Baby’s Milk to Balanced Meals: Weaning and How to Do It
By Annabel Karmel
Weaning is one of the most important milestones for mums and dads during the early months of parenthood. The choices you make for your baby now are decisions that will establish your children’s eating habits for life.
Ways to introduce your baby to solid food are not a fixed set of steps, with some babies progressing more quickly or slowly than others. Not every day will be the same and sometimes your child might not want to try food at all but have their usual milk. Some babies take to solid food incredibly well while others take time to adjust to the new experience of food in their mouth and learning the swallowing action.
Weaning is a gentle process: you have a window of opportunity between six and twelve months of age when your baby will tend to eat pretty well, so take advantage of this to introduce a variety of new flavors that will hopefully set them on a path of healthy eating for life.
Government guidelines recommend starting solids from the age of six months old, but it is important to remember that your baby’s milk will continue to form a significant part of your baby’s nutrition for many months to come.
When starting solids, breastfeed your baby as usual (if they are on formula, make sure they get at least 28 oz a day). Feed your baby after their first solids instead of before so that they are hungrier and more willing to try foods being offered. Alternatively some parents also find it easier to introduce new foods at lunch time and not first thing in the morning when your baby might be hungry and not interested in trying new foods.
Some parents are put off cooking for their little ones from scratch by the thought that all the mess and preparation may result in nothing more than rejection. However, cooking from scratch is often a much more economical and rewarding experience than buying ready-made food.
When you begin to wean your baby it is best to start with baby rice, vegetables or fruit in a liquid purée with a consistency similar to yogurt and then progress to lumpier, thicker purées and later stilllumps on their own. Variety is important. The greater the variety of foods you offer your child, the easier it will be to progress to a healthy, nutritious diet.
Remember, the first stage of weaning is about introducing new tastes and teaching the art of eating. It can take some time and often more ends up everywhere but in the mouth while your baby gets used to this new experience.
Tips on Cooking First Foods
Batch cooking is a great way to save time and money. By making a few portions and freezing them in something like an ice cube tray which you have covered, you can pop out one or two cubes whenever you need them. If you are left with any that need using up, they also make a great addition to any soup!
If you freeze food in ice cube trays you can mix and match flavours to make up your own combinations. For example, in my summer fruit recipe, you could simply defrost one frozen cube of apple and mix it with a cube of pear puree to make apple and pear. I also like mixing savoury and sweet flavours together so combinations like carrot and apple or chicken, sweet potato and apple are good.
If you are out and about some of the best first foods are foods which don’t require actual cooking like banana and avocado - these taste delicious mixed together and are extremely good for your baby.
It is important to vary a child’s diet and not only give them fruit and vegetables as they need calories to develop and grow to become strong. Babies do not have the same diet as adults: they need more fat and less fibre in their diet, so don’t stick to giving them only fruit and vegetables for too long. It is a good idea to mix purées with cheese and give proteins such as chicken, fish and meat after six months.
It’s important to introduce protein to the diet fairly quickly after you have given your baby a variety of fruit and vegetables. Red meat is a particularly important source of iron (a baby’s iron supply runs out when they are around six months old) and oily fish such as salmon contains essential fatty acids needed for brain and visual development.
While I know that in an ideal world we would always have the time and energy to cook for our family, this just is not a reality in our busy modern lives and you should not feel guilty for going for convenience. There are some great options in supermarkets now for ‘cheats’ so you can mix convenience with fresh. However, if you do get the chance to try out some homemade recipes, do!
About the Author
Annabel Karmel began publishing books back in 1991 with The Complete Baby and Toddler Meal Planner which supported Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital. In just over a decade she has published more than twenty-seven books across topics such as feeding babies, toddlers and families as well as pre-natal cuisine and cooking with children. She is also a regular contributor to many of the UK’s most prestigious newspapers.
To compliment an illustrious written back catalogue, Annabel continues to appear frequently on radio and television and completed a series on the Richard & Judy show as the ‘Foodie Godmother’ where she solved problems of fussy little eaters.
Annabel also has her own app, ‘Annabel’s Essential Guide to Feeding your Baby and Toddler’, with over 120 recipies and episodes from her series ‘Annabel’s Kitchen’.