Pixie McKenna on weaning: ‘I hadn’t a clue’

‘Dr Pixie’s First Foods’ examines weaning and babies’ first food recipes . . . sugar included


It is a scenario that will resonate with all parents: you’ve just started to get a quasi handle on a stage with your baby and suddenly – wham – the next stage arrives, catching you totally off guard. For many parents, such as London-based GP Pixie McKenna, that stage is the weaning of your first baby.

Aged 40 when her daughter Darcy arrived, McKenna, of Channel 4’s Embarrassing Bodies, says: “I just don’t think it’s always held up as the milestone it is.

“You’ve got your feeding right, whether you’re breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, you come to the age of six months and maybe think ‘oh this is great, we’ve got a little routine’.” And then, just when you think you have things sorted, there is another challenge.

“I think people thought, I was an older mother, I’m a medic, I probably know what I’m doing, but I hadn’t a clue. I didn’t know what to do and I discovered in my own wayward, chaotic way that there are some things you should never do but most of it – like every aspect of babying – you work it out.

What’s right for you is the most important thing.”

A chat to colleagues on her return to work about the whole experience led to the idea of a series of books, “a sort of idiot’s guide” to having children.

Dr Pixie’s First Foods is the first in that series. Developed with a home economist, it is firmly in the traditional, Annabel Karmel mode, with recipes given for three stages – purees in the first, chunkier textures in the second and, finally, family.

The book details the different weaning routes people can take – traditional or baby-led, in which finger foods are offered for the baby to explore. McKenna posits that neither approach is wrong; it is a matter of choosing the best one for you and your baby.

Right timing

On the timing of starting the weaning process, McKenna agrees with the World Health Organisation’s guideline of 26 weeks.

“In medicine things change all the time, on the basis of evidence we collect. We always knew that kids who are weaned after six months are likely to develop iron deficiencies. But we have recently realised that you may well get more allergies if you are weaned earlier than that, as your digestive system is not mature enough. So that’s how we shifted from four months to six months.”

A lot of her take on feeding babies is based on basic things “that you should never do”, she says. “Don’t give your baby salt, don’t give them honey, don’t give them chilli; definitely don’t start before 17 weeks but, after that, follow your instincts.

“In an ideal world, if you can cook something, great. It’s cheaper, it’s more convenient, you can batch-cook and, ultimately, as you go through the stages, you can all eat the same thing, which is really important.

“I come from a family where, whatever happened, we all sat down together for dinner at night. Food would be thrown, there would be fights and all that, but we would be eating together. And we all got served in order of our age so I was always served last,” she laughs.

This socialisation is key, she believes. “More and more evidence says your child is more likely to be a fussier eater if they don’t have that good relationship with food where it’s a social thing, an interactive thing. “Continentals do it all the time but we seem to be able to do it far less as we’re all so busy, coming in at different times and all that . . . If we could try to get that time to eat together, I think it could pay back massively.”

Sweet treats

Perhaps surprisingly given sugar’s role as the undisputed baddie of the food world right now, the book doesn’t shy away from it in some of the sweet treats, something McKenna is happy to stand over.

“I think everything in moderation, including moderation. Obviously if you start a baby on really sweet things, they are going to develop a sweet tooth. But once they’re a bit older, if they’re going to have something I’d rather they have something homemade like a little biscuit – not a big adult biscuit – than see them eating chocolate or crisps.

“Anything you make is going to be better than something you buy. I appreciate sugar is the big bad thing at the moment, but I certainly wouldn’t put my child on a sugar-free diet. I don’t see sugar as the enemy, I see laziness as the enemy.”

And her advice for parents facing into the same stage? “Weaning is a milestone in your child’s life and if you get bogged down in the nitty gritty of it, you’re not enjoying it and before you know it, it’s over.

“Just keep reminding yourself that you’re the best qualified person for minding your child. It’s very easy to lose confidence when you see fabulous people in the media or at play groups but you’re not in competition with anyone else. So, enjoy it and take the pictures of you covered in spaghetti . . . They might not seem funny at the time but ultimately they are the lovely days you’ll remember.”

Recipes from Dr Pixie’s First Foods:

Stage 1:Red Pepper purée

Makes 2 portions and takes 15 minutes.

The sweet taste of red peppers makes them an ideal early food for baby. Preheat the grill. Wash, core and deseed a medium red pepper. Cut into quarters and roast under the grill until the skin is charred. Place the pepper in a plastic bag and allow to cool, then peel off the skin and purée to a smooth consistency. Serve immediately or cover and chill until needed.

Stage 2: Blueberry and banana puree

Makes 2 portions and takes 10 minutes

50g blueberries

2 tbsp water

2 small ripe bananas, peeled and chopped

Put the blueberries in a saucepan with the water and cook for 5 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat. Add the chopped banana to the pan and blend with a stick blender to the desired consistency

Serve lukewarm or cover and chill until needed.:

Stage 3: Creamy chicken curry Makes two portions and takes 25 minutes.

This flavoursome recipe uses mild spices, combined with the natural sweetness of fruit, for a warming meal. Gradually introduce your child to spices, starting with mild flavours such as cinnamon and nutmeg before trying anything hotter.

2 tsp sunflower oil

Skinless, boneless chicken breast, finely diced

Small onion, finely chopped

1 small carrot, cut in matchsticks

2 tsp mild korma curry paste

150 ml low-sodium chicken stock

Small dessert apple, peeled, cored and diced

2 ready-to-eat dried apricots, chopped

100 ml cup coconut milk

1 tsp chopped fresh coriander

Heat the oil in a small non-stick frying pan and cook the chicken for 3-4 minutes until cooked. Remove and put to one side.

Add the onion and carrot to the pan and cook for 1 minute.

Stir in the korma paste and the chicken stock. Cook for 3-4 minutes. Add the apple, apricots, coconut milk and chicken to the pan. Cook gently for 5 minutes.

Sprinkle with the coriander and serve with cooked rice.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection


Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.