I do not profess to be a qualified Dietician, or a Paediatrician. I do have some training in Nutrition but, the information here is purely based on my personal experience, research and opinion. Like all aspects of parenting, it’s all so personal, so everyone’s journey is unique. I originally jotted this down for a dear friend who was preparing to introduce her son to solids. I thought I’d share it for anyone embarking on their weaning adventures, but feeling a little unsure. So please take it as that- well meaning advice from a friend, open to adaption, or flat out ignoring.
Sometimes parents take the tact of claiming all “successes” as their own as opposed to chance. Or visa versa blaming themselves for all perceived “failures”.I will never know if intrepid bebe is an awful sleeper by my doing or her own nature. Chances are it’s a mixture of both. Likewise, she could very well be a good eater because that’s who she was born to be. But I did want to give her a good introduction into a world of wide ranging and nutritious whole foods, while enjoying the process.
To me, it’s really exciting to see them experience flavours beyond simple milk, for the first time. Watch their little faces make new expressions. I filmed her first taste of foods and although it might have felt like I was one of those crazy capture everything people (I think I have officially become one), it’s lovely to have now. Along with pictures of her head to tow in green mush. But I am a foodie, I enjoy cooking, nutrition, so I guess it was my comfortable zone (in a minefield of the unknown of new parenthood).
So here’s some thing I wish I’d know at the start, what I’ve learnt either through research or experience, and what worked (and didn’t) for me.
Are they ready?
As exciting as it is to start introducing your little one to the wonderful world of food and flavours, in reality it is also more work. And as they don’t reduce their milk feeds for months, you’re basically feeding them twice as much. Then there’s preparation time, not to mention *all the cleaning* . So, although like so many milestones it always seems as though we are lurching and longing for the next one, I wouldn’t rush to start regardless of what anyone says. Milk exclusively pre six months is the current health advice. So some stage after six months. Babies naturally put their hands to their mouths and show interest in what you’re eating- this doesn’t mean they’re being denied solids. You want to feed your kids a fry up at four months old? Go for your life.
Having good head control, the ability to sit up with minimal support and the coordination to move food from the table towards their mouthes are all good indicators. They do not need a ginormous highchair. Often a Bumbo with a tray table, like these, or just sitting on your lap can be fine whilst you’re getting started or are limited on space.
For those of you with a premature baby, obviously you’ll be following the advice of your health professional. In our case, we were told that solids are not always something to use corrected age. I decided to go for after four months corrected and six months actual.
Teeth are not necessary for weaning, but whilst their gums are strong, I do think having teeth helps bite and chew certain foods. It’s trial and error a bit.
Where, how, when?
Just because you start them in solids, you don’t have to do it every day, at the exact same time. Routine is designed to make life easier not harder, so do what works for you. Maybe you could offer the odd mouthful here and there and then build up from there. If you’re out for the day, the logistics of feeding your small person half a tsp of something, vs the mess- well I honestly wouldn’t worry.
I found morning and lunch better times to try out foods, incase it didn’t agree with them-you avoid a restless night, mega poos or just that both of us were knackered come 5pm.
I learnt the hard (and expensive) way that a top of the range highchair isn’t always the best option. i looked online and bought the one which seemed popular. However it had so many nooks, ridges it was a pain to clean, it took up so much space, and I ended up trading it in. I traded it in for the thirteen pound IKEA highchair you see at every cafe. The reason you see them everywhere is they’re so easy to clean.
A plastic sheet under the high chair is handy. Or dogs, dogs are the best weaning support around! Antibacterial wipes to quickly do their hands and the high chair. You can buy bibs in most supermarkets which cover their whole arms too. I found disposable bibs useless. If it’s warm, strip them to their nappy to eat whilst you’re home just to save yet more clothes. And have a bucket on the go to soak clothes, it’s amazing which food stain it turns out!
‘They need solids so they’re sleep through the night’
In my humble opinion, as the proud parent of the insomniac child, It’s a complete myth that solids will help them sleep more. She ate vast amounts and slept as poorly as ever. Evidence suggests it’s takes up to a month for them to ingest as much as one tsp, and it’s so low calorie (1tsp of puréed Apple is literally a couple of calories). It’s more about experiencing flavours, textures and learning to swallow. So don’t let that influence your decision to start earlier. But no doubt others will have had different experiences.
Will they Choke?
It’s very unlikely. You should never leave a child unattended whilst eating, and be sure you’re confident in first aid for a chocking child to make you feel more confident. We took Children’s First Aid courses whist I was pregnant, and whilst thankfully I have not had to use any so far, it does make me feel confident.
What about Allergies?
Re allergies, old advice was to introduce one food every three days but now it’s thought that unless there’s anaphylaxis in the family, they’re fine to try a combination of foods. And new evidence is leaning towards exposing them to foods such as dairy and nuts earlier to actually avoid allergies. The old food I avoided was honey as I had read that it can contain a bacteria dangerous for the under ones, but as I avoided sugars pre one completely, I wouldn’t have given her honey regardless.
Organic or not?
I know the jury is out on Organic. Yes organic is more expensive. It’s also fresher (because it doesn’t last for months) and free from chemicals. I opted for Organic where possible, especially as I left skins on most of the time. And all meat was organic. I know the Government say it’s safe. I guess having grown up with BSE in the headlines has made me wary. I also believe that any added chemicals of hormones are likely to have more of an affect on the immature system of an infant than an adult. Having a baby is expensive. And I’m pretty sure the nutritional benefits will last them far longer than some of the other crap we buy for them.
The library book/My Mum/the Lady up the road are telling me totally different things
I found it frustrating knowing that chances are, whatever i was doing now, would be outdated in a matter of years and the “vogue” would change. Weaning seems to be something particularly susceptible to fads. But that’s old favourite saying rings true- when we know better, we do better. So we can other work with what we know at the moment and follow out gut.
Baby led weaning is popular these days which means offering them whole pieces of food and allowing them to feed themselves. I did a mixture of this and purées. I wanted to expose her to a wide range of vegetables and felt purées were a good way to do this, also it’s a bit less messy than them going for it themselves and I was very afraid of her chocking. In reality I needn’t have been so afraid, their gag reflex is incredibly strong and although it is worrying when they cough something up, they’re very efficient. If in doubt I would put my finger in and pull whatever she was struggling with out.
What should I actually feed them then?
I made my purées with boiled water, rather than tap just to be safe. Or you can mix with breast milk/formula to water it down. It’s really handy to have some expressed milk (I rate the Medella above all others) in the freezer for this purpose, rather than requiring it to be “hot off the press”. You can get handy bags for this purpose which are sterile and perfect for storing a labelling small amounts.
I set about giving her every vegetable in the supermarket. I kept the skins on, and did a mixture of raw and cooked, generally blitzed in the vitamix. I did sieve the purées initially but I don’t think this is at all necessary. A handheld blender is a cheaper option, or of course fork mashing totally works too.
I have a bit of an issue with some of the bland rubbish babies are offered commercially. If you feed them tasteless bland food, that’s kind of setting them up to like tasteless bland food. I figured half the worlds babies would be eating amazing curries, full of flavour, chilli, ginger, and all those delicious things from a young age, so why do we give our kids boring food? A bit of a rule I applied is that I could taste all her food, I wouldn’t expect her to eat something I wouldn’t eat. So she had curries from a young age, I used lots of flavours and added fresh herbs which we regularly cooked with (parsley basil etc) to her purées. I also included garlic and ginger early on which I think might be why she still loves them both now.
Baby rice is totally unnecessary, it’s just a case of good marketing. It tastes like crap and is artificial as hell. Not to mention far more expensive than real food. Veggies make much better first foods, or make your own porridge, or just given them actual real rice!
A caution with pre packaged foods- whilst homemade is obviously great, they can be really handy, especially the sachets. For long distance traveling they’re a godsend- you can take them onboard incase you’re wondering. I found having one at the bottom of the nappy bag a great back up. But do read the label, avoid anything from concentrate (this is basically fruit juice eg pure sugar), and opt for vegetable based rather than fruit. They have the percentages on the back and often claim to be veggie but are 80% Apple. Also read the sugar content. 5g is one tsp.
You can purchase sachets to fill yourself, which is a great idea, although they obviously don’t store as well.
You can get these cute ones here
I bought soft tipped spoons from Heinz, and used them or my finger to scoop food when she wasn’t feeding herself. Similar ones are available here . No she uses a small fork and a teaspoon.
I also used a ‘Boon’ spoon when we were out and about, it was a really handy way to store her food, and keep mess to a minimum-perfect for travel! We bought ours in Australia, but they’re available online here.
Some Ideas for Foods & a few more tips
My daughters very first few meals were-
Avocado and breast milk
Banana and milk
Pear and milk
Spinach and water
Porridge (just regular oats with water)
Handy finger food is things like sticks of watermelon, pear and other soft fruits. She struggled with semi soft things like cheese until she had teeth.
Affordable, easy to prepare and nutrient dense options such as lentils and chickpeas are great. You can buy then in tins organic and pre cooked- they couldn’t be simpler! Tinned fish like salmon, tuna and sardines are also simple options to prepare and great to get hem started on oil fish. Although they could be to blame for intrepid bebe’s expensive tastes when it comes to smoked salmon!!
Root veggies like sweet potatoes and Butternut squash are denser in calories than salad veg/some fruit, so can be more filling. Quinoa and buckwheat are also great nutrient dense carbohydrates to introduce.
They are getting all they need from milk, so try not to feel pressure and just enjoy exposing them to different things. By ten months she was eating what we ate pretty much. I tried to include herbs in her purées, not to be fancy but to get her used to flavours I regularly cooked with. And also added olive oil and coconut oil to things again so she would be used to them in our food.
Their taste buds are changing all the time, whilst starting off with sweet fruit can encourage them to eat, ideally expose them to more bitter green veg while they’re young as they get used to sweeter palettes otherwise.
I found making a batch of purée and freezing in and ice cube tray really handy. The blocks can be stored in a freezer bag- just remember to date and label as all green blocks end up looking the same.
I gave my daughter probiotic drops (like these) to help her digestion, and immune system (she wouldn’t touch yoghurt for some reason-it’s the only thing she won’t go near and still doesn’t today).
If constipation occurs, add more liquid to foods and include foods like plums and pears.
I tended to avoid reheating purées and steamed veggies. Predominately to avoid damaging the nutrients, but also because I always seemed to over heat it and then have to frantically blow on it whilst a hungry Bebe lost the plot. Adding an ice cube is a great tip to cool a too warm purée in a rush. I’d try and remember to take them out the fridge/freezer in advance to reach room temp and then give them to her.
Those little mesh pockets are a handy way to keep them entertained and learn to feed themselves, especially early on when you aren’t confident in their ability to chew!
Your can get these handy little things here
I hope you both have an enjoyable foray into the flavoursome world of first foods. Any queries I’ll do my best to help-I’d love to hear about your experiences.