Who else has a lot of guilt around what they eat? From processed foods like prepared pizzas to white foods like plain pasta to sugary drinks, and not a lot of fruits and veggies in between, my diet was in serious need of a tune-up when it was time to start a family.
For years, I had wanted to clean up my diet, but I didn’t know how. Well, it turned out that having a baby really does change everything, including your diet!
Leave aside all the, ahem, foods you might reach for when you’re pregnant and hangry, or breastfeeding and hangry! We all give in to cravings from time to time.
In this article, I’m going to give you some tips about how you can change your diet so that it’s healthy for your baby and the rest of your family, too. In time, you can all share the same delicious healthy meals!
Before we dive in, please remember to consult with your doctor before changing anything in your baby’s diet or your own. Don’t take my advice just because you read it on my blog. Do your own due diligence please.
Since you won’t be sharing coffee with your kids, go ahead and make yourself a cup now and let’s get into the tips!
Start to change baby’s diet with baby-led weaning.
When your baby first encounters solids, they are actually in the form of a puree. You can make them yourself or you can buy them from the store. (It’s so tempting to buy them from the store because you can find some great quality purees and ready meals, but be prepared to spend much more than if you were making everything from scratch.)
As your baby grows and her physical demands increase, you’ll need to feed her more well-rounded meals. You’ll see if you are buying your baby food from the store that the texture will change in the meals for older babies.
Teeth will start to appear, and if you pay close attention to your baby’s reaction to foods, you will know to gradually introduce foods that require more chewing: in other words, real meals!
In France, parents call this “eating like us.” The end goal is for your family to share the same meals (the obvious bonus being that you can make one single meal for the whole family to enjoy and not have to make something separate for baby).
In order to make this a smooth transition, you’ll first need to make some simple switches in your diet.
Then make these 2 simple changes for baby in your diet.
Carefully consider the ideal diet for your baby. Remember to consult your pediatrician and read up on your country’s recommendations for baby food first. Then, try the following:
Do not add salt while you are cooking, unless it’s for the cooking water (like in preparing pasta or rice).
If you’d like more salt in your meal, sprinkle some onto your plated dish but leave it off for baby.
Switch from salted butter to unsalted butter.
Buy reduced sodium or no salt stocks or simply make your own.
Simply do not purchase salty foods (chips/crisps, popcorn, etc.). If it’s not in your house, you won’t be able to eat it, much less share it with your little one!
Add flavor with ground spices, dried herbs, and more veggies.
If you’ve reduced your salt intake but you find your food is now bland, try adding stronger flavors to your cooking with spices, herbs, and veggies (since salt basically acts as a magnifying glass for the other flavors in your dish).
Garlic and onion are my go-tos in pretty much every meal I make. Have you ever caught a whiff of something savory and delicious cooking away on a stovetop? You can bet garlic and onions are involved. They are also natural detox agents for your gut.
Tomatoes (fresh in season or canned year-round), celery, and bell peppers are also excellent flavor boosters in my kitchen.
Get yourself a small stock of ground spices and dried herbs to have on hand whenever you are cooking. Some of my faves are:
Freshly ground black pepper
You can also buy spice blends, such as curry, but try to enjoy the simpler flavors first and identify them for your baby before you start adding more.
Make some more mindset changes around your diet for healthy baby meals.
When I asked the pediatrician whyyyyyyyyyy, he said that it’s really all the animal protein you need on a daily basis. Your body can’t really process more than that. (Note this is what he said about babies; for adult recommendations, check out this article from Harvard.)
In addition, it’s a cultural thing here. The biggest meal of the day is at lunchtime. That’s why they recommend you give your baby animal protein at lunch. Then the evening meal before bed can be lighter, therefore they recommend a vegetarian dish.
It might be a strange notion to some Americans, but eating less meat might actually be better for you (I said might—go back and read that Hahvahd article). Since our family has been enjoying meat once per day, I’ve felt much better in my body. Plus, it forces me to fill up on more veggies, which brings me to my next point…
Make veggies the focal point of your meals. (Quick note here: many cultures have veggies at breakfast. It’s not really my thing, so I’m only consuming them at lunch and dinner.)
What you can do is simple:
Aim to have a majority of vegetables on your plate at lunch as opposed to animal protein and carbs.
Make a vegetarian meal for dinner.
This was actually harder for me to do than limiting my animal protein intake. The two are related, as I mentioned, because if you are reducing your animal proteins, you need to make up for it. Go for protein-rich beans and legumes and nutrient-rich dark veggies.
Sometimes I guess I just felt too lazy to shop for and prepare always more veggies all the time. I really didn’t want them to go to waste after I bought them. I had to just be consistent and make it a habit. Eventually I got used to all that washing, chopping, and sautéing. Now it feels weird to prepare a meal without going through those motions!
And psst as the ultimate bonus, you’ll develop an appetite for veggies you never even knew you had! My new thing is trying the weirdest ones I can find in the store. You need to mix it up every once in a while. Eat local, eat seasonal. But go nuts every once in a while and make something exotic.
Cook from scratch.
Finally, commit to cooking from scratch at home. Say au revoir to readymade meals for babies and adults alike, and learn how to make it yourself.
This can be really daunting for some people, as it was for me. The main thing I was lacking to improve my skills was time. If you can set aside time every night to cook a meal, you’ll improve quickly, and cooking from scratch will become a habit.
Your baby doesn’t expect or even need gourmet meals, so feel free to cook simply. My meals consist of a majority of cooked veggies with some kind of carb on the side (pasta, rice, couscous, quinoa) and a small piece of meat, fish, or egg if it’s lunch.
Eat like baby eats.
I know, it sounds completely contradictory to what I have been saying so far. My premise is that if you first take the baby diet that is suggested to you by your pediatrician or your country’s guidelines, you can already clean up your own diet quite a bit. Then all you’ll have to do is change the texture (more on that below).
For example, the health authorities in France recommend fruit for baby at breakfast and snack time, animal protein and veggies at lunch, and veggies at dinner. (For complete meal plans, see my article on introducing solids here.) Be honest with yourself: when was the last time you ate like that on a consistent basis?
If you want your baby or toddler to enjoy a healthy diet, you must be the example. So have a piece of fruit with your breakfast and offer some to your baby to taste. If she sees you eating it, believe me, she’ll want it.
And remember, the first introduction of a new food sometimes doesn’t work like you think! But keep trying to introduce the same flavor, maybe change up the texture a bit, and eventually your baby will enjoy eating it.
Gradually change the texture of your meals.
Let’s face it: part of the pleasure of eating is entirely about texture.
But your baby needs time to explore new textures safely. Pay attention to her cues and watch her carefully, and you will know when to introduce a chewier or crunchier food.
Steaming or pressure cooking is enough to get your veggies (and some meats) soft enough for older babies and toddlers to chew. Pay particular attention to meat, as we chew this with our molars which are the last teeth to come in. Make sure it’s soft enough to flake easily with a fork.
Your pasta and rice can become more al dente as your baby grows. You can also introduce soft sandwiches (cold or hot).
Change your diet for your sake and baby’s sake.
Cleaning up my diet for my own sake wasn’t enough of a motivator, it turns out. It took actually having a baby and then being responsible for her diet that finally forced me to change how I eat for the better. I am sure there is always room for improvement, so maybe Baby #2 will serve as the catalyst!
Looking for more ideas about what to feed baby? Check out my other articles here on Mamas Café Society:
Jessica is an American expat living the dream in Normandy. She is wife to a French hubby and mama to a Franco-American daughter, born in 2018, and one whippet. Passionate about all stages of writing, this Francophile created her blog in 2020 to help others navigate motherhood with a focus on conscious parenting and bilingual parenting. Bonne lecture !
Save this post, and come back to it later! Just pin the below image for easy reference.