| Cooking Tips & Tricks | Adapting meals for little tummies

Adapting meals for little tummies

It can be hard enough feeding the adults and older children of a household, let alone a baby or toddler. Registered Dietitian Katrina Shepherd takes a look at how you can change up a recipe for the youngest members of your family.

Mealtimes can be a stressful time for many but rest assured, you don’t need to re-invent the wheel when it comes to whipping up healthy meals for your baby or toddler. From around 6 months old the youngest member of the house can start to try family foods one at a time when they are ready (e.g. pureed and cooked vegetables and fruit are a great place to start followed by pureed and cooked meat or legumes). From there they can slowly work up to eating most of the same foods that your family eats by around 7-8 months with a few tweaks and changes to the recipe ingredients and texture. Here are some of our suggestions on how to change up a recipe to make it baby and toddler friendly:


Keep in

Protein is important for strong muscles and bones as well as mental and physical development. Breastmilk and formula milk alone provides adequate protein but from around 6 months of age make sure your little one is also getting their protein from animal sources (e.g. beef, lamb, pork, chicken, venison, seafood) or plant sources (e.g. lentils, chickpeas, tofu) as part of complementary feeding.

Carbohydrates provide your baby and toddler energy to move, play, wriggle and learn. Try and incorporate root-vegetables (e.g. potato, kumara, pumpkin) into their meals as a first step then slowly build up to other carbohydrate foods (e.g. rice and bread)

Fruit and vegetables will provide your little one with vitamins, minerals and fibre (e.g. apple, banana, broccoli, carrots). Make sure these are cooked and with skin removed at the early stages of complementary feeding.

Leave out

Added salt, fat and sugar. Although we are very accustomed to adding these to enhance the flavour of our meals, it is not advised you do the same for babies and toddlers. Browning things like meat in a little bit of olive oil is ok (as a little bit of healthy fat is good) but in general babies and toddlers are happy with plain and basic foods and won’t know any different if the salt, butter or sugar is missing. Also be sure to trim off and discard any excess fat from meat before cooking.

Highly processed foods can contain excessive amounts of sugar, salt and fat. Rather than reaching for things like biscuits, muffins, bacon, salami for snacks and meals consider giving the natural whole food version than the processed version.

Spicy foods. Anything that makes your tongue burn and forehead sweat is not the best thing to give a baby or toddler in large quantities, if at all. Not all spices are hot but if you are experimenting, make sure you start off very mildly and in a small amount, and see how your baby or toddler tolerates it. Alternatively, try using herbs (fresh or dried) to flavour the food.

Stringy or husky parts of food. Some foods have stringy fibres (e.g. corn or celery) and coarse husks or skins (e.g. popcorn, garlic). While it isn’t really an issue for adults to ingest small amounts of these food parts, it can be a little harder for babies and toddlers to chew and process them. It is advised you remove the skin on things like carrots, potato and kumara in the early months and wash them thoroughly before cooking them.

Add in

Breast milk or formula (optional). This is a great option for younger babies who are still having pureed or mashed foods. Not only will this make the food runnier and smoother, it can add more nutrition to the meal.

Familiar foods. All babies and toddlers have different preferences and tolerances. Some babies love rich foods like olives, onion and garlic whereas other babies don’t. It’s all trial and error but be sure to include familiar foods when experimenting with new foods.


From around 6 months of age, complementary foods (alongside baby’s milk feeds) should be introduced in a smooth, puréed form, progressing on to mashed when baby is 7-8 months, chopped or minced for babies from 8 months, and eventually to a family meal from around 12 months. This image shows what our Iron-Rich Casserole looks like across various stages.

Baby-led weaning is a style of introducing solids that lets babies feed themselves whole pieces of softened food. It is still a newly researched area and is currently not recommended by the Ministry of Health.

If you would like to try this recipe click here. For more information on how to feed babies and toddlers check out our website and Fuelled by Iron resource.

Posted by Katrina Dixon

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