Last week we holidayed in Cornwall. To avoid the obscenely long car journey with two little ones, we treated ourselves and flew. We had a wonderful week staying in a lovely house with friends. There were nine adults, three toddlers, three babies, lots of sandcastles, ice creams, swims in the sea and glasses of wine. It was a full on week and a lovely one. Baby G will soon be four months and watching the eight month old eat was a good reminder that weaning will soon be upon us. The recent readers’ survey threw up that some of you are interested in weaning.
So first a disclaimer – my only experience of weaning is with JP who is coming up for 3. He has always enjoyed food, which was just luck of the drawer as opposed to anything we did. So I’m no weaning expert. I asked online what other’s thoughts and advice on weaning would be and I will share all this below as well as recipes that are good for you to eat and also puree for little one. If you have thoughts and experiences which differ to those below, please add a comment I would love to hear from you.
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A big decision – baby led weaning or purees?
I remember talking to a friend when JP was 5 months who asked if I was going to do traditional weaning or baby led. This I knew would be an important decision and of course one I wanted to get it right, but what the heck was baby led weaning?
(Mini rant – what is it with bringing up kids that everything has to have a name which gives you no clue as to what you are actually talking about. It’s like a secret language with all these new terms you have to learn, a language you need to master to be able to communicate with people you previously had no problem communicating with. It’s particularly baffling since you are sleep deprived and your brain is mush. In case you have no idea what I mean here are some examples ‘on-demand feeding’, ‘reset nap’, ‘controlled crying’, ‘attached parenting’, ‘baby brain’,‘sleep training’, ‘cry it out’, ‘co-sleeping’,’natural birth’, ‘unexpected natural birth’, ‘tummy time’, ‘skin to skin’, ‘dropping a feed’, ‘cluster feeding’, ‘dream feed’, ‘sleep crutch’, ‘transitional object’, ‘nipple confusion’ and ‘night weaning’. Talk about making things sound complicated!)
I asked my friend what baby led weaning was and she explained it was about giving the baby finger food to feed themselves, as opposed to making food into purees and then spooning that into your baby’s mouth. The thinking being that by giving non pureed food they learned to “chew” first before swallowing. I then did some more reading and found there are a whole load of other reasons why baby led weaning is advocated and some of these make a lot of sense. (Then there is the extreme end view that baby led weaning is the only way to ensure your baby has a positive relationship with food. If you feed purees you were setting your baby up to have a troubled time with food that could result in obesity or anorexia.)
So which was I going to go with – traditional puree (which my Mum was already wholeheartedly advocating) or baby led weaning? What happened won’t be a surprise to any mother with a weaned child. We did a little puree, and a few sticks of steamed veg; we did some bread and cheese sticks and some green mush; in other words we did a bit of both. JP enjoyed holding some food, dropping it and then holding it again. His hand-eye coordination was limited and very little food would get to his mouth. So while he would briefly hold his stick of veg I would spoon puree into his mouth. Later on he got better at putting the sticks of food into his mouth and then, much later, he learned to put a spoon of puree in his mouth. It was all a gradual process.
Once we had it all sussed, I reflected that this binary of ‘baby led’ or ‘traditional’ is crazy. Take the meal sausage and mash with broccoli, which any self respecting adult might enjoy. You have ‘traditional’ pureed mash and then ‘baby led’ sticks of sausage and broccoli. Why do we have to make things complicated that don’t need to be? Why do we have to make a choice that we don’t need to? Perhaps your baby will hate purees, in which case try some food they can hold. Perhaps you baby will take a little longer to develop the coordination to get anything in their mouth themselves but enjoys purees, in which case you’ll probably have a more puree focused diet for a while.
If there is one thing to take away from this piece it’s to relax and do what feels right for you. There is no one rule that fits all. By only feeding your child purees or only feeding them sticks of food to hold you aren’t going to damage your child. I’m going to focus on making the process relaxed and enjoyable for Baby G and those feeding her. It’s possible this will speed the process up or it may have no effect on the time it takes. But stressing about any part of teaching my child to eat is unlikely to help.
On that note a Mum I met after a library sing song session told me she was now using a 3 week approach. When I asked what she meant she said she had been stressing that her little one wasn’t eating purees that were sufficiently lumpy. Like most of us she had started with purees that were super smooth, alongside sticks of food. Then as her little one got comfortable with the purees she had introduced ones with lumps in them. Her little one hadn’t been happy with the lumps. She had reverted to super smooth purees and then 3 weeks later tried again with lumpy purees and bingo her son enjoyed the lumpy food. She told me I just needed to be patient. This approach makes so much sense to me.
Make life easy
When JP was still little I tried porridge. He struggled and I concluded that the oats were too lumpy. My solution was to put the oats in the food processor to cut them up before making porridge. This didn’t work as the blade of the processor cut a few oats but mostly just moved them around. Next I tried a blender and although this worked a little better, I could only do a small amount of oats in one go. Making porridge became very labour intensive. A year later I was looking for some instant porridge to have on a work trip with a very early morning meeting and my eye fell on Ready Brek. I looked at the ingredients; other than a load of vitamins there were only two ingredients of oats and oat flour. This would be creamy lump free porridge. Why hadn’t I bought some Ready Brek a year before!
Handmade, jar or pouch
Will you make all the food you give your baby, or do ready made food from jars or pouches feel more up your street? My response would be it doesn’t matter which you choose and with JP we used all three depending on the situation. Choose whichever works for you and your little one. It’s no big deal.
If you do make homemade foods remember this – your baby isn’t rejecting you when they refuse them. Unlike most adults, JP didn’t have the manners to eat the food I had lovingly prepared for him when he didn’t like it. He just refused to open his mouth! I had to get over myself and the food and get out the Ready Brek or that shop bought prepared food that tastes vile but he loves.
Mumdinger gives some great ideas
“My top tips are:
1) freeze homemade purées in ice cube trays, then pop them out and transfer to labelled bags in the freezer – easy mix and matching
2) buy a crinkle cutter (mine looks like an ancient battle weapon) – it makes fruit and veg easier for little hands
3) 1 mashed banana, 1 egg, mixed together and fried in a dot of butter = easy banana pancakes
4) buy a dyson handheld Hoover, or knee pads xx”
(If you don’t already follow Mumdinger treat yourself and check out her blog. She seriously funny and makes me feel like a normal Mum.)
Philliswinders add “It seems that these little people are all totally different (even when related 😳) Second time it couldn’t be more different! The Tommee Tippee Steamer & Blender has been my saviour this time round and @annabelkarmel Baby & Toddler Meal Planner. I’m also enjoying the River Cottage Weaning Book and Baby at the Table. A couple of months down the line I’ve found a baby led lunch and a purée/ spoon fed dinner work best. I’ve more time/ energy to spend on lunch and clean up versus the end of the day tiredness/ nursery pick up, that said Mr L often picks his sister up with sweet potato eyebrows or the remnants of an avocado face mask.”
The last points from Mumdinger and Philliswinders are good reminders for those like me who aren’t fans of mess, particularly food based mess which is suddenly everywhere. Weaning is messy, seriously messy. Friends used to cover their carpet in a shower curtain and also strip their little one down to their nappy before each meal, to cut down on the cleaning and washing. Know that eventually your little one will be able to eat without smearing food everywhere and relax as much as you can about the mess. My Mum always has a wet flannel in a zip lock bag for wiping up mess when she goes out with JP. This is brilliant, but a level of organisation I can only aspire to.
I was amazed to learn that babies and toddlers stop eating when they are full. We adults who religiously finish everything on our plate even though we are full, or cram in that extra piece of cake, have learnt to do this – it isn’t natural. So you can’t overfeed your baby. Just keep feeding until they stop. You might want to think about what you are feeding them, but leave quantity in their court.
I remember talking to a Mum before JP started weaning who told me her little one loved steamed or boiled broccoli. I thought she was just showing off as what child choose to eat broccoli?! Turns out broccoli is bizarrely popular. JP still enjoys it as do lots of others I know. I’m sure there are others who hate it, but it may be worth trying.
Don’t dumb it down
Food is food, just because it’s ‘grown up’ food doesn’t mean your little one won’t enjoy it. JP loves salty food and we gave him some smoked salmon once and he wolfed it down. It’s still seriously popular. I wholeheartedly agree with Victoria Jarman’s advice –
Victoriajarman 1. Feed them what you eat. 2. Get a dog 😀 x
We pureed JP a lot of the food we were eating. It meant we stopped cooking with salt and added it after, but it made life super simple. It was easier to keep a bit of last night’s supper for JP’s lunch or dinner than making something new.
JP was a good eater but I always had Weetabix in the cupboard and it would also come with us on holiday. When he was too tired, or didn’t want what I had presented him with, we would always try and get him to eat that food. When it became clear this wasn’t going to happen I would offer him Weetabix and he would eat it with such relief that there was something he could happily fill his tummy with. I wondered whether this would mean he would reject lots of foods in order to get Weetabix, but this hasn’t happened. The Weetabix only comes out about once a month now.
I want to end on very sane advice from Juliet Rose. She writes ‘we started with baby led weaning but started giving Rose a few purees at 10 months when we felt she needed to eat more. We found ‘baby led weaning’ made her full of enthusiasm and was easy to do but is very messy and can take a long time for babies to get calories from food. We love the Doidy Cup for helping with drinking, and any red juicy foods (tomatoes,strawberries, raspberries ) are a win. Happy to share some tips that worked for us but every baby is different I think.’
Every baby is unique and while tips like the ones in this post may help, they may not work for your child. Don’t be discouraged, keep going and you will get it sussed. Having said that if you need professional (health visitor) help, get it and don’t suffer in silence.
19 RECIPES FOR WEANING AND THE WHOLE FAMILY
As mentioned I didn’t add salt to the meals I made for JP, instead Dave and I add salt at the table if the meal needed it. You may want to factor this in when using the recipes below.
Soups are a great way of getting goodies into little ones. If you want them a bit thicker to make feeding easier just use a little less stock or water. They are also great for getting your toddler comfortable with eating out as any cafe or restaurant in the UK is going to have a soup on it’s menu.
These are vegetarian meals. JP particularly likes the Spicy Vegetarian Cassoulet, and though he isn’t keen on the coriander in the couscous, he is all over the pistachios however. I would skip the pumpkin seeds in the polenta for a weaning version. The leeks, peas and parmesan are more of a vegetable side dish than a main course for us adults, but for weaning babies this pureed would be great.
Risotto is a great meal for little ones. Add more water or stock to give it a runny consistency.
This slow cooker beef stew with mash potato is perfect for pureeing and you could serve steamed vegetable sticks on the side for a baby led weaning aspect to the meal.
These are three oven dishes that will happily feed the whole family. The British Tartiflette is great for a crowd. They’re all great for pureeing.
JP loved pasta in a puree form, but it took longer than I had anticipated for him to enjoy pasta unpureed. We are now there and macaroni cheese is possibly his favourite meal. Below are three other pasta dishes that you and your little one might enjoy.
We all need a pudding sometime and weaning is a great excuse to make this one.