Your baby’s first taste of food is an important milestone, and one that signifies the start of a period in your lives that can be both exciting and frustrating. Exciting as you help your baby explore new tastes and get to know the foods he prefers, and frustrating as you mop up bowls of unwanted food off the floor (NB, this continues well into toddlerhood and beyond!).
Knowing what to feed your baby during weaning can be confusing, as supermarket shelves seem to be filled with a plethora of choices, and there are certain foods that should be avoided in the early months. One thing is certain, and that is that once you start weaning, meal times will become a lot messier!
Types Of Baby Food
Your baby is spoilt for choice when it comes to the types of food available, both from pre-prepared and home-made options. Don’t be afraid to encourage your baby to try new flavours, she will certainly let you know when she doesn’t like something.
Baby cereals are often marketed as an ideal first food for your baby. This is because they are fairly bland and can be mixed with breastmilk or formula to enable your baby to get used to a new texture with a taste that he is familiar with. However, some parents report that their children disliked the taste, and preferred something with a little more flavour.
Although some cereals are marketed as being suitable for babies from four months old, it should be noted that the NHS currently recommends that babies begin weaning at six months old. Furthermore, you should not add baby cereal to your baby’s bottle, as this may cause him to choke. For more information, see our article, Weaning: When To Wean A Baby.
Jars / Pouches
Pre-made baby food is available in small jars, and more recently pouches, and there are a great deal of varieties to choose from. They are very convenient, as they are ready to feed, and the pouches in particular can be handy on the go as the food can be squeezed directly onto a spoon.
Many parents use jars and pouches to wean their children, but in recent years there have been studies that suggest that the nutritional content of these foods is not as good as that from home-made food. In addition, many of the pre-made foods contain sugars from fruit that may encourage your baby to develop a preference for sweeter foods.
Homemade Baby Food
There is no reason why your baby cannot have homemade food. In previous generations some parents were told not to do this because of the risk of infection, etc., however, by the time your baby is six months old her immune system will be significantly more developed and able to deal with most bacteria found in food. Furthermore, studies have indicated that homemade baby food has a much higher nutritional value than its pre-made counterpart.
If you decide to give your baby homemade baby food, you need to give her food that is free of salt, as too much salt can harm your baby. Therefore, you should not give your baby a blended version of your own meal if you have added salt or used processed foods when cooking it such as pre-made pasta sauces, gravy granules, etc. Instead, use fresh ingredients and herbs for flavour. If you want to use purees rather than finger foods, you will need to invest in a blender or food processer. You can buy one especially marketed at creating baby purees, but there is no reason why you can’t use a standard processer.
You might find it easier to prepare a batch of baby food in advance and freeze into portions to be used as required. Ice cube trays are often ideal portion sizes for babies when starting to wean, alternatively you can buy storage pots that can also be placed in the microwave for heating, such as this set from ClevaMama.
Finger Food / Baby Led Weaning
You can also give your baby finger foods, i.e. foods that they pick up and feed themselves with. Some parents prefer to only use finger foods when weaning, and this has become known as Baby Led Weaning. You can find out more about Baby Led Weaning here but essentially it involves giving the child a range of finger foods and allowing them to feed themselves rather than using purees and spoons. Again, these foods tend to be homemade, although thanks to the rise in popularity of baby led weaning, there are now a number of products available from supermarkets that may be suitable.
First Tastes & Beyond
At first, keep things simple and offer your baby steamed vegetables (either pureed or as finger foods) such as carrots, broccoli, and sweet potato, and soft fruits such as ripened banana or cooked pear. If making a puree, you could mix in a little breast or formula milk (NB not cow’s milk) in order to make it easier to blend. Start with one meal to begin with, and by the time your baby is around 8 to 9 months old he will be on three meals a day and will start to drop milk feeds.
Once your baby is used to the idea of eating, you can start to introduce new tastes and textures. You could try meat dishes such as bolognaise with mince beef, or roast chicken, perhaps blended with a vegetable puree. You can introduce more lumpy textures as your baby ages, perhaps by adding some small pasta shapes such as these from Boots, especially designed for babies. Don’t be afraid to add small amounts of herbs and spices to flavour your baby’s food, but do not add any salt.
You can offer sweet dishes such as yogurt or fromage frais, preferably made with little or no sugar, but try to limit these in order to make sure that your baby does not develop a sweet tooth. Try to avoid sugary foods and only give your baby water or breast / formula milk to drink to avoid the risk of tooth decay.
By the time your baby is one year old, he will be able to manage most textures, but remember to avoid choking hazards by chopping up his food into bite sized lumps.
Foods To Avoid When Weaning
There are certain foods that should be avoided during weaning initially, for various reasons.
Foods Before Six Months
The NHS recommends that babies are exclusively breastfed until they are six months old, when solid foods can be offered. However, many parents choose to wean before this, from four months onwards. If you decide to wean before your baby is six months old, then you should avoid foods that contain gluten, nuts (including peanuts), fish, and dairy products that include eggs, cow’s milk, and unpasteurised cheese. Many of these foods can cause allergies or infection if introduced too early. It’s best to stick to simple vegetable purees until your baby is six months old.
Until your baby is 12 months old, you should not give her cow’s milk to drink. Instead, your baby should continue to have breast milk or formula until she is one year old. This is because until this age, your baby will continue to get the majority of her nutrients from her milk feeds, and these nutrients are not present in the required quantities in cow’s milk. You can, however, use cow’s milk in cooking, for example in a cheese sauce or custard.
Honey often contains spores that can cause botulism, a type of food poisoning. Before the age of 12 months, a baby’s digestive system is not able to combat these spores effectively, and therefore, it is not advisable to give your baby honey before she is 12 months old.
You should avoid giving your baby foods with added sugar or high amounts of naturally occurring sugars, such as that found in fruit juices. This is because too much sugar can cause tooth decay in your baby’s delicate milk teeth, and encourage your baby to prefer sweet foods, possibly leading to obesity in later life.
Your baby’s kidneys are still developing and are not able to process salt effectively. Therefore, do not add salt to your baby’s meals, or give him processed foods such as ready meals, tinned spaghetti and beans, crisps, and processed meat. Instead, use fresh ingredients that are cooked from scratch. You can buy baby friendly stock cubes in most supermarkets if you don’t want to make your own stock. Regular stock cubes also contain high amounts of salt.
Most fish is fine for your baby and is a good source of essential oils and nutrients. However, shark, swordfish, and marlin often contain mercury that is toxic for your baby’s gentle digestive system. In addition, you should make sure that any fish you do give your baby, including shellfish, is cooked thoroughly.
Raw / Non-Pasteurised Foods
As your baby’s immune system is still developing, you should not give him foods that have a higher risk of food poisoning. These include mould ripened and unpasteurised cheeses such as Stilton or Brie (NB you can use these in cooking as the cooking process destroys the bacteria), certain pates, soft boiled (runny) eggs, raw or undercooked meat and fish.
Once your baby is six months old, he can try most foods without fear of developing an allergic reaction. However, if you have a family history of allergies to certain foods such as nuts, shellfish, etc., then discuss this with your GP before giving them to your child.