By Claire Burgess, Family Consultant, Bespoke Family Ltd (www.bespokefamily.co.uk)
Very often when we start to introduce our babies to food we think that it must be bland, basic and not very much fun! That is absolutely not the case as we want to show our babies the wonderful world of food and how they can take time to explore, taste, touch and smell all of the amazing foods we have!
Babies need to touch, taste, smell and even hear their food in order to learn about what it is to eat and enjoy food. When first introducing our babies to food, one of the first decisions is ‘how?’. You need to decide whether you will introduce your baby to whole pieces of food (known as Baby-Led weaning), or will you puree the food and feed to your baby on a spoon, or will you do a mixture of both? Once you know which approach you going to take then you can start to look at what you are going to introduce first! Many books will say that you look at introducing a selection of fruits and vegetables, but I would highly recommend starting with green vegetables first. They have the most bitter taste, which your baby will need to adjust to but which will work in your favour in the long term – if you start with sweet flavoured foods first then you are encouraging your child to develop that ‘sweet tooth’ which we ideally want to avoid. By offering the green vegetables first and then introducing other vegetables from there, you will find that your baby will be accepting of these flavours.
Babies will make funny faces when eating – don’t think that this means that they don’t like it, this is very often not the case. It is them learning about the textures and flavours; if you watch cookery programmes, you will have noticed that very often when the adults taste the food they will make facial expressions and then say how much they love it! Take care with your own facial expressions – if you are making a face which indicates that it might not be very nice or it is something that you don’t like to eat, take care to hide this as you don’t want to influence your child and their preferences. If you are a particularly picky eater and there are lots of foods that you don’t like then it is vital that you introduce variety into your child’s diet so that they are exposed to lots of different foods in order to help avoid them being particularly picky as well.
When you first start introducing foods it can be done singularly, so just broccoli or just kale, but do move on from this after a couple of weeks and start to mix different vegetables together. The key to the whole process is not to remain in one stage of introducing foods for too long, so if your baby is enjoying the experience and is eating well (whether this is through finger foods or from spoon feeding) feel free to move your baby on to different flavours, textures and tastes. If you baby is happily eating the initial introduction of vegetables, proteins and fruit then look at moving them on to meals where all of these things are combined and where further flavours are introduced – this might be with things such as cheese, herbs and spices and sauces. Wherever possible try to make all of your baby’s foods at home so that you know what is included in it. You need to avoid use of salt and sugar in your baby’s food, which is something that you are not able to gauge when using shop bought or processed foods. Giving home cooked food to your baby is also beneficial because it has a very different flavour, texture and taste to any of the packet or jarred food. Using packet/jarred food might be easier and more convenient, but in the long term it can be detrimental to your child’s understanding and appreciation of the food that they are eating. They are not able to explore the food in the same way that they can when it is home cooked.
Having your child in a high chair where they are able to sit up comfortably and are fully supported is essential. Always make sure that they are pulled up to the table so that it starts their understanding of eating at the table and that food is very much a social occasion where they will learn to share, take turns and have conversations. Giving your child cutlery (age and size appropriate) can help them feel more independent whilst encouraging them to try foods on their own terms. When they are putting the spoon to their mouth they have control and are going to be more accepting of what might be on the end of it than if an adult is putting it to their mouth.
Food needs to be seen as enjoyable and the first experiences of trying foods, sitting up to the table and eating with others is essential in establishing this. Don’t be worried that if some days your baby eats more than others – milk is still their main source of nutrition until 12 months – and we are all hungrier some days more than others. Don’t ever force or trick your baby to eat food as you must build trust with them. If your baby trusts that you will be giving them a food that it is safe for them to eat it then they will, if they are tricked into it then the trust is broken and very often this is when we will see more refusal of food. Stay relaxed, eat with your child (even if it is a little snack) and you will make the whole process an enjoyable one for you all.