That’s according to Multyfarnham mother of three and author of The Baby Led Feeding Cookbook, Aileen Blundell Cox, who says that with a bit of perseverance, parents can make positive and lasting changes to their family’s diets.
Released last month, The Baby Led Feeding Cookbook provides more than 150 nutritious recipes free from refined sugar and salt, and should, according to Aileen, “make mealtimes a pleasure rather than a chore”.
Growing in popularity around the world, baby led feeding simply means letting your child feed him or herself from the around the age of six months, when they begin the weaning process and have started to show signs of being able to pick up food.
Rather than feeding babies purees, babies eat the same as the rest of the family, an approach which has lifelong benefits, Aileen says.
“It encourages independence and confidence by allowing them to experiment with foods at their own pace. It helps to develop hand–eye coordination and chewing, and also helps babies learn how to self-regulate the amount they eat, something which can be lost when they are spoon-fed.”
Informed by experiences with her two eldest children, Aileen took a baby led feeding approach when she started weaning her youngest son Oscar at six months. As someone who worked in restaurants in her teens and early 20s but decided against a career in the culinary world, graphic designer Aileen had the necessary skills to make food that was both healthy and tasty. Fast forward two and half years and Oscar’s favourite foods include sweet potato super muffins, avocado pasta, kale pesto and beetroot pancakes.
Still working in her Dublin based graphic design business three days a week, Aileen’s journey to becoming a published author and social media sensation (she has over 36,000 followers on her Facebook page and has 25,000 unique visitors every month) came about by chance she says.
“I started taking photos of Oscar feeding himself and when he was about 12 months old I showed them to my mum, who said that I should try and get them in a book.”
Publishing firm Gill loved the idea and believed that there was a gap in the market; however, she was advised that she needed to have a social media following to make the project viable.
She started her Facebook page on a Friday and by the following Monday had 4,000 followers, which confirmed to her that she was on to something. Passionate about doing her part to tackle Ireland’s increasing rates of childhood obesity, Aileen says that she has been heartened by the response to her recipes ,with many parents saying that they have helped transform mealtimes.
“ I saw that there was a huge need for it. I think parents want their children to eat healthy food and want to get more fruit and veg, in particular, into their diets. I just really wanted to have a place where parents could ask questions and feel part of a community.”
As a working mother, Aileen is aware of the time constraints facing many families. The best way to ensure that you have healthy dining options for during the week is to plan ahead, she says.
“I try to spend at least one Saturday every single month and cook four or five things. For example, I might veggie loaded pancakes or veggie muffins. Most of the recipes in the book make 24 children’s portions. I do four or five, they take about three hours and I’m finished for the whole month.”
Mealtimes can turn into a battle zone when parents try to get their children to eat more vegetables. From her own experiences with her children, Aileen says that the best thing to do is stand firm. Eventually your child will come around and will develop a taste for the new food.
“Constantly encourage them and ask them to try just one bit. Don’t give in and don’t give an alternative. One of the biggest things about giving in is that parents don’t want do their children to go to bed hungry. Put the child’s dinner to one side and they can have it when they want it.
“My little boy often says he is hungry when he is going to bed [and he will eat the rest of his dinner]. It might be an hour and half after dinner but when they know that they are not getting an alternative, they will be more encouraged to eat it.”