Baby-Led Weaning with Cauliflower – Sarah Remmer, RD

Diana J. Smith

Wondering how and when to introduce cauliflower to your baby? Here is everything you need to know about baby-led weaning with cauliflower.

baby sitting in a high chair with a bowl full of soft cooked cauliflower, broccoli and carrots

If you’re wondering how and when to introduce cauliflower to your baby, you’re in the right spot! Here is everything you need to know about baby-led weaning with cauliflower, from a pediatric registered dietitian and mom of 3. Whether you’re doing baby-led weaning, spoon-feeding, or a combination of both, this post will walk you through, step-by-step how to introduce cauliflower to your baby.

Cauliflower is a nutrient-dense cruciferous vegetable related to broccoli, kale, brussels sprouts, cabbage and a variety of other leafy greens.  Cauliflower can be prepared in many ways for your baby, while delivering essential nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin K, potassium, folate and fibre!  This versatile vegetable comes in many colors ranging from white (most commonly seen in grocery stores), to orange, green, and purple. 

mother feeding baby cauliflower on a spoon

When to Introduce Cauliflower

You can serve cauliflower to your baby as soon are they are showing all the signs of readiness to eat solids, which for most babies, is around 6 months of age (this is right around the time that I recommend introducing solid foods). Check out this guide for important information on your baby’s readiness cues for baby-led weaning.

When cooked, cauliflower transforms from a firm texture to soft and squishable. Raw cauliflower is too hard for babies to breakdown between their tiny gums. It is important to steam or roast cauliflower so that it is soft enough to easily squish between 2 fingers before serving to your baby. An easy test is to put a piece of cooked cauliflower in your own mouth, and squish it between your tongue and upper palate. If it squishes easily, it’s a good texture for baby. 

Why Try Baby-led Weaning?

Before we get too far, let’s talk a little bit about baby-led weaning! First off, there is no one “right way” to introduce solids. Whether you introduce solids through baby-led weaning (baby self-feeding with soft finger foods only) or traditional spoon feeding (or a combo!) the most important thing is that all feeding is done “responsively”, meaning that baby is leading the way.

Baby-led weaning is a feeding approach that involves preparing soft, safe finger foods for baby to self-feed, instead of you spoon-feeding purees (which is the more traditional way to offer solid foods). A benefit to baby-led weaning is that baby is 100% in control of how much and how fast they eat. However, feeding baby whole pieces of food can cause anxiety for new parents, particularly around choking risk.

I want to assure you though that if foods are prepared properly (soft enough and in a safe shape), the choking risk is no higher than traditional spoon-feeding.

Now, gagging is another story. Baby will inevitably gag with new foods and textures as a part of learning how to manipulate food in their little mouths. Gagging is not the same as choking—it is an innate reflex that actually helps prevent choking! Other potential benefits of baby-led weaning include improved dexterity, early oral-motor skill development, better self-regulation, and saving money on store bought baby food. Introducing a wide variety of food pieces and textures may also help to reduce picky eating later on. To learn more, read this post on everything you need to know about baby-led weaning. Now, back to cauliflower!

Why Cauliflower is an ideal baby-led weaning food

Cauliflower is a wonderful food to introduce to your baby through baby-led weaning, as it can be cooked to the perfect smashable texture. It is quick and easy to prepare for baby by steaming, and separating into florets. Steamed floret pieces (about the length of an adult pointer finger) are perfect shape for baby to practice their palmer grasp right at the start of learning to eat solids! As your little one progresses through their eating journey, smaller pieces of cooked cauliflower are ideal for practicing their pincer grasp starting at around 9 months.

baby hands holding a piece of cauliflower

Cooked cauliflower has a mild, slightly sweet flavor that your little one is likely to enjoy. Cooked cauliflower can be easily mashed or blended into a puree if you prefer to spoon feed your baby (which is also totally fine!). Cauliflower is nutrient-packed (see more about its nutrition profile below), and can be prepared in many different ways for your kiddo. Keep reading to discover more ideas on how to incorporate this nourishing vegetable into your little one’s baby-led weaning journey!  

When introducing any new food, it is a good idea to start with small amounts to prevent baby from being overwhelmed by a large portion on their plate. For example, 1 scoop of cauliflower puree on a spoon, or one floret of steamed cauliflower is a perfect start to allow your little one to become acquainted with this new food. As your little one becomes more comfortable or signals that they want more, offer more! Let your baby lead the way. Try starting with ¼-1/2 cup of cauliflower puree or steamed cauliflower, balanced with a familiar starch and protein on their plate. If baby signals that they want more cauliflower, follow their lead and add more!

Benefits of Cauliflower

Cauliflower provides powerful antioxidants that can help reduce the risk of several illnesses and reduce inflammation in the body. It is a good source of dietary fibre, important for helping your baby regulate their bowel movements and prevent constipation. 

pieces of chopped cauliflower on a cutting board

½ cup of cooked cauliflower provides:

– Over 3 times baby’s daily vitamin K needs– important for normal blood clotting and bone formation.

– 58% of baby’s daily vitamin C needs– important for cartilage formation, wound healing, and proper immune function 

– 36% of baby’s daily folate needs– important for normal cell division and synthesis of genetic material

– 13% of baby’s daily potassium needs– important for kidney and heart function, muscle contraction and nerve transmission 

Ways to prepare cauliflower for baby

1. Steamed Cauliflower- place a steam basket or colander into a large pot. Cover the bottom of the pot with water. Wash and cut cauliflower head into florets and place into colander. Bring water to boil, reduce to a simmer.  Steam cauliflower for about 8-10 minutes for a soft squishable texture. 

steamed cauliflower pieces on a black ladle

2. Roasted Cauliflower- Preheat oven to 400°F. Wash and cut cauliflower into florets. Toss in olive oil and spread out onto a baking sheet. Option to season cauliflower with fresh or powdered garlic and paprika. Roast in oven for about 25-30 mins until the tops become lightly golden brown. Be sure to remove any extra crispy or burnt bits before serving to baby. 

3. Cauliflower puree- Take full head of steamed cauliflower and puree with ¼ cup of liquid (this could be cooking liquid, milk, or breast milk). Blend in food processor until smooth. For a chunkier texture mash cauliflower and liquid with a potato masher until desired texture is reached. Experiment with varying textures from a smooth puree to chunky as your baby progresses in their eating journey. 

4. Cauliflower “Rice”- Take a raw cauliflower head and pulse in a food processor to achieve a rice-like texture. Alternatively use a box grater with medium holes to grate the cauliflower into “rice”. Sauté cauliflower in a pan with vegetable oil or butter until tender. You can also steam the cauliflower rice in a steam basket or colander until cooked (this will take less time than steaming florets). 

How to serve cauliflower to baby

1. Steamed cauliflower florets (6-7 months)

soft cooked cauliflower pieces

Steamed whole cauliflower cut or separated into large floret pieces are the perfect shape for baby to use their raking grasp motion to get a hold of the food. They can then bring the soft cooked cauliflower to their mouth and gum off a piece or just suck on the floret as they explore this new food! 

2. Steamed, mashed or pureed cauliflower (6-7 months)

pureed cauliflower in a green bowl with a baby spoon

Mashed or pureed cauliflower is similar to the texture of mashed potatoes. Make it creamy and more energy dense by adding in whole fat plain yogurt and/or butter. You can spoon feed your baby mashed or pureed cauliflower, or pre-load a baby spoon for them to pick up and feed themselves. You can expect your baby to start using spoons by themselves (albeit a little messy) between 10-12 months. 

3. Cauliflower “rice” (6-7 months)

mashed cooked cauliflower in a green bowl with baby spoon

Serving your baby tiny rice sized pieces of cooked cauliflower provides your baby with variety when presenting this vegetable. Sometimes exposing baby to the same food in different ways can eventually help them to accept and taste the new food. Early on in their eating journey your kiddo will self-feed by grabbing handfuls of cauliflower rice. Closer to 10-12 months old they will be able to scoop the small pieces of cauliflower with a spoon as their fine motor skills start to sharpen. You can add a little bit of plain yogurt or other fruit/vegetable puree to the cauliflower rice to help it stick together more and make it easier to scoop! 

4. Cauliflower Smoothie (6-7 months)

cauliflower blended into a smoothie in a cup with built in straw and handles

I know, cauliflower in a smoothie…sounds odd right? However, it doesn’t compromise the flavor, but instead adds bulk and creaminess. The added fibre will also help your little one stay full for longer. Take a cauliflower head and cut into florets or use a box grater to transform the cauliflower into “rice”. Freeze the steamed cauliflower rice or florets on a sheet pan so it doesn’t clump together, then transfer into a freezer bag for later use in smoothies.

Your little one can start drinking smoothies from an open cup or straw cup as early as 6 months or as soon as they are ready to start solids. For a simple banana and strawberry smoothie with cauliflower (pictured above) blend together 1 frozen banana, ½ cup of frozen strawberries, ½ cup of frozen cauliflower, 1 tbsp. of cashew butter, 1/3 cup of plain whole yogurt, 1 cup of whole milk (or milk of your choice). 

5. Cauliflower tots (8-9 months)

caulitots in a mini muffin pan with a hand holding one out

Transforming cauliflower into tater tots is an exciting option for your little one, especially if they have yet to enjoy plain cauliflower on its own. The flavor of cauliflower is nonintrusive, so it can be added into many different recipes, bulking up the nutrition of your baby’s meal without compromising taste! See the recipe idea section below for a delicious, kid-approved cauli-tot recipe! 

6. Roasted bite sized cauliflower (9-10 months)

roasted cauliflower on a blue plate

Roasting cauliflower adds some caramelization to the vegetable, making it taste similar to roasted potatoes! Before roasting your cauliflower chop the florets into smaller bite sized pieces. Serving smaller morsels of cauliflower at around 9-10 months will encourage your baby to practice their developing pincer grasp! 

FAQ about baby-led weaning with cauliflower

Is cauliflower a choking hazard for baby?

Cauliflower is not a typical choking hazard if prepared correctly for baby. Do not serve uncooked cauliflower to baby as the texture is too hard for their tiny gums to breakdown. Make sure to remove any overly crisp or burnt edges of roasted cauliflower before serving to baby. If cauliflower is steamed or cooked to a smashable, soft texture, it is not considered a choking hazard for your little one.

Is cauliflower a common food allergy? 

Although there are documented cases, allergic reactions to cauliflower are extremely rare. Cauliflower does not make it onto the common food allergen list (Common food allergens – Canada.ca)

How do I pick the best cauliflower at the grocery store?

You can tell if your cauliflower head is fresh by taking one of the outer green leaves and snapping it in two. If the leaves are crisp instead of wilted and soft, you know that the cauliflower is still fresh! Look for white, bright cauliflower without any brown discoloration or breaking outer leaves.

If you can find green, purple or orange cauliflower at your store, give them a try! Each variety contains different antioxidants from their diverse pigmentation, along with slight variations in flavor. Introduce them all to your baby. A variety in color is exciting on the plate, not only for eating newbies, but the entire family! 

How do I store cauliflower for baby?

Fresh cauliflower can be stored in the fridge loosely covered in plastic for 3-5 days. Do not wash cauliflower before storing in the fridge as this can hasten its discoloration and reduce shelf-life. After you have cooked cauliflower or prepared cauliflower baby food, store in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to 2 days or in the freezer for up to a month before using. 

Will cauliflower make my baby gassy?

Cauliflower contains raffinose, a carbohydrate that is not broken down in the gut and travels to the large intestine where it can ferment and create gas. Cooking cauliflower helps to breakdown these indigestible carbohydrates so that it is easier on your little one’s tummy. Every baby’s digestion is unique, however small amounts of cooked cauliflower is usually tolerated by new eaters. If you find your baby is extra gassy after eating cauliflower, make sure to cut down the total amount you serve next time it is on the menu! 

Delicious Baby-Led Weaning Cauliflower Recipe Suggestions 

References:

1) Canadian nutrient file 

2) Infant Nutrition – Complementary Feeding – Key Practice Points (pennutrition.com)

Wondering how and when to introduce cauliflower to your baby? Here is everything you need to know about baby-led weaning with cauliflower.

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