During the first six months of a baby’s life, breast milk or infant formula milk is ideal. It is truly all that they need, and it easily sustains healthy growth and development. Plus, feeding your baby in this way is wonderful for bonding and emotional development. Just think of how they nestle into you and trust you implicitly. It is amazing.
So when the time comes to start weaning your baby towards a diet that includes solid food, it is completely understandable that parents (and often particularly mothers, although not exclusively) feel slightly apprehensive. You will have had six months of a feeding routine that will now change, and that can be difficult for everyone. Before it was enjoyable, but now? Who knows? There are so many questions to worry about as well; which foods should be avoided? What are the best foods for a good level of vitamins and minerals? Is it possible to have a vegetarian diet for your baby? And so much more.
Signs of Weaning-Readiness
The best time to even start thinking about weaning is when your baby is six months old. Weaning much earlier could be a problem for your little one’s immature digestive system, and no one wants that! When your baby can sit up on their own, and hold their head up (making it easier for them to swallow), then you can look at their hand-eye coordination. If your baby can pick up small pieces of food and bring them to her mouth, it is likely they are ready for weaning.
Baby’s Nutritional Needs
Weaning does not – and should not – happen fast. The idea behind it is that you gradually reduce the amount of milk you give your baby and replace it, bit by bit, with solid food. It should all be done gradually. The first part of weaning is less about feeding and more about allowing your baby to try different textures and tastes. It also gives them a chance to practice the technique of eating.
It can get messy, and it can feel frustrating. Why is baby spitting everything out? Why won’t they swallow? Do they like nothing at all? The thing is, it’s not that. Not really. It’s more about discovering new tastes and needing to get used to them. He or she may indeed like the taste, but their initial reaction could still be to spit it out at first. As a parent, your job is to persevere – the little one will soon get the hang of it.
Before weaning, your baby will only ever have tasted milk – it’s sweet and creamy. So anything that is not sweet and creamy (and to begin with, anything that is not milk in general) will taste strange to your baby. That doesn’t mean it tastes bad to them, but it does taste different, and that’s especially the case when it comes to bitter or sour foods.
What’s more, it’s all part of human evolution. Instinctively rejecting bitter foods is a survival mechanism, as it stops babies from swallowing toxic substances (poisonous berries, spoiled milk and so on). Having said that, this can be ‘overwritten’ to some extent – and it should be. A baby’s likes and dislikes are not set in stone – that happens much later. At this early weaning stage, they can be ‘programmed’ to taste and eat most things. Leaning towards what a baby seems to like can be a self-fulfilling prophecy; thinking that a child prefers sweeter tastes, and therefore offering them those flavours, can ‘programme’ them to actually only like those flavours. They will develop a taste for one type of food over another, and this then can become difficult at a later stage when they are seen as ‘fussy’. The problem with this – or rather the main problem, as there are a number of them – is that healthier alternatives can often be rejected too.
As parents, it is our job to help our children taste a variety of different types and flavours of food so that they have a well-rounded diet. It is much healthier for them. One way to ensure that they try all types of food even when they do seem to be leaning in preference to a certain type is to combine the food that they seem to prefer with a contrasting flavour. Combine naturally bitter or sour foods with those that are naturally sweeter, and they will go down a lot easier. Resist the temptation to add any sugar or salt to your baby’s meal – it really is not necessary.
Babies are naturally curious, and their senses are how they explore the world before they are able to get up and move by themselves. Their sense of taste is vitally important, and it is essential to nurture that sense from as early on as possible. So, let our recipe section on our website be your guide, let it help you to create and offer your little one tasty, nutritious meals that expand their taste habits and excite their taste buds in a way that standard baby food simply cannot do.
What is important to remember is that there is no need to be worried if your baby seems fussy, or doesn’t eat much when you give them a meal. Milk (either breast or formula) gives your baby everything they could possibly need to be happy and healthy. This includes all the vitamins and minerals, fats, protein, and carbohydrates that a child up to the age of 12 months needs. By the time they reach one year old, cow’s milk is a fine alternative, because they will also be eating well-balanced meals that make up any deficit. This is why, when weaning begins, if the baby doesn’t eat much then there is no cause for concern because they are getting everything they need from your milk, or the formula you are giving them.
Another bonus to breast milk, as an aside, is that it contains many enzymes and antibodies that will boost your little one’s immune system, and this can protect them from not only illness, but also allergies1.
A Note About Allergies
A personal or family history of food allergies, or an early diagnosis of an allergy in the baby him or herself, can lead parents to worry that any food they give their child early on in the weaning process can trigger further problems. And there are some foods – peanuts, eggs, milk, wheat, seeds, and food that contains gluten – that are particularly problematic. If you are worried, it is best to offer just a small amount of the food to your baby at first. Leave a gap of around three days to ensure that there are no allergic reactions, and then introduce a different food. If you try too many foods at one time and your baby does suffer a reaction, it will be difficult to tell what ingredient caused it.
Signs to look out for when checking for allergies are hives, dry skin, swelling, coughing, wheezing, nasal congestion, and breathing difficulties.
A Mini List of ‘Worrisome Foods’
As tasty as it is, honey shouldn’t be given to children under the age of 12 months. That’s because it can contain bacteria that little ones can’t fight off very well, and it can lead to a serious illness known as infant botulism. As well as that, it’s also really high in sugar, so it’s not ideal for tiny teeth.
Eggs, in general, should be fine, but raw or undercooked eggs can lead to salmonella food poisoning.
Too much salt in a baby’s diet can make their kidneys unhealthy, and it is even linked to high blood pressure, strokes, stomach cancer, and osteoporosis as they get older. Good, healthy eating habits developed at an early age will help to prevent these diseases.
There is a long list of problems that link back to too much sugar in your baby’s diet. Tooth decay, obesity, diabetes, heart disease… It’s just not worth it, for them or for you.
Although grapes aren’t an allergen (usually), they can be a major choking hazard. For very young children they should be peeled and mashed.
If you want to give shellfish to your baby then just make sure you cook it thoroughly as it does carry a high risk of food poisoning. If you are at all worried, seek advice from a healthcare professional – and that’s especially important if your baby has asthma, eczema, or any other kind of food allergy.
Go At Your Own Pace
Every baby is different; each one is totally unique. And that means that every weaning experience is different and unique too. Babies will all be ready to try different tastes and flavours at their own pace, so don’t get too worried or stressed out about things. Just relax and go with the flow (and whatever you do, don’t compare yourself or your little one to what anyone else is doing).
The one thing to bear in mind when weaning begins is that you should offer your child as many different tastes as possible in the first month or so. As mentioned earlier, they are still getting all their essential nutrients from the milk they are having, so if they don’t eat all – or any – of their meal, it’s not a problem.
Just like with anything, there are some things that your baby will respond to positively, and some that will appear to offer a more negative reaction. This is fine – but don’t give up just because you might get a shake of the head and a screwed up face; every taste is brand new, and can be very strange. That doesn’t mean that it’s not going to be okay eventually. Giving up at the first sign of a bad reaction means that the child will never have the chance to get used to the food that you are offering, and in many cases, it really is a ‘try, try again’ situation! Studies (including the fantastic ‘Variety Is The Spice of Life: Strategies for Promoting Fruit and Vegetable Acceptance During Infancy’) have shown that a baby needs to try a new flavour between eight and 15 times before they can really determine whether they do or do not like it.
In the above-mentioned study, mothers were asked to feed their baby green beans every day for eight days. Whether the baby ate the beans straight away or refused them entirely, it didn’t matter. The point was to simply try to give them the beans. At the end of the eight-day process, it was determined that the babies who had had the beans every day went on to eat more of them afterwards. It showed that babies can discriminate between flavours, and that they are generally willing to eat something even if they rejected it the time before (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18222499).
Over the following weeks we will be adding an array of baby food to our recipe page, but in the meantime, why not try these delicious starter foods.
Basic Vegetable Purees
Root vegetables are a fantastic way to begin weaning your baby. Little ones like the taste because they are sweet, and parents like the fact that they are packed full of nutrients.
Perhaps the most popular – for adults and babies – of all the root vegetables has to be the fantastic carrot. Sweet and delicious and jam-packed full of anti-oxidants, dietary fibre, and a multitude of vitamins (especially vitamin A which is essential for enabling a healthy immune system, promoting growth, and boosting vision, although it also contains much vitamin C which is fantastic for maintaining teeth, gums, and connective tissue). One carrot provides your baby with everything he or she needs to stay healthy and thrive.
1 medium carrot
Make sure the carrot is thoroughly washed to remove any nasty extras you don’t want, and peel. Steam (either for 20 minutes in a steamer or you can use the microwave – just put the carrots in a microwaveable bowl, add a tablespoon of water, cover, and cook on high heat for around 6 minutes until tender). Puree until it’s nice and smooth and add breast milk (or formula) to create the perfect creamy consistency.
One carrot makes 4 portions, and it can be frozen.
Butternut Squash Puree
The great thing about butternut squash is that it is easily digestible, which means it is an ideal food for weaning. Just as with carrots, butternut squash is high in vitamin A, so it helps with eyesight and skin. It also contains natural poly-phenolic flavonoid compounds (A and B carotenes, cryptoxanthin-B, and lutein). Once ingested, these clever little compounds become vitamin A, boosting the healthy aspect of the butternut squash even more. Basically, when you add in all the minerals that a butternut squash includes (such as iron, zinc, copper, potassium, and phosphorous), you can tell it’s a ‘super food’ to give to your baby.
½ butternut squash
Peel the butternut squash, chop into cubes, and steam (use a steam for 20 minutes or so, or place in a microwaveable bowl, cover with a tablespoon of water, add a lid, and cook on high for around 6 minutes). Puree the squash and add as much breast milk or formula as you require to give it a creamy texture.
Half a butternut squash gives between 8 and 10 portions (whatever isn’t used can be frozen for another time).
Similar to carrots in their sweetness, these fabulous veggies are full of starch and fibre, vitamins C, E (a natural antioxidant), and K (excellent for blood clotting, and therefore healing wounds faster). Parsnips also contain folic acid, thiamin, pantothetic acid, copper, calcium, iron, potassium, and manganese, all of which contribute to healthy bodies and minds.
Peel the parsnip and chop. Steam for around 20 minutes in a steamer, or alternatively use a microwave (pop the parsnip into a microwaveable bowl, add a tablespoon of water, cover, and cook on high heat for around 6 minutes). Once cooked, puree to a smooth consistency, adding as much breast milk or formula as you require to get the perfect creamy texture.
You should get up to 6 portions from one parsnip, and you can freeze whatever you don’t use for future use.
Although perhaps not as common in the kitchen or on the table as its other root vegetables cousins, sweet potatoes are excellent when it comes to nutrition and healthy properties. They are full of vitamins, minerals, and anti-oxidants, and because they are high calorie foods they are great for weaning.
1 medium sweet potato
Wash and scrub the skin and then dry it thoroughly. Prick it all over with a fork. Pop it in the oven for about 45 minutes at 200oC (180oC fan, 400oF, gas mark 6) until it’s soft. Once cooked (and slightly cooled), split the skin and scoop out the inside. Mash it until it’s lovely and smooth, adding breast milk or formula to achieve the right consistency.
Not just for Hallowe’en, the pumpkin is an all round brilliant vegetable to use for weaning since it is full of anti-oxidants, minerals (copper, calcium, potassium, and phosphorous), and vitamins (vitamin A, B, B-6, C, and E).
1 small pumpkin
Peel the pumpkin and chop. Steam on the hob for about 20 minutes (until tender), or steam in the microwave for 6 minutes (again, until tender – it may need more time depending on your microwave). Puree the pumpkin until smooth, adding breast milk or formula until you’re satisfied with the consistency and texture.
A small pumpkin can make up to 10 portions, but since it can be frozen you won’t waste anything.
You might wonder why we suggest trying your baby with vegetables first, when it’s more likely that they will enjoy – and therefore eat – fruit, thanks to its sweeter taste. Well that’s exactly the reason; getting your baby used to eating his or her greens is the hardest part or weaning, as a baby’s taste buds need to get used to the taste of the vegetables. Once that is mastered, it’s time to move on to sweeter things.
Apples are an amazing fruit. Not only do they taste great, but they have absolutely everything that your baby needs for good health in mind and body. Apples give a range of healthy vitamins and minerals including anti-oxidants and phytonutrients, and they really do ward off a number of nasty diseases by boosting the immune system.
1 small eating apple
Wash the apple thoroughly, peel, core, and chop. Pop the chunks into a saucepan with a small amount of water and bring to the boil. Once boiling, turn the heat down and allow to simmer until soft (about 5 minutes or so). Once cooked, puree until smooth and add breast milk or formula if you choose to (this isn’t necessary, but you might want to for flavour and consistency).
One small apple makes about four portions.
Bananas are amazing fruits. Packed full of vitamin B6 and vitamin C, as well as copper, potassium, and manganese (which is fabulous for strengthening bones), they not only taste incredible, but the texture is already lovely and soft, so they are easy to prepare and digest.
½ small banana
Mash the banana with a fork, making sure you get rid of all the lumps. Add enough milk (both breast milk and formula work equally well) to give it a lovely smooth texture.
This just makes one portion, but it’s so easy to do that it’s not a chore to make more when you need to.
Pears tend to get a little forgotten when thinking about fruit, which is a shame as not only do they taste great, they are super good for you and the little ones too. Pears have loads of minerals (copper, iron, potassium, manganese, and magnesium), as well as folates (where folic acid comes from), and riboflavin (essential for red blood cell production).
1 small pear (make sure it’s ripe)
Wash the pear, then peel and core it. Pop the whole thing into a saucepan with a little bit of water, and then bring to the boil. Once boiling, turn down the heat and simmer (covered) for around 7 minutes. Once soft, puree and add breast milk or formula should you wish to.
One pear makes about 4 portions.
Mango – possibly the most summery of fruits – is vitamin filled, juicy, and delicious.
1 small mango
Wash the mango and then peel it in order to get to as much of the flesh as possible. Cut it away from the centre stone and puree everything.
One mango should get you 6 portions.
Avocados might not be everyone’s first choice, but they shouldn’t be forgotten since they are rich in dietary fibre, minerals, nutrients, and vitamins. In fact, they pretty much have everything your weaning baby could want.
1 medium avocado (check to make sure it’s nice and ripe)
Simply mash the flesh of the avocado until it’s as smooth as it will go, and then add breast milk or formula to get it to the perfect consistency.
For more superfood inspiration check out our baby food section on youtube!