Claire BaseleyIntroducing your baby to the world of food for the first time is an exciting adventure but it can be a daunting prospect too. With so much advice online and from friends and family, it can be overwhelming trying to navigate all the potentially conflicting recommendations. Check out my simple tips to help make weaning a healthy, fun and exciting experience for you and your little one!
Ready, steady, GO? Check your baby is ready to wean before you start offering food. Babies are usually ready around the age of 6 months but you should avoid weaning before the age of 4 months. Your little one should be able to sit up and hold their head steady, as well as be able to pick up an object like a spoon and pop it relatively accurately into their mouth. If you find your little one pushes food out with their tongue at first then just wait a week or so and try again.

1.    Veg veg veg! – Little ones naturally have a sweet tooth but starting weaning with vegetables, like broccoli, cauliflower and carrot, helps them learn to love veg from the very start. To begin with, it’s just about offering tiny tastes of single veggies, in variety, so don’t worry about how much your little one eats in the first few days as long as they have a taste.


2.    Mix it up – The wider the range of foods you give your baby throughout weaning, the more likely they are to want to try new things when they’re older.  Try to offer your little one a rainbow of veg + fruit each week. From around 6 months, you can also include other foods – try lots of different protein sources like meat, fish, eggs, pulses, soy products for example and offer a range of starchy foods too – potatoes, pasta, sweet potato, bread, polenta, cous cous and rice are all great options. Offering a wide range of foods also helps your baby to consume a good balance of nutrients, including iron, which is important for the development of their brain and immune system.


3.    Never give up – not everyone likes a food at the first try and the same is true of little ones.  They might pull a face (and even look utterly disgusted) or spit out a food the first time they taste it but don’t give up after a couple of tries.  It can take up to 8 separate occasions before babies will accept a new food and even more once they’re older.  So keep trying and give them lots of praise and smiles when they try something new.


4.    Model behaviour – if your little one sees you eating and enjoying a food, they’re more likely to want to copy and give it a go themselves.  So if possible, try to eat at the same time as your little one, at least some of the time, and show them how much you enjoy your veggies, for example.


5.    Touchy feely – Little ones who interact with foods using all their senses, are more likely to show an interest in trying new foods.  Studies have shown that exploring the textures, colours, shapes and smells of foods can help encourage little ones to eat them at meal times.  Let your baby explore raw and cooked veg with their hands to help familiarise them with new foods. You can even tell stories about food to get your little one interested. Broccoli looks like trees, cauliflower like clouds or sheep and strawberries look like little hedgehogs. For older children, make a picture on the plate out of finger foods and tell a story about what’s going on.


6.    Gimme 5 – get little hands working with some finger foods. From 6m, little ones can handle soft, melty finger foods like cooked carrot sticks or banana fingers, about the size of your index finger. Little ones love being in control and as they get more confident, you can offer more and more finger foods, like other cooked veg, pasta pieces (penne is a good size and shape), bread fingers, hard boiled egg slices or avocado fingers. Once they’re around 10 months, little ones can practise their pincer grip so try giving them halved blueberries or raspberries to get those fingers and thumbs working!


7.    All foods are equal – Try not to reward little ones with sweet treats if they’ve eaten their veggies. This teaches them that there must be something wrong with vegetables if they need a treat as a bribe and they learn that sweet foods have a higher value than vegetables. We all know that vegetables will get rejected more than desserts but try not to react when this happens.


8.    Mini masterchefs – Little ones love to help you cook! Even toddlers can help with simple food prep, by popping dry pasta into a pan or helping to roll out pastry. They may be more likely to eat a meal they’ve been involved in cooking, so let them get stuck in (safety first though – keep them away from the hob, boiling water or sharp knives).


9.    Buffet style – have a fussy eater that won’t eat veg? Try offering your little one a choice of 3 veg from which they can pick 2 to go on their plate. That way, they feel invested in the decision and are more likely to at least give the veg a try. Don’t pressurise them to eat but give them gentle encouragement to have a taste. It works well if you can sit round the table and share the veg from a serving bowl but that’s not always practical, so you can always show them the different veggies in the kitchen before you prepare them.


10.    Family fun – eating together isn’t just about showing little ones how it’s done. It teaches them that food is more than just fuel – it’s a time for fun, socialising, and talking about the day. We all know that stress-free mealtimes aren’t always realistic but trying to make them as calm as you can. If little ones reject a meal, just calmly take it away and try not to worry. Remember that the odd missed meal is not an issue as little ones usually make up for a few days of being off their food by being hungry little monsters – it’s what they eat over a week or two that’s important.

 

Ultimately, your little one’s weaning journey should be a fun, although often messy experience. Embrace the mess, show them how it’s done and make it enjoyable to help establish a healthy relationship with food for your little one.

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