Is Pesto OK For Baby-Led Weaning?
Yes, pesto is fine for weaning babies to eat, providing it is introduced gradually, is not too chunky, and doesn't contain any ingredients that your baby has already displayed allergic reactions to.
In Genoa, the home of basil pesto, the locals will tell you that pesto is the second thing a baby will taste after its mother's milk, and we can't think of a better way of saying that yes, pesto is fine for babies to eat.
Baby-led weaning (BLW) is a subject that has inspired an untold number of academic studies, cookbooks, opinions, and family arguments. Those of a certain generation whose grandparents grew up having cognac rubbed on their gums, were sent up chimneys age four and were locked in their bedroom until they cried themselves to sleep may not be best placed to advise on today's different approaches to weaning.
Anyway, we digress, we're not here to judge. We have no opinions on when weaning should start, whether it should only start with purees or what the correct ratio of sweet-to-savoury vegetables should be. That's for people to bicker about on Mumsnet.
What we do have ample opinion and knowledge about though, is pesto, and along with basic guidance from the NHS, we believe that there's absolutely no problem with introducing pesto to a baby's diet as soon as it starts weaning.
There are a few caveats though...
As this is your baby's first foray into solid food, it's important to introduce pesto slowly and in very small quantities at first, especially if there is a family history of allergies.
Dairy (in the form of cheese) is worth keeping a particularly close eye on, especially because traditional basil pesto contains cheese made from both cow's and sheep's milk. Although their name may imply otherwise, pine nuts aren't actually nuts at all, they’re seeds, However, they could still cause a reaction. A lot of cheaper pestos may contain other kinds of nut (even peanuts), so always check the label.
With so many different pesto sauces available, don't assume that they are all created equal. We know of pestos containing beetroot, anchovies and even cured meat, so make sure you're not inadvertently feeding your baby something you hadn't factored in.
Plenty of pestos, especially premium ones, are left chunky for a more interesting eating experience. Thankfully, your baby is not just yet a critic of your cookery skills, so we always advise you puree pesto until it is super smooth to reduce the risk of choking.
The pestos you find in the ambient pasta aisle must be quite acidic to have such a long shelf life, and that acidity could come from a variety of sources including citrus juice, vinegars or powdered acids. Just be aware that weaning babies may still have quite a low tolerance for overly acidic foods.
Fat and salt
Just like adults, weaning babies should not be fed excessively salty or fatty foods. If you follow the food traffic light system, you'll have seen that pesto tends to carry a couple of amber and red warnings. With 99% of pestos, we don't think it's of huge concern because your baby will be eating such small quantities of it and we don't consider it to be bad for people anyway.
However, it's worth looking out for excessively salty pestos because we know of one for sale in the UK that contains a whopping 5.1% salt. To put it in context, that's over twice as salty as most supermarket bacon!