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I actually bought a few of the Cow & Gate Baby Balance range when they were on a multi-buy offer at Morrisons a while ago. The offer was good value and involved buying 10 jars in one go - which explains why, six months later, I found a couple of jars still lurking in my cupboard so I decided to offer one to my baby rather than waste them.
This particular range is Stage 3, recommended for babies over 10 months old who are able to cope with chewing and can swallow small chunks of food. The Mushroom and Chicken Noodle Doodle is one of a selection of flavours in the range but I chose that flavour because of the fab sounding name! (The Noodle Doodle is also available in Stage 2, where the lumps are not as big so can be given to babies from the age of 7 months when they first start learning how to chew.)
I tended to use only half a jar when I started using these with my youngest at around 10 or 11 months old. Each jar is quite large at 250g and I found that he wasn't able to eat that much at one meal. As with all similar products, the manufacturers recommend that any unused (and untouched) baby food can be kept in the jar in the fridge, but it needs to be used up within 48 hours. It can be a little wasteful sometimes as I tended to forget that I had half a jar in the fridge and had to chuck it out in the end. That's more to do with my own disorganisation though!
On opening, the jar doesn't look that appetising, to be perfectly honest. The look and smell of it is a cross between cat food and tinned ratatouille! It does look (and smell) slighter better once it has been microwaved and the sauce loosens up a little but it did make me glad that I wasn't the one eating it. The noodles described in the title are actually small pieces of spaghetti, approximately one centimetre long, so your baby needs to be able to cope with pasta before trying this particular variety. The mushrooms are very tiny and hardly discernible although it is possible to make out small pieces of courgette within the sauce. The chicken is also very fine. You can just make out the small flakes of chicken but there are no big lumps that are likely to cause any problems.
The label tells me that the recipe also contains broccoli, onion, green pepper and tomato, although I couldn't make any of those ingredients out within the sauce. There is also 12% cream which sounds quite appetising and 10% of the food is chicken, which seems reasonable to me. (The label also stated that it contains wheat, gluten, egg and milk so, obviously, be wary if your baby appears to have any food allergies.)
My youngest is now fourteen months old and has both a healthy appetite and a desire for independence. Finger foods are the order of the day as he generally refuses to allow you to spoon feed him! He's starting to master a spoon but it's a messy business. So, how did the Mushroom and Chicken Noodle Doodle go down with him now?
Initially, I gave him the bowl of heated noodle doodle and a selection of spoons and forks to help himself. The sauce was quite thick which helped when he was loading the spoon and on that long journey from bowl to mouth when half of the contents tend to slide off! (After a while he gave up on the cutlery and resorted to sticking his grubby little fists in the bowl and scooping out strands of spaghetti and sauce!) He perservered and actually allowed me to spoon some into his mouth for him (which is normally only accepted with favourite foods such as yoghurt and breakfast!) I took this as a sign of approval. Even more so when he finished the entire bowl and was looking keenly at his empty spoon! I heated up the remainder and he wolfed the lot down so the 250g is clearly a reasonable portion size in his opinion as a fourteen month old!
As for the taste, I have to confess that I'm vegetarian and didn't deign to sample any of the concoction. I'd let my baby describe the taste, but his vocabulary is quite limited. (He can say 'pasta', though, as well as 'dinner' but it's not really going to be a Loyd Grossman description of the taste, is it.) The fact that he ate it all, and accepted help in eating it, speaks for itself.
Personally, I wouldn't continue to buy these jars for my own baby at his age, as he's capable of eating the same as us now and they are an extravagant and expensive way of feeding a growing baby. The Stage 3 jars are currently on sale at Asda for 96p each, so they certainly aren't economical to use on a regular basis! They do seem to be available as part of a multi-buy offer fairly frequently so worth taking advantage.
Whilst everybody knows that it's cheaper and helps a child to eat a more varied diet by making your own food, the reality of parenting is that sometimes you don't have the time or the inclination to rustle up something that Annabel Karmel would approve of! For those days when I was too tired or too busy to cook or when we were having something that wasn't suitable for a young baby, having a stash of baby food in the cupboard can be a lifesaver. Cow & Gate are a reputable brand and, obviously, all baby food has to meet strict nutritional standards. There are no artificial flavours, colourings or preservatives and no added salt - so you can feel free to supplement your cooking with a few jars now and again without feeling guilty!
Noodles and mushroom with cream and chicken.