Vegetable Led Weaning, the Importance of Complementary Feeding

Introducing solids is known as complementary feeding or weaning - it is the introduction of foods which complement your baby’s usual milk, rather than replacing it. Giving your baby solid food for the first time can be a very exciting but sometimes challenging time so we’ve gathered some information and tips to help you on your way.

Your little one’s palate is like a blank canvas and is easily shaped by each new taste experience. During the first year of life, babies are receptive to all five basic tastes to differing degrees, preferring those that are sweet or salty. At Babease, we believe that when you start to introduce solid foods, it’s really important to start with vegetables in as much variety as you can manage. Introducing the more bitter-tasting vegetables such as broccoli or kale may need more perseverance than the easily accepted sweet-tasting vegetables, such as carrots and sweet potato, or fruits such banana and mango but it is definitely worth the extra effort. Studies have shown that babies who eat a wide variety of vegetables during complementary feeding go on to eat more vegetables in later childhood (up to 7 years) than those that don’t. At Babease, we feel that eating a wide variety of vegetables early on and offering as many healthy taste experiences as you can will help develop a life-long love of vegetables and foods that will nourish throughout adulthood.

How can I tell if my baby is ready?

Every baby is different and you know yours better than anyone else so you should follow your instincts when it comes to weaning. To help a little further, here are some top tips to help you on your journey.

The Department of Health and the World Health Organisation advises weaning at around six months. If you are unsure, it is a good idea to have a chat with your health visitor if you feel your baby is ready to wean before six months (remember that babies shouldn't be given solids before 17 weeks). Don’t feel rushed to wean as there is still all the nutrition a baby needs in your breast milk or baby formula.

Three signs that your baby is ready for solid food:

1)     They can sit up unaided and can hold their head steady.

2)     Hand-eye coordination is developed so that they can look at food, pick it up and put it in their mouths.

3)     They can swallow – young babies have a tongue-thrust reflex which means they instinctively use their tongues to push objects out of their mouths. Until this reflex fades your baby will push any food out of their mouth and will end up with more food on their face than in their tummy.

When you've seen all these signs it means your baby is ready for solid food.

There can also be a few signs that are mistaken for a baby being ready for weaning.

·       waking in the night when they had previously been sleeping through.

·       wanting extra milk feeds and chewing fists.

Both of these are normal behaviours and starting solids won't make them any more likely to sleep through the night. Extra milk feeds should help to keep them feeling full up until they're ready for other food.

What to do when you start to wean

There are two main approaches to weaning:

1)     Spoon-led weaning - spoon-feeding your baby purees which are very smooth to start with and progress to lumpier textures as they grow.

2)     Baby-led weaning - giving your baby chunks of food that they pick up and feed themselves.

You don't need to decide to choose one approach and stick to it, a combination of spoon-led and baby-led weaning works really well.

What you’ll need

  • A highchair, or a booster seat that attaches to an ordinary chair to bring your baby up to table height is essential. When choosing which one to go for, bear in mind that whichever one it is will get very messy, so make sure it's easy to clean!
  • Several bibs, the ones with long sleeves are great for protecting your little one’s clothes
  • A few soft spoons (at least one for you and one for your baby to hold themselves) 

 

  • Floor covering, if your flooring isn't 'wipe-clean' you'll need something to protect it, such as a plastic 'messy mat' or an old sheet
  • Plastic bowls and/or plates
  • A blender or sieve to make purees if you're planning to make homemade food for spoon-feeding

Useful advice and top tips on complementary feeding

If you decide to introduce solid foods before six months, you should avoid giving your baby certain foods as they may cause food allergies or make them ill. These are foods that contain wheat, gluten, nuts, peanuts, peanut products, seeds, eggs, shellfish, liver, fish, cow’s milk and unpasteurised cheese. At Babease, our recipes are always free from gluten, nuts, peanuts, peanut products, seeds, eggs, shellfish, liver, cow’s milk and unpasteurised cheese. Once eggs are introduced they must be well-cooked so that the egg white and yolk are solid to prevent food poisoning.

It is important to make sure your baby is getting enough iron, red meat (such as Beef, Pork & Lamb) is an excellent source of iron. Dark green vegetables, pulses, dried apricots and figs also offer iron but it is less well absorbed and should be served with vegetables and fruit containing vitamin C which will help your baby to absorb the iron.

If you are breastfeeding, the Department of Health recommends that babies are given vitamin supplements. Your health visitor can give you advice on vitamin drops and tell you where to get them. Having too much of some vitamins can be harmful, so remember to stick to the recommended dose stated on the label, and be careful not to give your child two supplements at the same time. If you are giving your baby at least 500ml of infant formula per day you do not need a vitamin supplement as these are added to the formula.

Be aware of choking hazards and avoid giving hard or unripe fruit and vegetables like raw apple and raw carrot to your little one. Grapes and cherry tomatoes should be cut into smaller pieces and not offered whole. Care should also be taken to remove any stones, pips, skin and bones before feeding these types of foods to your baby.

Apart from breastmilk or formula, water is the best drink to offer your baby. Other drinks tend to contain sugar or fizz, which damage developing teeth. Offer water with meals and try to introduce a cup from around 6 months. Using an open cup or free-flow cup will help your baby learn to sip, and is better for their teeth, not to mention it can help reduce wind by reducing the amount of air that they swallow.

Follow this simple check list to help get complementary feeding off to the best start:

1)     Choose a quiet time when your baby is peckish but not ravenously hungry, they're not overly tired and you're feeling relaxed and calm.

2)     Try giving them part of their usual milk feed before you offer solids if you feel they're really hungry.

3)     Start small by offering your baby one or two teaspoons of simple food and gradually increase this over the coming days, taking your baby's lead.

4)     If your baby simply isn't interested, leave it and try again another day. There really is no need to rush this process and never feel like you need to force your baby to eat. He or she will when the time is right.

5)     Don't expect them to eat much at first as this is a whole new experience for them. It’s more important for your little one to get used to different experiences of flavour and texture (keeping up with their usual milk will offer the nutrients they need to begin with).

6)     They can pull some amazing faces when they're trying things for the first time, but don't be put off as it doesn't mean they're not enjoying their new adventure with food. Just imagine how amazing it must be to taste something for the very first time!

7)     Always stay with your baby when they're eating in case they start to choke.

8)     Let your baby enjoy touching and holding the food and allow them to feed themselves with their fingers as soon as they show an interest. It’s a great way to encourage a baby to enjoy food and allow them to grow up with a positive relationship with the wonderful world of food.

9)     When your baby loses interest in the food or turns their head away from the spoon, it's a sure sign they've had enough and you should call it a day. Try not to feel tempted to keep on feeding because this can actually have a negative effect on your baby’s relationship with food. If your baby really is not eating very much and you are worried, it is always best to consult your health visitor to allay any worries.

10)   We also like to recommend that whenever you feed your baby, you also take time to sit down and have a little nibble with them, even if it’s a little rice cake, or even better the same thing as they are eating. It’s a great way to introduce meal times and make eating a family time, creating a fun social atmosphere around food; as it should be!

11)   Finally, don’t forget to capture their adorable, food-covered faces on camera, and most importantly enjoy this process, it’s another exciting step on your baby’s journey!

Foods to avoid in the first year

Salt

Do not use salt in cooking as your baby’s kidneys are not developed fully. This includes stock cubes or shop-bought gravies as these can be high in salt.

Sugar

To prevent tooth decay, avoid sugary snacks and drinks including fruit juice and other fruit drinks.

Honey

Babies under 12 months should not be given honey as it can contain harmful toxins that your baby cannot digest. Once your baby is over 12 months their digestive system will be mature enough to prevent these toxins from having an effect.  

Whole nuts

Whole nuts should be avoided until your baby turns five years old due to the risk of choking. If there are no food allergies in the family, ground nuts and nut butters can be offered once your baby is six months old. If you are at all worried about nut allergies, then consult your health visitor before you explore nuts with your baby.

Shark, swordfish and marlin

These large fish can contain levels of mercury in them which can affect the nervous system.

Raw shellfish

These should be avoided due to the risk of food poisoning.

Saturated fat

Found in crisps, cakes and biscuits, these should be kept to a minimum to ensure a healthy, balanced diet.

Cow’s milk as a drink

Using cow’s milk in cooking before your little one’s first birthday is fine, but it shouldn't be given as their main drink because it doesn't contain enough nutrients for their needs.

Above all, relax, be inventive and embrace and enjoy this stage of your journey! 

Our top tips to enjoy weaning

  • Relax and embrace the mess! 
  • At the very beginning your baby is just getting used to the idea of eating so don't worry about how much they eat.
  • Babies don't need three meals a day to start with so offer food at a time that suits you both.
  • Gradually increase the amount and variety of foods until they eventually eat smaller portions of the same food as the rest of the family.
  • If you offer your baby healthy foods from the beginning they are much more likely to grow up preferring the healthy options in life, so avoid offering foods with added sugar (fruits offer all the sweetness they need), salty or fatty foods.
  • Allow plenty of time for eating and follow your baby's lead.
  • Eat together as much as possible, as your baby will learn from the rest of the family.
  • Don't force it – if your baby doesn't like a food, try it again another day. Babies can sometimes need more than ten experiences of a food to get used to and enjoy the taste. Your baby will know when their tummy is full so don't try to make them finish a portion when they've had enough.
  • When they're eating three meals a day don't worry if they don't eat much one day, what they eat over a week is more important.
  • Let your baby feed themselves. Offer finger foods so that they get used to a variety of different tastes and textures.