Weaning post #5: An apple a day?

Everyone knows apples are good for you and British Heart Foundation researchers at Oxford University have put the Apple a day proverb to the test in research published in the BMJ this week.

Drawing on existing data and using mathematical models they assessed the affects of eating an apple a day, compared to taking statins, in the over 50’s.

They worked out that prescribing an apple a day (with estimated 70% compliance which is optimistic) to all adults over 50 in the UK would prevent about 8,500 deaths a year from heart attacks and stroke and have fewer side effects than statins. While prescribing statins to people who are not already taking them would prevent a similar number (9,400).

Though they are careful to point out that people who are taking statins already shouldn’t stop.

They also estimated that prescribing statins would lead to 1,000 extra cases of muscle disease and over 10,000 extra diagnoses of diabetes.

I know which I would opt for.


Apples are high in vitamin c, soluble and insoluble fibre. The latter gives them a lower GI which means they release their sugar into the blood much slower than other fruits (38 compared to 65-80 for melons)

They’re also a rich source of phytochemicals, many of which have antioxidant properties – which means the neutrilize free radicals which cause ageing and degenerative diseases like heart disease and cancer.

And so it follows that there are studies that show that people who eat apples are less likely to suffer from a stroke. Eating apples regularly was also found to reduce “bad” cholesterol in women, the risk of type II diabetes and may help prevent neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimers disease.


So how does this news relate to weaning? The first 5 years of life a crucial in setting eating habits for life. If your baby or toddler eats apples then chances are they will eat them when they are adults. Within those 5 years the first 18 months is probably the time when your child is most open to new foods.


Raw apples are one of the foods that baby could easily choke on, because they are small and hard.

A good way to give raw apple to your baby is to give a whole apple with the skin on, with a few chunks bitten out by you so it’s easier to gnaw on. They will be able to bite into it, but because their grasp is not strong they will not be able to bite off big chunks.*

You could also try grated apple.

Steamed or boiled

Core an apple, peel and slice into rings and then steam or boil for 2-3 minutes to soften (then putting under a cold running tap to stop the cooking and to cool) is a great way to give apple as a finger food.*

Apple rings
Apple rings

They make a good snack food to take out and about, and as a pudding you can serve with full fat yogurt.

Baked apples

Once your baby is about 1 year and you’re able to brush their teeth. You can make baked apples. Cooking apples are called Bramley’s. They are less sweet than eating apples so you need to add a little natural sweetness.

The reason I say to wait until your baby is about a year as you will then be able to brush their teeth to protect them against dental caries. It’s worth remembering that it’s not recommended to give any added sugars to babies.

To bake the apple, core it. I put foil in the base of the hole. Then pile in dried fruit and add a teaspoon of maple syrup (the foil keeps the syrup in). Cook in the oven in a baking tray (at about 180-200 degrees C or gas mark 5) for about 20 minutes and serve with custard.*

Baked apples with maple syrup, dried fruit and custard
Baked apples with maple syrup, dried fruit and custard

And what about you?

Babies learn eating habits from their parents. So don’t forget to eat your apple a day too.

Which reminds me of the great Michael Pollen Food Rule : If you’re not hungry enough to eat an apple, then you’re probably not hungry.

So at this festive time when we tend to over-consume, try to balance the treats with the healthy stuff and before you reach for that mince pie eat an apple first. Have a Merry Christmas and a great 2014. I’m off to eat my apple.

*Remember to feed your baby safely. Never leave them while they are eating, have them sitting upright (if they are tilted back this increases the risk of choking). Do a first aid course so you know what to do if your child chokes.


Meatballs and pasta

This is the recipe daughter number 1 made in the Kids Kitchen at the Abergavenny Food Festival last year.

It doesn’t take long to make a batch of meatballs, and if you freeze some of them, they defrost quickly for midweek meals.

I have sometimes bought organic meatballs, but it’s so much cheaper to make your own. And I have noticed that some of the non-organic meatballs have water added as well as salt and additives – so not only are you paying more for someone else to make your meatballs but you’re also paying for water (and a slightly lower protein content).

My youngest is about 8 months in this photo. You can just about see that I made the meatballs into longer sausage shapes for her to hold and eat. Younger babies haven’t yet learnt to hold things using pincer grasp so if you are going to serve as a finger food you need to make them long enough for them to grasp and have enough meat on the end to eat too. I tried this a couple of times but found a lot of the meat got wasted/not eaten so it was easier to put in with the pasta and sauce. I do usually give some of the pasta as finger food as she enjoys eating it this way, and the 7 year old does too now.


Sometimes if I am using a batch of meatballs from the freezer I  just chop them up with the pasta for baby, for spoon-feeding along with some veggie’s as a finger food. If you are pureeing rather than chopping food (for younger babies) and you don’t have an older child you might just like to stick with spaghetti bolognese rather than going to the bother of making meatballs.


You will need…

…for the meatballs
500g organic (ideally lean) beef or lamb mince
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 tablespoons fresh parsley or basil (but if you don’t have any fresh herbs use a tablespoon of dried mixed herbs
2 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan

… how to make the meatballs
Mix all the ingredients together (except the olive oil which is for frying) and shape into small balls, the size of cherry tomatoes. The recipe from Kid’s Kitchen gives details of how to steam cook the meatballs, which is healthier. But I have to admit to shallow frying in a the olive oil. turning regularly to brown all over (don’t over-brown them though).

Use what you need and freeze the rest between parchment/grease proof paper in airtight containers. They’ll keep in the fridge for a couple of days and in the freezer for a couple of months.

…for the tomato sauce
tablespoon of olive oil
1 garlic clove finely chopped
handful of fresh basil, finely chopped (or 1 tablespoon of dried mixed herbs if that’s all you have in)
400g tin of chopped tomatoes
tablespoon of tomato puree

Heat the olive oil, add the garlic clove and before it starts turning brown add the dried herbs (if using) and chopped and pureed tomatoes, stir and simmer for 10 minutes, add the meatballs 5 minutes before serving along with the fresh herbs (if using). Serve with pasta and a little fresh parmesan.

In the Summer I sometimes make the tomato sauce with garlic, onion and red pepper, adding the tomatoes after they have softened.

Portion sizes

These portion sizes are a guide to help you know roughly how much to give. I don’t weigh out portion sizes for every meal. But by weighing portion sizes out a few times I’ve learnt to estimate portion sizes by sight:

7-9 months: 30g meatballs to 70g tomato sauce and 20g vegetables as finger food
10-12 months: 40g meatballs to 80g tomato sauce and 30g vegetables as finger food
1-4 years: 50g meatballs to 100g tomato sauce and 1 x 40g portions of vegetables

Nutrition bits

You can use either lamb or beef mince. Opt for British, ideally organic. Whilst lamb and beef is usually grassfed, buying organic ensures that the animal is grassfed as it’s integral to the legal organic standards.

Meat from grassfed has higher levels of omega 3’s. Compared to grain fed animals, the saturated fat from grass fed animals have higher levels of the saturated fat, stearic acid, which does not increase cholesterol levels and conversely has lower levels of the two saturated fats that cause increased cholesterol (myristic and palmitic). Grassfed meat also has been found to have higher levels of anitoxidants, Vitamin’s A and E and glutathione and superoxide dismutase. Both these meats are also very good sources of protein, iron and zinc.

Red meat does get a bad press, but it can make a valuable contribution to a balanced healthy diet – especially for younger children – who are at higher risk of iron and zinc deficiency. It’s also worth remembering that most studies of beef consumption in the US, will be based on what most people eat which is intensively reared cattle on feedlots where the cattle eat grain and in particular maize, which causes all sorts of health problems for the animals and also means the meat has a less healthy profile compared to grassfed.