I am continually amazed at how parenting manages to derail and confuzzle us mammas. The second we think we have something aced, the next phase swoops in and sweeps us off of our feet. Just as we’ve got the sleeping down to a tee, something like Sleep Regression or Teething Trauma hits. Just as #babyjake was eating like a champion, he decided to only consume finger foods in the shape of miniature balls. And just like that, it’s back to the drawing board, and the next bout of research begins.
So for all the mamma bears who’re now facing the Introduction of Proteins, here’s a quick guide to getting started.
The good news is that there really isn’t much of a science to getting started on proteins.
A month after starting solids at 5 months, I introduced #babyjake to proteins (he was now 6 months at the time). We had worked our way through most veggies and so it was time to add protein to the menu.
Remember, there is no set timeline as to when you need to start solids (pick a time between 4 and 6 months based on your baby), and the same applies to proteins. Once your baby is eating well loving their mashed butternut and has gotten the hang of swallowing & digesting food, you can start introducing proteins (my guesstimate would be plus/minus a month or so after starting solids for the first time).
In the beginning, just start with one protein a day, preferably at lunch time (remember you always want to introduce new foods earlier in the day rather than later, so that if your little one gets crampy, you wont be up all night).
Pick one or 2 of your baby’s favourite veggies so far. If your little one is loving their butternut, then stick to that. Just make sure it’s something they already enjoy.
I started off with a little bit of freshly steamed, flaked hake. That’s what my mom did with me back in the day. And for once, I didn’t turn things into a scientific research project – hake it was! It’s also incredibly easy to cook from frozen. It flakes easily (no need to puree – you can just mash it with a fork).
How I prepared the hake:
Buy a box of pure white, frozen hake medallions. Deboned. Deskinned. And obviously not crumbed. No need for fresh fish.
Take out just one fillet (this way, if your baby doesn’t like it, you haven’t wasted anything). And steam or poach it from frozen (no need to defrost). If you don’t have a steamer, just boil the piece of fish in some water on the stove. It cooks pretty quickly. Less than 10 – 15 minutes. Ensure that its firm and white throughout.
Cut the cooked fillet in half. Mash with a fork (you don’t need to puree it, it flakes beautifully). Watch out for any bones. Store the other half in the fridge, for the following day.
Mix with your veggie of choice (I used butternut the first few times).
Feed to baby.
If no reaction, then attempt it again the following day.
After 2 or 3 days of successful fish feeding, you can now work your way through the following list, in no particular order, trying a new protein every couple of days. You could even try a new protein once a week. Or skip a day here of there. You really don’t need to rush things but you also don’t need to be scared to try all sorts of things. Just remember the basic common sense guidelines:
Don’t try more than one new food at a time (otherwise it will be hard to pinpoint which food caused the problem)
Try new foods around lunchtime, not for dinner. Otherwise you may be up with a screaming baby all night.
While it isn’t necessary to wait 2/3 days before introducing new fruits and veggies to your baby, you may want to take things a bit slower when it comes to proteins. So err on the side of caution, and try one new food at a time, for 2 – 3 days at a time.
Obviously if there is a family allergy to dairy, eggs or nuts – don’t try these foods on your baby without consulting your Paed.
Write it all down!, so that you can keep track of how many meals per week contained red meat, fish, legumes etc.
By 8 months, Jake was eating all types of protein as per the list below. So around 7 or 8 months, you can get started with all the foods on this list! Just follow the guidelines above (and consult with your Paed for further guidance).
While various other proteins abound, I like to keep things simple and stick to this practical list. I have compiled this list based on foods that are baby-friendly, fuss-free and practical to cook / prepare / freeze (while still covering the full nutritional range of proteins). By 7 and a half / 8 months, #babyjake was enjoying all of these foods.
Hake (Frozen fillets)
Salmon (Frozen fillets or tinned)
Sardines or Tuna (tinned) but rather opt for sardines
How to prepare: I use frozen pure hake or salmon medallions from Woolies. I cook a box at a time. Steam or boil. Then flake / mash with a fork and fill into ice cube trays. Sometimes some of the fatty fish oil rises to the top of the pot, and I scoop that back into the ice cube trays. Salmon is exorbitant though, so use sardines instead to ensure your baby gets all the Fatty Omegas needed.
Meat & Poultry
How to prepare: Lamb is the most digestible meat for babies. It is really gentle on tiny tummies. Buy a pack of stewing lamb (any cut will do but opt for meaty pieces). In a casserole dish, throw in a collection of assorted veggies that you know your baby is safe with – carrots, butternut, sweet potato etc. Cover with water. And cook in oven for 3 – 4 hours. Once the meat is soft, drain away some of the liquid (preserve it though in case you need some to help puree the meat). Pull the meat off the bone, return to the veggie mixture, and blend. Add the cooking liquid as needed to reach right consistency. Freeze in ice cube trays. And voila, you’ve got a complete little meal in one cube.
As for chicken and beef mince, simply boil. Once cooked (about an hour of boiling), puree or liquidize. It helps to puree with with some sweet potato (or any other veggie), it seems to blend easier that way. Then freeze in ice cube trays, and you’ve got little cubes of a complete meal. Now that Jake is eating bigger pieces of food, I just skip the pureeing part and I leave the mince in chunks. I still freeze in cubes. Somehow the pieces stay together even when frozen in a cube.
You want to have a collection of fish, chicken, mince and lamb stew cubes in your freezer, with a variety of frozen veggie cubes. So that you just need a few cubes to complete a meal.
Dairy & Eggs
Yoghurt (must be full cream)
Cottage & Cream Cheese (again, full cream)
Yellow or other full fat hard cheese (grated)
Preparation: Eggs are a taboo food for babies. And it’s a pity because they are the easiest protein to prepare (omelettes are my go-to dinner for #babyjake when I have nothing else prepared!). Plus they’re so incredibly healthy! Don’t fret about starting with just the yolk or only the white. I just went for the whole egg. And Jake is alive to tell the tale. Hard boiled, scrambled or even as an omelette, you can’t go wrong. Adding a beaten egg to breakfast oats is also a nifty trick (plus the result is fluffier oats!).
And as for dairy, just add some yoghurt to some pureed apple and give it a try over a couple days. Cream cheese is a great addition to any veggie – creamed spinach is Jake’s best (steamed and pureed spinach with a tablespoon or two of cream cheese).
Plant based proteins, grains & legumes
Lentils (tinned all the way, who has time to soak?!)
Chickpeas (again, tinned)
Quinoa (cooks in 20 minutes)
Preparation: I don’t have time to soak lentils or chickpeas overnight, so I use tinned varieties (I opt for the Organic ones from Woolies). Puree with any veggies, add some cream cheese and it’s a super healthy lunch. You can also cook a batch of Quinoa once a week and puree with some cooked apple. Use over a few days or freeze.
Nuts & Seeds
Nut Butters (peanut, almond, cashew)
Almonds (crush your own or use almond flour)
Preparation: I add a teaspoon of nut butter or a couple crushed almonds or a teaspoon of chia seeds to Jake’s breakfast every morning. It’s an easy and efficient way to cram in some extra protein and healthy fat.
*While various other proteins abound, I keep things simple and stick to this practical list.
Write it all down
You won’t remember what your baby is eating from one day to the next, and you want to be able to recall what baby ate, so that you can easily pinpoint any issues, tummy cramps or constipation
You want to keep track of how many times they’re eating red meat / oily fish / leafy greens etc per week. Otherwise it’s quite plausible you will land up feeding them lamb 7 days in a row. Because when you have a baby, all the days blur into one.
Easy to follow menu plan
Breakfast: I always give #babyjake Purple Oats or Quinoa Porridge (cook the quinoa as per packet instructions with grated apple and a teaspoon of cinnamon. Serve warm with plain yoghurt and a teaspoon of peanut / almond butter). Remember to always include a spoon or two of crushed nuts / nut butter or seeds with breakies each morning. Just a quick way to pack in an extra nutritional punch. You can also add a beaten egg to your baby’s oats – makes the oats more fluffy and scrumptious and a nifty way to sneak in the extra protein. Once your oats have been cooking for 5 minutes or so, add a whisked egg and cook for a further 5 minutes or so, add more water if needed.
Lunch (any concoction using the same several ingredients): When it comes to lunch, I stick to my 5 Miracle Ingredients but I’ll add things like Pureed Spinach, Apple, Gem Squash, Yellow Cheese, Quinoa (all of which can keep in the fridge for a couple days at a time) and then just throw it all together in different variations each afternoon. Quick and easy. And full of protein!
Creamed Spinach (steamed and pureed spinach mixed with 1 or 2 tablespoons of cream cheese)
Creamed Spinach with Apple & Quinoa (can puree the quinoa or leave whole)
Creamed Spinach with Sardines
Boiled egg (finely mashed with fork), Avo & Cottage Cheese
Lentils and/or Sardines, Avo & Cream Cheese (can puree the lentils or mash with fork). Can also add gem squash (seems to work well with these ingredients). Jake eats this 3-4 times per week.
Avo, Cheddar Cheese (Grated) & Boiled Egg (mashed with fork). Again, can add some gem squash or pureed apple to bind.
Chickpeas pureed with some lemon juice and yoghurt, use as a dip for veggie fingers or on cracker breads
Dinner: I use the Frozen Cube Method for #babyjake’s suppers, so I always have a supply of frozen chicken/beef, fish and lamb stew (as described above). And then I add a cube or 2 of frozen veggies (butternut, carrot, sweet potato, broccoli etc). And that’s supper taken care of. Straight from the freezer.
Snacks: I stick to finger foods for snack time. This way Jake also learns to feed himself and these foods are great for fine motor coord. I have zero choking-hazard paranoia. And Jake doesn’t really choke on any of these food items anyway. Even if he does, his own gag reflex kicks in and he spits the stuff straight out. And he has no teeth! These little humans are clever like that. So he snacks on:
Frozen berries (he eats them frozen)
Various tinned beans
Corn on the cobb
Sugar snap peas
A few things to consider:
- If your child has a hereditary predisposition to allergies, suffers from eczema or is lactose intolerant (or any other complication for that matter), don’t follow my advice – rather stick to whatever your paed says.
- I’m not a paediatric nutritionist. I’m just sharing what I have learnt. With that said however, #babyjake’s granny is a medical doctor; I have read loads of books written by the experts; chatted to fellow mommies and nurses, and have a fair amount of culinary finesse… so this is what’s worked for us.
- I follow the school of thought that encourages the introduction of ALL food groups before the age of one (this includes all allergenic foods from peanuts and eggs, to fish). The only exceptions being raw honey and cow’s milk (by cow’s milk I am referring to the actual liquid, white milk from a carton, but I give #babyjake full-cream dairy yogurt, cream cheese, cottage cheese, yellow cheese etc).
- To be on the safe side, if you’re unsure of anything, please always (always) consult your paed, family doctor or nurse before taking my advice or trying any new foods on your baby.
- Clipart images from Freepik