2 – Food Is Fun Before You’re One!
Babies still get most of their nutrition from milk (breast or formula) between 6 months and a year. This means some of the pressure is off — you don’t need to get a whole plate of dinner down little one as soon as you start. The whole point of the weaning process is that it’s a transition, so you don’t need to crack it all in one go. The more exploration a baby can do with different foods, the more familiar they become and the more likely you are to have success later, even during the toddler phases! Take it steady. It’s not a race and though some babies will take to food really quickly, others may not. (There can be many reasons for this and if you have a preemie, or any issues that present concerns, speak to your Health Visitor, doctor or trusted professional before you start.) Try not to write anything off too soon — remember they’ve never had anything with any real substance in their mouths before and it’s a weird thing to experience. It’s only natural that they’ll have to get used to the idea that not everything is liquid and milk or calpol flavoured. You’ll have to repeat a lot of foods before they become normalised to the range of flavours and textures opened up to them. Babies learn best through repetition, though, so while you might get bored of the same few things or frustrated that they don’t seem to like more ‘solid’ food, try not to get disheartened or decide they hate it.
Weaning is a great time to explore textures and colours with your baby. Things like porridge can be coloured with fruits and squished with fingers, steamed broccoli has a firm end and an end that will 100% go further than you could ever have imagined broccoli would spread. Food comes in warm and cold varieties (check temperatures on your lips for a few seconds), wet and dry, sticky and smooth. While you don’t have to be too concerned with getting it down them, take advantage of them getting it everywhere else as a learning experience. Let them investigate at their own pace. You’ll probably be amazed (or horrified) at the flavour combinations they’ll happily put in their mouths. Elizabeth once used a chicken flavour crisp as a spoon to eat yogurt. Grim. Let them play with the ingredients you’re using to make dinner and not only will it keep them occupied for a minute, but they’ll be more familiar with these ingredients from an early age.
3 – You Don’t Need Teeth To Eat
When I first started to learn about BLW I was baffled at how Elizabeth would ever manage the foods being suggested (she cut her first tooth somewhere around six months). However, as any breast-feeding mum will tell you, baby gums are harder than you might think. They also love having something to gnash on when their mouths are sore from teething and they have a lot of saliva for softening things up. While teeth are certainly an advantage in some areas (raw carrots, for example, might not get very far) you don’t actually need baby to have a full set of chompers to get started. Steamed veg is a great place to introduce a firmer texture and apple rings or cucumber sticks can be gummed with surprising success — and as a bonus something like a cucumber wedge straight out of the fridge can be super soothing on hot gums. Real chewing will be more effective as more teeth make an appearance but you may be surprised (as I was) to see just how much chewing action happens anyway. It’s all good practice! And on that note…
4 – They Can Do It – Let Them
Something else you might be surprised at is how willing your little is to try things for themselves. For Elizabeth’s first foray into food we placed some steamed broccoli and carrot on her tray and sat back to see what she’d do. She did what all babies are seemingly programmed to do – stuffed it in her mouth. There was a bit of back and forward, gumming, checking it out, spitting it everywhere, swapping it about and then eventually losing interest. It was all a bit anticlimactic, really. But the big thing for us was that she’d done it herself. I didn’t want to force her into and I didn’t want to take that control away from her. It’s easy with babies to do a lot of things for them — sometimes it’s easier, sometimes you’re on a timer, sometimes they’re being a complete menace — but if you can restrain yourself; do. In order for them to use a spoon (and eventually other cutlery) for example, they need to practice with a spoon. When they’re small, I recommend having two or three long(ish) handled spoons with shallow bowls so you can load one with say, porridge, and hand it over or put it on the tray. When they start working that one out, you can load another to swap. Elizabeth spent a lot of time dual-wielding spoons. It took a while for her to consistently get it in her mouth but by a year she was using them confidently, loading and eating from them all by herself. She was pretty chuffed with herself, too.
5 – The Food Processor and Freezer Are Your Friends
Somewhat counter-intuitive, this one. From all the talk of fresh, whole foods you might be wondering why I’m pro-processor. The thing is, having a baby in the house makes everything take approximately one hundred years longer than it ever did before and when everyone is permanently starving and exhausted this does not make for good nutrition. The good thing about the processor is you can use it for a bunch of things to make life easier. For example:
- Shove a bunch of veg (peppers, mushrooms, onion, courgette) through the slicing function for stir fries and fajita fillings. Make up bags of a variety of pre-chopped veg to suit your purposes and keep them in the freezer for quick dinners.
- Blitz up some carrots, onions and garlic or celery to form the base for soups and sauces – a super quick way to get a bolognese started! On which note…
- Blitz up a variety of veg to the consistency of your preference to load bolognese sauce with the good stuff.
- Home make soups with veg that’s past its best – just roast with your favourite herbs and spices and blitz with stock. Sweet potatoes and squash are good places to start here as they create a lovely silky texture without much help.
- Use the blender to make pancake batter – flavour with peas and mint or sweetcorn to make fritters for little hands.
- Whizz up fruit, freeze in ice-cube trays and add to porridge for an injection of flavour and a quick cool-down!
- For the over-1s who can have cows milk (or your milk substitute of choice) whizz milk and a handful of hulled strawberries for a quick (and much lower sugar) pink milk.
- Freeze bananas and throw them in the blender with a splash of milk or yogurt for a quick ‘ice cream’. This works with apple juice and frozen strawberries to make a sort of sorbet, too.
The list is pretty endless and if you Google or Pinterest the subject you’ll find a bunch of handy tips and tricks to make your life easier in this way.
6 – Don’t Tell Them They Won’t Like It
If a person you trust told you that you wouldn’t like something you’d believe them, right? Probably. Children’s taste buds develop over time. There are likely many things you remember hating as a child that you actually love now — blue cheese, mustard, beer, coffee, dark chocolate. If they want to try it (and it’s safe for them to try it) let them. If it’s not safe (i.e. it’s a choking hazard, it’s a jalapeño, it’s scalding hot, etc) explain it to them. “I’m sorry, you can’t try this because it’s too XXX for your little mouth. We’ll try it when you’re bigger.” If they do try something new and it’s not a great reaction, that’s ok. They don’t have to like it, they just want the experience. Try not to apply your own tastes to them, either. Just because Daddy doesn’t like peas and Mummy doesn’t like red meat doesn’t mean baby won’t.
The phrase to memorise here is “you don’t have to like it and you don’t have to eat it”. This might seem a bit mad, but it really helps. The thing is, everyone’s tastes are different and everyone feels differently about things on different days — children are no exception. Some days you want soup, some days you want steak, some days you don’t really want much of anything and some days only the all you can eat buffet will do. Sometimes you just don’t fancy cabbage and you know if you’re being honest with yourself that you don’t like everything you try. You’ll have much more relaxed mealtimes if you can let go of the fact they didn’t eat everything and even more so if you don’t make tasting everything into a fight. The best option here is just to eat your own food yourself and not make a huge fuss. Saying things like “I like parsnips, they’re a bit like carrots and a bit like potatoes’ can help because, as you’ll probably know from being presented with strange things, not knowing what something will be like can be a bit scary. Try not to bargain with other foods, too; “you can’t have any cake if you don’t eat all your carrots” is only going to make them resent carrots and put cake in a ‘reward’ category. Not that there’s anything wrong with food rewards (fun day at the beach, everyone gets ice cream!) but be careful of assigning values to food where they don’t belong. The relationships people have with foods they’ve labelled as ‘naughty’ or seen as ‘punishment foods’ (being forced to choke down broccoli you hate so you can have jelly) can last a long time and be quite damaging.
FOR THE LOVE OF WHICHEVER DEITY DO NOT CALL THEM FAT. Just don’t. Don’t get into the habit of it when they’re small because it’ll be hard to shift when they’re older. Don’t call you fat and don’t make life and food about body image. Food is about nutrition, it’s not about what anyone thinks of you or any of that garbage. Positive body image starts right here. Focus on being healthy. If there are genuine medical concerns about weight (either over or under), speak to your doctor.