Introducing your little one to solid foods can be a time of excitement and new adventure, but also one of frustration, stress and confusion for many parents.
While this may sound like a daunting task, it’s a wonderful opportunity to teach your baby to enjoy a wide variety of healthy foods, to build a positive relationship towards food and to look forward to mealtimes.
Following the guidelines listed below will help to make this developmental milestone an enjoyable and wholesome one, as you embark on your child’s first flavour-filled journey – whether you’re using purees, baby-led weaning or a combination of the two.
*The official advice is to give your baby well-mashed or pureed foods at the beginning of weaning, as well as finger food from six months. The Department of Health, the European Union, and the World Health Organisation all recommend this.
Repetition is key
With first tastes, it can take between six and 16 flavour experiences before a particular taste or food becomes accepted. If your baby turns their nose up on the first try – don’t give up. Learning to accept and enjoy certain foods is a process and a learnt skill for all of us, so be patient as you serve them to your baby again and again. It’s completely normal!
Role model healthy behaviours
You can’t expect your baby to eat their veggies, yet not touch them yourself. Right from the start, babies begin to learn so much from our behaviour and the more they see you eating and enjoying a rainbow of veggies, fruits, proteins and whole grains, the more likely they are to mimic your choices and actions.
Avoid infant commercial products and sugars
A baby’s relationship with food and associated preferences start and are shaped from the very first taste of food that touches their tongue. Manufacturers often add hidden sugars as they know this will keep your baby coming back for more! It’s important that you teach your baby to enjoy the flavour of homemade, freshly-prepared, unsalted and unsweetened foods, before introducing artificial tastes or overly sweet options. These will form the standard that other foods are compared to.
Encourage your baby to regulate their own appetite
It’s important to allow your baby to feel that they’re leading the way and making their own choices. Babies are extremely good at regulating their own appetites. If they are being offered healthy, nourishing foods then there’s no need to limit their portion size. Baby’s whose parents follow their hunger and satiety cues are more likely to embrace a healthy weight.
Embrace the mess and encourage self-feeding
Allow your baby to reach for food and feed themselves. If your little one is being spoon fed offer them their own spoon to attempt to feed themselves. It’s sometimes easier to have two spoons at meal times, one for you and one for your baby.
If your little person refuses to be spoon fed or if you’re embarking on baby-led-weaning (bypassing the puree foods in favour of immediately moving to the exploration of foods in their natural state at their own pace) try offering finger foods but don’t limit their choices to “appropriate finger foods”. Instead offer porridge with some compote and make it thicker, offer bolognese over pasta shells so they can pick up and explore the shells covered in the nutritious sauce. Remember that enjoying food is a sensory (and messy) experience.
Be wary of disguising food
Allow your baby to experience the true flavour of foods right from the beginning. Remember that little ones can reject food up to 14 times before giving it a go. Little taste-buds are forever changing – so don’t rush into disguising their veggies by adding them to fruit purees or sweetening natural yoghurt with pear puree. Instead, allow them to taste the undoctored flavour and texture of the food on offer.
Listen: Holly Wainwright and Christie Hayes discuss everything there is to know when it comes transitioning onto solids (post continues after audio...)
Praise and positive reinforcement
Encouragement at the dinner table is key – praise your baby for eating new foods or trying new food: babies love praise, and if both parents praise a baby for eating well it can have a long-lasting effect, making mealtimes happy, positive experiences for the whole family
It’s important to make time for family meals as much as possible. If it’s too early for you to eat your meal, you can put a small amount of food on a plate for yourself and sit and eat with your baby. It’s always a good idea to ensure you have vegetables visible on your plate as it will help to spark their interest and encourage them to imitate your good habits.
Meal times should be fun
Why else do we as adults spend so much time dining out or inviting friends to our homes to join us for a meal? Get your little ones involved with preparing family meals, sing songs with your little one, make pictures out of veggie sticks and dips – create imaginative ways to help your baby enjoy their mealtimes. Don’t worry about table manners or mess for the moment - the most important thing is that they enjoy the whole sensory experience – even if it means sticking their fingers into everything and eating with their hands!
Visit the Wholesome Child website to learn more about Mandy Sacher. Her book “Wholesome Child: A Complete Nutrition Guide and Cookbook” is available to purchase online and through iTunes here. Connect with her on Instagram and Facebook.
If you’d like more practical advice on introducing solids, then you may be interested in Mandy’s workshop: Introducing Solids the Wholesome Way.