Christmas is for the whole family, from bub to great-grandma and all generations in between. And that includes the Christmas feast. There really is no need to prepare special food for your baby or toddler. Most of the foods traditionally served at Christmas – roast turkey, glazed ham, vegetables, summer salads and seafood – can be easily adapted to become kid friendly.
Why bother with a traditional Christmas dinner?
Traditional Christmas recipes can have strong flavours or may be a little rich for young tummies. Modifying the meal to suit everyone in the family also means less work for mum and dad (or whoever may be preparing the feast) and the little ones don’t miss out on perfectly suitable foods.
These modifications will also create a meal that leaves you feeling jolly and ready for more action – rather than sluggish and drowsy – when you’re finished. But the best reason to go kid friendly is that it promotes togetherness and encourages kids to try new foods!
Step 1: Hold the salt
Try to limit the amount of salt added in the cooking process. Using garlic, onion and herbs is a healthier option than salt when flavouring the meat or turkey. Alternatively, try using no-added sugar jams as a glaze on your roasts.
Step 2: Keep it lean
Little ones don’t like the fatty bits found in meat, so if serving red meat, choose a lean cut. Take the skin off chicken and turkey, and cut visible fat off the ham.
Cut meat such as chicken, turkey and small amounts of ham into bite-sized pieces to help little mouths to chew and swallow (larger pieces of meat tend to be chewed and spat out). For little ones just starting solids, you can blend the meat with some vegetables and a little water to make a soft texture. Using a little plain yoghurt can add extra flavour too.
Step 3: Seafood & eat it!
Cooked seafood, including prawns and calamari, is fine for little tummies and provides a good source of healthy protein to boot. In the past we’ve been advised that children under 12 months of age shouldn’t eat shellfish due to allergy fears, however health professionals are now saying these foods are safe for children over 6 months.
Stick to little fish for little kids because the longer-living predatory fish tend to have built-up mercury levels in their flesh. These fish, such as shark or flake, swordfish, marlin, sea perch (orange roughy) and broadbill, should not be included in the diet of small children. If they are eaten they should be limited to one serve a fortnight with no other fish eaten that fortnight.
Examples of low-mercury fish commonly available include bream, rainbow trout, ocean trout, flathead, kingfish and whiting. Canned tuna and salmon are also good low-mercury options for kids.
Step 4: The good oil
Olive or canola oil is fine to use when cooking food your little ones can eat. When cooking, only use a small amount of olive or canola oil. Better still, use spray oil with a non-stick pan.
Step 5: Watch the alcohol
Alcohol evaporates without heat, and the majority also burns off during the cooking process. How much booze remains in the dish depends on the cooking method and amount of cooking time so, if in doubt, don’t serve a dish cooked in alcohol to kids. Rum-soaked fruitcakes and rum balls would have to turn into bricks before the alcohol in them evaporates so are not recommended for children.
As a general rule, don’t allow children to eat any uncooked foods with alcohol (such as brandy butter, brandy custard or cointreau-soaked dried fruit) as these will retain the most alcohol. A cup of red wine in a long-simmered sauce, however, is not going to leave a significantly measurable alcohol residue and will add a rich flavour.
Step 6: Veg out
Lots of littlies prefer vegetables to salads. Beware of blanched vegetables however, as they may pose a choking risk for young babies and toddlers. You may have to cook theirs for a little longer to make them soft – better still, roast your vegies for the whole family to enjoy.
Step 7: Get saucy
Tomato sauce is great for little ones (even better if it is salt reduced). Mixed with a little low-fat mayonnaise it makes a great cocktail sauce for seafood.
Gravy made from meat drippings is not a healthy option for adults or children as it is very high in fat and usually high in salt. Try cranberry sauce or a mild mustard such as Dijonnaise instead.
Step 8: Nibble know-how
Creamy dips, chips and nuts (also a choking risk) are all high in fat and salt. Plus, little ones tend to fill up on these if left to graze around the food table. Choose fruit, vegetable or salad-based snacks with low-fat dips (light hummus or avocado mixed with light cream cheese), salsa, reduced-fat cheese, gherkins and home-cooked popcorn.
Platters of chopped fruit or fruit skewers can be a refreshing change from higher-fat nibblies and are kid-friendly too. Cutting fruit up into Christmas shapes adds to the mood and encourages children to eat it. Cut watermelon into Christmas tree shapes, pineapple into stars!
Christmas treats are in high demand at this time of year, but it’s important not to get too carried away and let the kids overdose on the chocolates and sweets that the rellies shower them with.
Children are born with a very bland palate that can change quickly if they are given foods very high in sugar, salt and fat. This can fast-track tastebuds to become addicted to these foods and their owners to turn their noses up at healthier, blander options.
For something different, make up a batch of gingerbread cookies in Christmas shapes. Make a hole in each biscuit prior to cooking and when they are cool, you can decorate them and hang on the tree (make sure they are out of reach of pets). This is great for the kids to do and they will contain less sugar and fat than many commercial varieties.
What not to serve kids at Christmas
Steer the kids clear of:
- Anything with alcohol that hasn’t been cooked off (such as brandy butter, brandy custard and rum balls)
- Nuts, either in foods or chocolate coated, or slivered (such as almonds)
- Crisps, salted pretzels and popcorn
- Soft drink
- Raw carrot
- Fish with bones
- Large serves of rich foods, such as pudding – keep some plain custard or ice-cream in the fridge for the kids’ dessert instead.