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Can I give my baby Christmas dinner?

We've spoken to the experts about what your little one can and cannot eat at the Christmas table

Can I give my baby Christmas dinner?

Christmas dinner is often a culinary highlight of the year – and a chance for your baby to explore new food tastes and textures.

‘Forget about the potential mess – Christmas dinner is the best way for little ones to learn about food, including new flavour experiences and textures, as well as giving them the opportunity to sit with others at the table,’ says Dr Sarah Schenker, registered dietitian and author of ‘My Sugar-Free Baby and Me’.

‘From six months of age your baby can eat pretty much anything from your Christmas lunch but there are a few exceptions.’

We find out what you can give your baby to eat this festive season and what you should be wary of.


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Christmas food your baby can eat

Here’s what your baby is allowed (with, in some cases, a few culinary ‘tweaks’ to make it baby-friendly):

carving a roast turkey

Turkey and other meat

Whatever meat you’re roasting for the big day, it’s fine to give some to your little one.

Turkey is rich in vitamins and minerals and is a source of good quality protein, as are chicken, beef and lamb (though ham should be avoided as 30g contains a massive 1g of salt).

‘From the age of six months, when they’ve started weaning, you can let them pick up a piece of turkey and let them ‘gum’ or chew it,’ says Dr Schenker. ‘The thigh is softer and more tender than the breast and falls apart a little more easily, which means they can pick up the strands and eat them.’

It’s fine to let them have a bit of skin but not if it has been highly seasoned.

‘You may want to steer clear of giving them gravy, not only because it’s likely to be too salty for them but also because it can hinder their eating experience.’


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Vegetables

Whether it’s carrots, sprouts, cauliflower, red cabbage or parsnips, the veritable rainbow of veg served at a traditional Christmas lunch provides a vast array of essential vitamins, minerals and fibre for your baby – as well as increasing their food repertoire.

‘Imagine the Christmas dinner table from a baby’s eyes, with all the different colours and shapes in front of them, and seeing adults tucking in,’ says Dr Schenker says. ‘They’ll be too young to remember it but it’ll be imprinted on their subconscious and they’ll definitely learn from the experience.’

Don’t give them vegetables that have salt added to them during cooking or afterwards, and if you’re prepping parsnips or other veg with honey, steer clear for children under the age of one.

‘Even though it might not be a problem if the honey has been cooked, it’s better to err on the side of caution,’ says Dr Schenker.

Person holding a tray of roast potatoes

Potatoes

Rich in essential nutrients like iron, vitamin B6, folate and zinc, potatoes also contain other B vitamins, vitamin C and choline, which is important for brain development.

As well as unsalted mashed potatoes, give them a chunk of roast potato to feast on (make sure it’s large enough that it can’t be swallowed whole and choked on).

‘Potatoes roasted in goose fat are fine for little ones to eat because although they’re high in saturated fat, it’s not the sort of thing you eat all the time so there’s no harm,’ says Dr Schenker.

Just remember to remove any cooked potatoes from the roasting tin that you’ll be giving to your baby or toddler before you season them for everyone else – and make sure they’re sufficiently cooled down as the centre of a roastie can get very hot.


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Hard, pasteurised cheese

The NHS states that cheese can form part of a healthy, balanced diet for babies and young children, and provides calcium, protein and vitamins.

So, it’s possible share some of your Christmas cheeseboard, but not all of it. Pasteurised full-fat cheese that includes hard cheeses, such as mild cheddar and cream cheese are fine to give a baby from six months.


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What to watch out for when giving your baby Christmas dinner

Choking hazards

From desserts that have roughly-cut nuts on top, to a bowl of nuts or whole grapes on a cheese board, there are plenty of foods that can be hazardous for babies and toddlers.

Unless they’re boiled to within an inch of their lives, Brussels sprouts may also pose a choking risk so Dr Schenker says that ‘if they aren’t soft enough that you can flake off leaves, you should cut them into quarters before giving them to your child.’

Temperature of the food

It’s important to cook food thoroughly because babies and children are particularly vulnerable to bacteria that cause food poisoning.

However, it also needs to be cooled so that it’s lukewarm before you give it to them.

‘Adults can always add more heat to their food with hot gravy,’ says Dr Schenker.

Salt and pepper grinders

Too much salt

Although herbs and some spices are good for babies and toddlers to try because they will widen their taste experience, some seasonings should be avoided – including salt.

According to Action On Salt, babies aged 6-12 months should have a maximum of 1g per day, while those aged 1-3 years should have a maximum of 2g per day.

As well as ensuring you don’t serve your little one food that you’ve added salt to – whether it’s to mashed potato or gravy – remember that salt will have been added to other Christmas day favourites including pigs-in-blankets and stuffing, whether it’s shop-bought or home-made.

For example, two Tesco Pigs In Blankets contain 0.8g of salt, which is almost all the salt a 6-12 month old is allowed in one day – and that’s not taking account of other salty foods they might end up consuming during that meal.

‘Watch out for salty crisps and nibbles on coffee tables, too,’ says Dr Schenker.

Soft and blue-veined cheeses

Your baby should steer clear of any mould-ripened soft cheeses such as brie or camembert, blue-veined cheese such as Stilton and goats’ milk cheese that you might get on a cheeseboard selection.

They may contain a bacteria called listeria, which can be dangerous for babies and children (and in pregnancy).

Too much sugar

With bumper boxes biscuit selections being handed around, it could be tempting at Christmas to let little ones join in the fun.

However, although the NHS says there’s no guideline limit for children under the age of four when it comes to sugar, it’s recommended that they avoid sugar-sweetened drinks and food with sugar added to it, from both an obesity and dental health point of view.

‘There is no need to offer sweets and biscuits to little ones when they would be just as happy with a bit of clementine or banana,’ says Dr Schenker. ‘They haven’t had their sweet taste buds corrupted so to them fruit is sweet enough – try to keep it this way.’

And watch out for cranberry sauce. A typical homemade cranberry sauce recipe has around 15g of sugar per serving – the equivalent of three teaspoons. While a tiny amount probably won’t do much harm, your baby won’t miss it if they don’t have it.

christmas chocolates

Chocolate

As well as containing lots of free (added) sugars (two Quality Street chocolates contain 11g of sugar, which is around two teaspoonsful), chocolate contains caffeine, too.

‘It’s at quite a low level but if you want an easy Christmas night without your little one being wide awake, you’d be best keeping the selection box away from them,’ says Dr Schenker.

Keep it out of sight as the bright wrappers are likely to catch their eye – and they could end up eating the confectionary with the foil on.

Alcohol

It goes without saying but no level of alcohol is acceptable for children to have – even if it’s in a dessert or confectionary.

‘Puddings such as tiramisu and trifle traditionally contain alcohol so give your baby something else for afters,’ says Dr Schenker.

Christmas pudding is fine, even if it has been made with alcohol in it –  ‘Alcohol like brandy will be cooked out by the time it gets eaten, but if you light it with alcohol to take it to the table, this isn’t the case so make sure you take a slice out for your little one first,’ says Dr Schenker.

Christmas pudding

Allergens

There are certain allergies that mean a strict diet should be adhered to for your baby, even though it is a time of family celebration.

‘If they have coeliac disease or a true cow’s milk allergy, don’t be tempted to give them just a little bit because it’s Christmas,’ says Dr Schenker says. ‘Although an anaphylactic reaction to nuts is apparent and shocking, the damage done with conditions like coeliac disease is silent.’

Watch out for allergens lurking in Christmas foods, especially if they’ve been brought in by guests.


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Baby being fed baby food

Are ready-made baby foods a good Christmas option?

Ready-made or processed baby meals will be created especially for children, so will have minimal (if any) salt and sugar added to them. However, they tend to be lower in protein than something you might rustle up at home.

For example, a 130g pouch of Ella’s Kitchen organic chicken roast dinner with stuffing for 7+ months babies contains 4.2g of protein. But if you give your little one just 30g (a chubby fistful) of roast turkey leg meat to chew on and eat, that will provide them with 9g of protein.

While there’s nothing wrong with processed baby food when it comes to providing your baby with their nutritional needs, feeding them ‘adult’ food – albeit altered so there’s no added salt and sugar – is even better.

‘A lot of processed baby food is beige and bland and they’re inclined to learn that food is one colour,’ says Dr Schenker. ‘When they see the bright array of naturally colourful food on the Christmas table they’ll start to learn that food can be stimulating and exciting.’

The main processed baby food culprits to watch out for are fruit-based meals and snacks, and although the sugar comes from fruit, Which? nutritionist Shefalee Loth says, ‘The issue around this is that babies get used to having sweet tastes and preferences for sweet foods.’

Watch out, too, for savoury finger foods sold for babies – research shows that although the salt content of baby meals is generally low, with average levels below 0.1g per 100g, when it comes to savoury finger foods, the average is 0.35g of salt per 100g – in some cases it’s as high as 2.6g per 100g.


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Five easy to clean high chairs for Christmas dinner

Whatever your little one is tucking into this Christmas, having them enjoying the experience with grown-ups will be made much easier for everyone if you have a high chair you can pull up to the table.

Here are a few that Which? has tested for features including ease of cleaning – vital for if your baby or toddler has been mushing the sprouts around!

Ikea Antilop, £12

Ikea antilop high chair

At £12, this is the cheapest high chair we’ve come across – and as well as being lightweight, it’s easy to keep clean, too.

The plastic tray wipes down quickly and easily and there aren’t too many nooks and crannies for mashed food and crumbs to hide in.

Silver Cross Buffet, £149

Silver Cross Buffet high chair

This comfy high chair cleans with very little effort, thanks to there being no awkward seams.

The lightweight tray – which also features a cup holder – can be put in the dishwasher, too.

Stokke Clikk, £149

Stokke Clikk

The smooth plastic surface of this high chair wipes down well.

The straps can be put in the washing machine and the tray in the dishwasher.

Joie Snacker 2in1, £74.99

Joie Snacker 2 in 1

This high chair is good when it comes to stain removal and although the tray doesn’t have an insert to keep it clean, it can be taken off for cleaning.

Graco Snack ‘n’ Stow, £44.95

Graco Snack n Stow high chair

An easy-to-clean high chair with covers that can be easily removed, the Graco Snack ‘n’ Stow is also lightweight and slim so can be easily stowed behind a door or in a gap between a kitchen unit and a wall.


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