Weaning is an exciting time for a parent. Introducing your child to the world of food is the first step on a journey that will hopefully result in a love and appreciation of a wide variety of tastes and textures.
Weaning is also frequently a frustrating and downright messy experience, but that’s all part of the process. If you’re ever concerned by this, be assured that pretty much any negative reaction your child might exhibit is completely normal and will pass in time. Probably.
Vegetable-led weaning is one of the most common approaches recommended by experts, so we enlisted registered nutritionist Charlotte Stirling-Reed – an expert in infant and toddler nutrition – for more information on it, plus some tips for what to do when things aren’t going to plan.
Stirling-Reid is also sharing her advice during a free Zoom workshop in partnership with children’s furniture brand Stokke (opens in new tab). The workshop takes place on Tuesday 8th December at 8pm. Sign up on Eventbrite (opens in new tab).
What is vegetable-led weaning?
It’s kicking off the process of weaning by introducing your baby to savoury and bitter vegetables at the very start. So for the first 10 days to two weeks of weaning, offer a single taste of veggies each day. Thereafter it’s about building in a wide variety of other foods while continuing to offer plenty of savoury vegetables.
Should you offer finger foods or mush?
A bit of both. Lots of parents are anxious about starting weaning and telling them to provide only finger food can be daunting, and at the same time lots of parents don’t like the idea of only providing purée, so you can have a combination of the two.
When it comes to purée, it’s important to move through those textures quite quickly so your baby doesn’t get really accustomed to thin purées, because they should get used to having lumps and bumps in the food. You can move through the textures by stealth – make them a bit thicker daily.
How is weaning advice different from, say, 10 years ago?
It’s not that recommendations have completely changed, but 10 years ago weaning was traditionally started by introducing sweet veggies or sweet fruits, so things like apple or pear purées, or baby rice. Now we know from a lot of research that it can be beneficial to start with vegetables to create an acceptance and a liking for those, because babies will already accept and enjoy sweet tastes – they’re born with that acceptance. The whole point is to introduce something totally new that they’ve never had before, rather than reinforcing their existing preference for sweeter taste.
With vegetable-led weaning, is the hope that your child will be less fussy when it comes to food later in life?
Exactly. I’m not saying it’s a magic bullet that will make all children not fussy, but as long as you’re offering a wide variety and encouraging a love for food from a young age, and starting with veggies, then you’re more likely to have a child that will readily accept vegetables when they’re older.
When should you start veg-lead weaning?
In the UK we say around six months of age, but look out for three main signs of readiness in your baby. First, that the baby can sit up and hold their head and neck steady. Second, that they can see food, pick it up and put it towards their mouth by themselves. And the third one is that they have less of a tongue thrust reflex, so when they start they can swallow more food rather than push it back out with their tongue.
Once you see those signs, start with vegetables. Variety is key because if you offer broccoli five days in a row, well… I wouldn’t want to eat broccoli five days in a row, and a baby certainly won’t. It doesn’t have to be a different vegetable every day but do vary it. This way your baby won’t get sick of certain vegetables, and if they get windy with some vegetables they get a break from them.
It’s a short thing – 10 days, two weeks, then you move on to introducing your baby to a much more varied diet.
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Are there any vegetables to avoid?
In other countries they do sometimes recommend limiting things like spinach, but that’s not a recommendation in the UK because we limit the amount of nitrates in our foods, and we’re only talking about tiny tastes. They won’t be eating whole bags of spinach.
Don’t expect them to clear their plate – that’s so important. In those first couple of weeks it’s really tiny tastes, getting that taste on the tongue.
Should you feed the baby or let them feed themselves?
Definitely encourage self-feeding, but I’m a big fan of letting the baby lead you. Some will take to finger foods and they will just grab it right away and start feeding themselves. Others will splash their hands in the purée and spread it around their face and a little bit will go in. You can try offering some food on a spoon – it’s not a problem – but as soon as your baby shows interest in grabbing that spoon off you and trying to self-feed, I would encourage that. Try the two-spoon trick where you each have a spoon and when they grab yours you take the other and load it up for them to grab back off you again.
What’s the advice for after that initial period of 10 to 14 days?
Variety is key. There’s loads of research showing that the more variety you can offer children from a young age, the more variety they will eat when older, and that includes those savoury veggies. You want to make sure they are still a regular part of the child’s diet so they are familiar, because familiarity leads to acceptance.
There are only a few foods they need to avoid at this stage: salt, sugar, honey, and things like unpasteurised cheeses, uncooked meat and shellfish, certain other types of fish and rice milk. Apart from that you can have a lot of variety.
What can you do when they’re just not eating the veg?
First of all, the main thing is to know that it’s normal. We’re not expecting children to gobble it up, especially because vegetables are such a different taste. It’s a gradual process so try not to panic, keep going and do lots of role-modelling – if your baby sees you eating broccoli and sticks of courgette they’re more likely to accept and try them themselves. Keep going, because we know from research it can take 10 to 15 attempts before a baby accepts some of these new foods.
Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.
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