As I said in my last post, if there is one thing I have learned from having twins it is just how different babies can be. Two babies, from the same parents, brought up in identical circumstances, my boys are so far apart in terms of development, personality and emotional needs, it surprises me daily. And mealtimes are no different – whilst Conall was desperate to self-feed, grabbing at the spoon and bowl from week 1, Hal is still content to sit back and let Mummy do the work to this day. Conall took to finger food quickly, whilst Hal was really only interested in squidging bits of banana between his fingers. Both boys like nothing more than to make as much mess as possible.
Weaning twins is a massive job, and one with which I was willing to take any help I could get. My Dad and Step-Mum had bought me Annabel Karmel’s New Complete Baby and Toddler Meal Planner before the boys were born, and I still use this regularly for reference, and for recipes. But there are many essentials without which I would really struggle – not only the store-cupboard stash of baby jars, but regular food stuffs and kitchen equipment that just make life that little simpler.
Here are my weaning baby must-haves:
Jelly moulds and leaf gelatine: I like to make my own jellies for puddings for two reasons: firstly, I can control the amount of sugar that goes in, and secondly, I can make them with pure fruit juice. I had no idea how easy it was to make your own jellies, but it’s every bit as simple as using jelly cubes – simply bring fruit juice to just below boiling point, add in four softened gelatine sheets for every pint of liquid, pour into moulds and refridgerate to set. The boys will eat pretty much any flavour, but a favourite is made with a tin of raspberries in juice: I strain the fruit and share between the moulds, then make the juice up to a pint with cranberry and raspberry juice. Add a tablespoon of caster sugar to taste (cranberry juice can be quite tart), and pour the jelly mix over the berries.
Semolina: I found that for my sons, what they ate during the day had a direct impact on how well and long they slept at night. This is not true of all babies, but it was of mine. I quickly realised that a portion of baby rice pudding after their evening meal added up to a decent night’s sleep for mummy and daddy. But to buy the pre-made baby rice in jars for every evening meal was proving expensive. As soon as my boys were on dairy, I began making an alternative to rice pudding, in the form of semolina. I’d mix up a batch with milk and sweeten with fruit puree (see below), portioning it up into tupperware for the next few nights. The twins love it!
Tinned fruit: I was buying fresh fruit and pureeing it up for the boys over summer, but as the nights began to draw in, so the price of fresh soft fruits began to sky-rocket. I often found that a punnet of peaches would go mouldy before they would ripen too – something of an annoyance. And then I saw a TV programme about food waste, which highlighted that tinned and frozen foods have gone out of fashion, despite being fresher, out of season, than their “fresh” brethren. I now stock the cupboard with tinned peaches, apricots and raspberries – as long as they are stored in juice and not in syrup, they’re fine by me! I blend a tin every few days and store in the fridge to add to semolina and…
Ready Brek: Courtesy of Annabel Karmel. My boys were getting through a box of baby porridge every two days – which, at £2.10+ a box quickly adds up! As soon as they were old enough to be introduced to gluten I began to mix their baby porridge in with Ready Brek, increasing the quantity week by week. They now have about a third baby porridge to 2/3 Ready Brek, and it goes a lot further. As many of the baby porridges are flavoured, I sweeten this with a slug of fruit puree (see above).
Frozen veg: peas and sweetcorn, fresh from the freezer, are great to throw into dishes for baby (once they’re old enough to process the husks) and packed full of goodness! See “Philly” below for a recipe using frozen or tinned sweetcorn that the twins just wolf down.
Lentils: Great for stodgifying root veg dishes, my lads love lentils in their dinner. I cook mine in the bottom of a three tier steamer, with chopped carrot and sweet potato above, then blend with the veg, a tin of tomatoes and a tablespoon of yoghurt, a very little cumin and turmeric, and chunks of pineapple to make a very gentle dahl. Always a hit at dinnertime!
Avocados: A godsend when I’ve run out of lunches, we started on avocados mashed with bananas when the lads were still eating mostly fruit and veg. I now blend with a pot of baby fruit from the cupboard in an emergency, with cottage cheese and pineapple from the fridge, or for a real favourite, with either poached chicken and basil leaves or poached salmon and dill.
Bananas: as above, an real emergency staple. Mash one with yoghurt or rice pudding to make a filling finale to a meal.
Cottage cheese & Philly: Cottage cheese, especially with pineapple, was a surprising hit with the boys from the moment they could eat dairy and forms the base to many of their lunches. Philly (other cream cheeses are available…) is fantastic for mixing with tiny pasta shapes and tomato, or in the boys’ favourite dinner, with poached and pureed chicken, sweetcorn and pasta bits. They can’t get enough of it!
Natural Yoghurt: Babies need the full fat version of dairy, and I find the market leading brand of fromage frais somewhat overpoweringly flavoured. I tend to mix Greek style natural yoghurt with fresh fruit, fruit puree or smushed up jelly instead for an alternative dessert. Also good for watering down/creamy-ing up savoury dishes.
Silicone muffin moulds: ice cube trays are too small for babies beyond a couple of months into weaning. Silicone muffin moulds are great for freezing patties of pureed chicken or fish, mixed veg and herbs – anything you’d like to make in a batch and divide up into portions before freezing, really! Freeze in the muffin moulds overnight, then bag up in labelled freezer bags. I mix and match to make up a meal – a patty of chicken with a patty of mashed carrot and sweet potato and perhaps an ice cube of herbs or baby stock, popped in a Tupperware dish in the fridge overnight to defrost…
Wand blender: I could use my lovely fancy Kenwood every time I needed to blend something, but it is time consuming both in terms of set-up and washing-up. My stick blender was £4.99 from Tesco, and has been used AT LEAST twice a day for 5 months solid now. If it breaks next week I will feel confident I’ve had my money’s worth! My Kenwood is great for Sunday afternoon batch cooking sessions when I’m stocking up the freezer.
And a non-necessity that I just love…
My Squeeze Station: I bought this from the Jojo Maman Bebe outlet and I adore how organised it lets me be. I fill the pouches with pre-mixed meals and label with my sharpie, then store in the freezer until needed. Before my working week begins, I can pull out a few meals and write on them exactly what and when they are for: “MONDAY – LUNCH”, for example. It takes the guess work out for me and my Mum/Mother-In-Law when they’re looking after the boys. It wasn’t especially cheap – I got mine for £15 in the sale, and an additional 50 pouches for £13, but then with a voucher code for another 15% off, so about £25 for the whole system plus extra pouches… but it has been worth it for the sense of control it has allowed me. Trust me, when you’re a twin-mummy, anything that allows you the semblance of control is a real luxury!