What’s for lunch*: “Best ever spag bol” with chicken livers


I dithered  over posting this recipe, as I know people have a bit of an “ewww” reaction to liver. But logically, if you’re happy to eat a chicken’s legs why not it’s liver?

I made it last week for lunch, it’s really tasty and nutritious and the babster loved it, I gave a little taster bowl to my eldest daughter (who’s 7) and she didn’t like it, I can’t really expect her to as I’ve never gave her chicken liver, so it’s not a flavour she’s used to (the dish isn’t overly liver tasting anyway – if that makes sense). Forcing children to eat food is a very bad idea,  getting them to try a little bit of everything is the ideal.

Anyway, please keep an open mind and try it, it’s Jack Monroe’s  spaghetti bolognese recipe posted her blog last week,  – it’s adapted from a recipe in Jamie Oliver’s  latest cookbook. I didn’t include was the chilli (for obvious reasons) or the spinach because it’s not in season at the moment so is flown in from Spain. I used organic chicken livers and I slightly adapted it by not using chilli for obvious reasons or frozen spinach – because I didn’t have any.



1 carrot peeled top and tailed and sliced
1 onion sliced
2 fat cloves of garlic crushed
1tbsp olive oil
200g chicken livers

1 teaspoon of mixed herbs
1 tsp fennel seeds
390g carton of chopped tomatoes,
1 tbsp vinegar – red wine or white wine
100g red lentils
100g spaghetti

Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed sauce pan and add the  onion, carrot and garlic.
Add the vinegar, herbs and fennel. Rinse the livers and toss them in too.
Fry everything together on a medium-high heat for 5 minutes until the veg softens and the livers are sealed.
Carefully put the veg and livers into a blender with the chopped tomatoes, and blend until fairly smooth.
Pour the contents of the blender back in the pan on a medium heat, and add 200ml water, and stir well.
Rinse the lentils well and add to the pan.
Add a little more water if the sauce starts to dry out

Bring a pan of water to the boil and add the spaghetti to cook.

The bolognese mixture should take about 15-20 minutes to cook – the lentils should be soft.
Drain the pasta, toss the sauce through,and top with cheese to serve.

Portion sizes

These portion sizes are based on Caroline Walker Trusts Chew guidance for the first year of life and 1-4 year olds.

7-9 months : 60g bolognese to 50g pasta plus about 20g of vegetables as finger food (for this age range you can blend the bolognese and pasta together with a little of baby’s usual milk)
10-12 months : 80g bolognese to 50g pasta plus 30g vegetables as finger food (for this age range you can blend/chop the pasta to make it easier to eat)
1-4 years : 90g bolognese to 80g pasta plus 40g vegetables

Nutrition bits

Based on the above portion sizes for a 10 month old ,this dish would provide about a quarter of their daily recommended intake for iron and magnesium, 3 times their recommended Vitamin A , nearly half their recommended Vitamin B1 intake, three quarters of their Vitamin b2 intake, just under a third of their recommend B3, half their recommended B6, all their recommended folate and vitamin B12 intakes.

Dairy, egg and gluten free

If you can easily exclude these allergens if you use pasta made from rice and/or quinoa – these pastas are usually egg free too, but check the label just in case.
*What’s for lunch is a series of posts with lunch ideas and recipes for you to share with your baby and/or toddler.  Sharing the same food is all part of the social aspect of mealtimes and you’re children learn about food and eating from eating you…


Sugar free banana macaroon recipe

When I was looking for a sugar free cake/biscuit ideas for my baby, I found this Banana macaroon recipe from the Healthful Pursuit’s blog. Leanne who writes the blog posts lots of allergen free recipes from egg to dairy, gluten and sugar free.

Leanne has even written a post on how to open a coconut.

Banana macaroons

The recipe uses shredded coconut, which I haven’t been able to get hold of locally, so bought a coconut and shredded it in the food processor.

I converted quarter cup of coconut butter (or creamed coconut) to 54g and 2.5 cups of shredded coconut to 230g.

Both daughters loved them.

Obviously it’s a bit of a labour of love – shredded the coconut, but at 89p shredding your own coconut cheaper than buying shredded coconut online and you can freeze some of the macaroons for lunchboxes and snacks out and about.

Birth dates

One of the bits of information I found when I was researching all things labour and birth in my last pregnancy, was that eating dates may help you have a natural, shorter labour.

A study carried out by researchers at Jordan University was published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology investigated the effect of eating dates on labour and delivery outcomes.

The sample size was 69 women who ate 6 dates each day for 4 weeks before their estimated due date compared with a control group of 45 women who ate no dates.

The research team found that women who ate the dates had a significantly higher mean cervical dilatation upon admission compared with the non-date fruit consumers (3.52 cm vs 2.02 cm, p < 0.0005). They also had a significantly higher proportion of intact membranes (83% vs 60%, p = 0.007).

Of the women who ate dates, 96% of those went into spontaneous labour, compared with 79% women in the non date  consumers (p = 0.024). Only 28% of the women in the date eating group needed prostin/oxytocin (for inducing/augmenting labour), which was significantly lower than the 47% who needed induction in the control group (p = 0.036). On average too, the latent phase of the first stage of labour was shorter in women who consumed date fruit compared with the non-date fruit consumers (510 min vs 906 min, p = 0.044).

The researchers concluded that date fruit consumption “in the last 4 weeks before labour significantly reduced the need for induction and augmentation of labour, and produced a more favourable, but non-significant, delivery outcome. The results warrant a randomised controlled trial.”

The sample size was small, and the researchers stated that the research findings indicate the need for a randomised control trial (RCT) as RCT’s are widely recognised as the best study design.

Even if it makes no difference to your labour, there’s no harm in eating them and just 6 a day could make a difference. While they are high in sugar, they have a GI of just 42,  because of the high fibre content, and therefore release their sugars at a slow steady pace.* They are  super-high in vitamin B6 and provide good amounts of potassium (which is needed for good muscle contraction). They also contribute small amounts of calcium, iron and B vitamins to the diet.

*For this reason too (and also because of the potassium) they make a great snack to have during labour.

So, does the latest research prove that baby led weaning is better than traditional?

Well, short answer is, no. But as to the reasons why, read on…

I was very interested to see the pretty definitive statements in last week’s Daily Mail “Spoon-fed babies are ‘more likely to become obese’ because their bodies don’t recognise when they are full” and in the Independent “Spoonfed babies more likely to be overweight”. 

What is Babyled Weaning?

Babyled weaning is an approach advocated by Gill Rapley where whole foods are offered to babies from the start of weaning (about 6 months) and no spoon-feeding or help is offered by the parent.

What is “traditional” weaning?

Babies are offered either wholly spoon fed pureed food (moving from pureed to chopped through the weaning process) or a mixture of spoon fed purees alongside finger food that they can hold and taste themselves. The age that parents introduce finger foods  varies. The ideal is to wean around 6 months with a mixture of purees alongside finger food.

As the Caroline Walker Trust state in their Eating well: first year of life practical guideMany of the ideas from baby-led weaning already form part of the good weaning practices currently recommended. Encouraging babies to be involved in meal times, to eat similar foods to those enjoyed by others at the table, to hold finger foods and spoons and to try to feed themselves are all recommended practices.”

The research

The research that the papers reported on was conducted at Swansea University by Dr Amy Brown and Michelle Lee and was published in Pediatric Obesity. I won’t report on the details of the study as you can read it in the Journal and it does make for interesting reading. The findings suggest that babies who were baby led weaning (based on the researchers categorisation) may respond better to satiety signals and may also be less likely to be overweight.

The sample was made up of  298 parents who completed  questionnaires at both stages of data collection. Participants were self-selecting which means that they elected to take part in the research and were not therefore randomly selected. So the sample cannot be said to be representative of the general population.

The data was self-reported, in questionnaires, including an estimation of the child’s weight and therefore may be subject to responder bias. For instance parents who adopt baby led weaning approach may have strongly believed in it and its outcomes and this may have had an impact on their responses in the questionnaire.

The baby led weaning group was identified as those who pureed/spoon-fed 10% or less of their baby’s food. So the spoon fed weaning group (SW) was  made up of mothers who introduced pureed and finger food at the beginning of weaning or introduced finger food later and mothers who wholly spoon fed. To include such wide ranging approaches in one group does not make sense. Perhaps stratifying into different groups, would have given more insight into how different weaning approaches impact on satiety signals at a later stage.

The researchers demonstrated a correlation between infants who were spoon fed 10% or less and higher responsiveness to satiety signals. It does not demonstrate causation, so  no link has been found between the two.

The difficulty with this type of research is that it is social science, so is not carried out in the lab. So there is always a certain amount of pragmatism needed when designing such studies – there is always a tension between keeping the situation as real to life as possible and maintaining a good level of scientific rigour. The researchers did not interfere or observe the weaning process. Which in itself could have changed behaviour of participants.

The researchers accepted the limitations of the study and conclude that this research indicates that further research using a randomised control trial is needed.

How you wean

Parents need to wean in a way that suits their baby’s and their own needs.

What research tells us is that handling food is an essential part of the weaning process as it encourages babies/children to accept different textures and consistencies and be open to trying new foods.

This is not unique to baby led weaning, good practice traditional weaning consists of pureed foods/spoonfed alongside finger foods from the beginning – around 6 months.

If babies are wholly spoon fed and therefore not able to explore food with their hands it is possible that this can lead to “fussiness”. If babies are fed mainly or wholly ready made baby food this can lead to food fussiness as jars or sachets have same consistency and flavour, unlike freshly prepared foods.

Conversely, the possible downsides of baby led weaning is that baby may not choose to eat as wide a variety of foods as parents would include in purees/chopped up foods. They may also play with food more than eat it. Also early on in the weaning process when baby is getting used to grasping and handling food, they may not eat enough protein, iron, or zinc to meet their nutrient needs.

Be responsive to your baby’s cue’s too. If 90% of our communication is body language, it’s not hard to tell if your baby likes what they are eating, is full or wants more, give them time to pause and chew.

You know your baby and their needs best, do what suits them and you, just let them make a mess whether it’s babyled or finger food and purees.