry that he is essentially skipping so many meals (though he usually eats some fruit afterwards) but I don't want to give him what he likes every meal when what he likes is so limited. Will he ever eat normally? Do kids just grow out of this? (He has always been like this, it's not a new thing.)

A. Nikki: Ooh, your story sounds awfully familiar. My elder daughter was very similar. She seemed to go for months existing purely on plain pasta, bits of roasted sweet potato and fruit. It sounds to me, though, like you are doing a great job. For starters, pasta, bread, cheese, houmous and fruit pretty much represent all the major food groups. A wide variety of foods is what we should all be aiming for, but you're still ticking some important boxes there.

The fact that your son is happy to share a meal with you (even if he eats little or nothing) and to talk about the food on your plates, is also really encouraging. I think you are laying great foundations. 

I agree that it's a good idea not to just give him the foods he's happy with, meal after meal. I would do what you're doing: mix what he likes with what you want him to eat (pasta with broccoli etc), keep doing it, introducing as wide a variety of foods in as many different ways as you can and in the end I firmly believe it will pay off.

Every child is different but, if it's any comfort, my daughter (now five) eats a reasonable variety of foods these days. Gradually, gradually, bit by bit, she's becoming more ready to try new things and I've learnt the particular ways of presenting things that she prefers. Still can't persuade her to eat broccoli, but I won't give up trying.

Q. elmerthe1st:  My eldest, who is four, is a very picky eater, and can take absolutely ages (over an hour) to eat anything in the evening. Literally, every meal takes so much coaxing and though he will finish it, it is always under duress or by physically loading up his spoon for him.

We have tried everything from giving him a big meal at lunchtime to eating earlier, eating together, offering finger food, but nothing works. There are a few things he loves like jacket potatos and homemade pizza, but I find it really hard to just give him this on a daily basis.

My second child is much better at eating. Both have severe (anaphylaxis) allergies to egg, prawns, sesame and nuts, which makes them understandably wary of trying new foods. I wonder if my eldest's 'fear of food' stems from the reactions he's had in the past?

In addition I have a six-month-old, whom I'm just weaning straight onto 'proper food' (baby-led weaning) but having to take into account that she probably has the same allergies as the other two.

Not being a meat eater, I'm not a natural meat cook so I'd love some inspiration for both recipes providing protein without eggs and good healthy meat ones, which all three could enjoy. My question is, can I give them a largely veg-based diet if I include protein in the form of cheese, or some fish and occasional pulses? And I would love some tips on helping my eldest just enjoy his food more.

A. Nikki: Wow, you have a lot on your plate, if you'll excuse the pun. I am not a dietitian, but I worked closely with someone who is, when writing the book. The advice I give on vegetarian diets in the book is based on her input: namely, you can raise a child on a meat-free and fish-free diet, but you do have to be on the ball.

Protein isn't really the main issue, I don't think: we don't need massive amounts, so if you can include at least some in every meal you are on the right track. Meat, fish and animal products are the only 'complete' sources of protein, but combining other sources such as pulses, grains and tofu (cheese as well, but try not to rely on it too much) in the diet should ensure they're getting the right stuff. You don't have to combine different proteins at every meal.

"We don't need massive amounts of protein, so if you can include at least some in every meal you're on the right track. Meat, fish and animal products are 'complete' sources of protein, but there are other sources such as pulses, grains and tofu."

It's lack of iron that might be more of a concern as, again, meat and fish are by far the richest and most easily absorbed sources. Nevertheless, there are all sorts of ways to ensure you're getting lots of iron into your child's diet - see my answer to mylovelymonster. I've suggested some pulse-based recipes there, too. There's also a tofu salad in the book, an avocado and houmous salad (which I love), some stews and curries, and some nice meaty finger foods such as burgers.

It sounds like you are really sensitive to your oldest child's anxieties about food, and that's half the battle. Gentle perseverance is the only way to go, I think. Try to keep mealtimes as stress-free as possible - and I can see how difficult that must be. Coaxing and persuading him to eat every mouthful is not going to make for a fun mealtime - but, of course, you know that. You have to trust your own instincts as to whether his need for calories at any particular meal outweighs the benefit of letting him decide for himself what and how much to eat.

I think the foods he does like - jacket spuds and homemade pizza - sound like a fantastic starting point. Maybe you could try a one-day-on, one-day-off approach, where you alternate his favourites with something new and different? I can't give you a magic answer, but I think you've got the right ingredients for progress already.

Q. fivechildrenandit: As a mother of five I have found they all vary, just like us I suppose. My first two were great, but the last three have been totally disinterested in food and tried to stay on the breast as long as possible. I feel as though I am sucked dry now. My youngest is 15 months and has only one thing on her mind. I have tried BLW, jars, sachets and purees and would do anything now. Any suggestions?

A. Nikki: I do not think your experience is in any way unique! I know lots of breastfeeding mums who've found their babies much more interested in breastmilk than solid food well into their second year. I'd say, first off, give yourself an enormous pat on the back for breastfeeding - it doesn't matter what stage your child is at, the benefits are great. You are being really responsive to your little girl's needs.

And then reassure yourself that she is not going to be like this forever - even though sometimes you might feel like she is! She will start to eat solid food - quite possibly it will happen almost overnight - but you simply cannot force her to do it. Just keep making food available, I'd say, involve her in mealtimes with the rest of the family, let her play and experiment with food if she wants to, pick up on what she likes and doesn't like, and work with that.

Q. Guacamole: I have a one-year-old who (with the exception of fruit) is doing well, however I have a fussy husband. I'm dreading my son realising that Daddy won't eat this, won't eat that and deciding to follow suit. Any advice?

A. Nikki: I think the fact that you've identified this potential problem means you're half-way to solving it. You're spot on to realise that kids pick up on the eating habits of those around them. Although, bear in mind that many an 18-month-old decides to start refusing all sorts of food whether their parents are picky eaters or not. So if your son does start to become more selective, it might not be anything to do with your partner at all.

The only thing you can do is talk to your husband about it and try to find ways to eat together which are positive. Remember that your influence on your son is probably even greater than your husband's at this stage so, if you enjoy a good range of foods, that should rub off on your son too - the fact that he's eating well now suggests it already is.

 

Other

Q. browneyesblue: I am lucky in that my one-year-old is a fantastic eater - he'll try anything, and has a good appetite. We never went down the purée route, so he has always eaten the same sort of food as his dad and I, but I've found myself getting into a rut - I find myself preparing the same few meals over and over again out of convenience. Have you got any hints or tips to get me out of this habit?

A. Nikki: Well, join the club! We all of us tend to rely on a small repertoire of meals, for the sake of convenience and for the sake of cooking something we know everyone will eat and enjoy. I don't think there's anything wrong with this, as long as that shortlist contains a good variety of different foods, but no one enjoys feeling that they're in a rut. Getting yourself out of it might mean something as simple as choosing one night a week when you'll always cook something new - or at the very least, try a variation on something familiar.

"A great way to increase variety in meals is to be ingredient-led. Buy whatever looks fresh, seasonal and appetising; then, when you get home, work out what you're going to do with it. The internet is a fantastic resource for this kind of cooking - you can find a recipe for absolutely everything."

Another great way to increase variety is to be ingredient-led. Don't shop with a rigid list, but choose whatever looks fresh, seasonal and appetising; then, when you get it home, work out what you're going to do with it. The internet is a fantastic resource for this kind of cooking - you can find a recipe for absolutely anything.

Q. Cantdothisagain: I get a veggie box every week and recently we keep getting kohlrabi, which I usually braise with garlic in low-salt stock and add Parmesan, following an Abel and Cole recipe. Do you have some other child-friendly ideas for kohlrabi, since you miss it out of an otherwise quite comprehensive vegetable list? Thank you.

A. Nikki: Thanks for pulling me up on my kohlrabi omission! This vegetable is actually really good raw - grate it into a salad or coleslaw, or slice it very thinly and dress with a little olive oil and Parmesan or goat's cheese. In Italy, they also serve kohlrabi with pasta, cut into small pieces and boiled til tender, then combined with pasta and olive oil, or a tomato sauce.

Last updated: 08-Oct-2013 at 4:48 PM