Introducing your little one to food is a big deal. It’s a whole new messy ballgame and it’s a lot of fun to explore the various textures, tastes and faces that go along with it.
But it can also be a bit overwhelming and scary. That’s why we asked bestselling international author and world-leading children’s food expert Annabel Karmel to share some of her pearls of wisdom about weaning with us.
From choking to textures, allergies to vegetarian diets, Annabel has you covered…
Q: How do I prevent baby from choking?
Understandably choking is a big concern for parents – but there’s no need to live in fear.
My main piece of advice would be that, whether you’re opting for baby-led weaning or traditional purees, you should follow your baby’s lead. Their own developmental abilities are what ensure that the transition to solid foods takes place at the right time for them and will significantly reduce the risk of choking! It’s also necessary to note that however your baby is fed they shouldn’t be left alone while eating, and they must always be supported in an upright position.
Giving finger foods early on will help your baby control how far back they push food in their mouth and help push the gag reflux further back.
Remember, children have a tendency to store food in their mouths so always check after each meal. I encourage all new parents to become familiar with first aid procedures for babies and children.
Q: What’s the best way to cut first foods?
NEVER give whole pieces of small solid foods or raw fruit or vegetables that could easily lodge in and obstruct the throat.
Foods such as grapes and cherry tomatoes should be safely cut up into quarters. Avoid fruit with stones or remove pips and stones before offering to your baby.
At the start of weaning, finger foods need to be soft – your baby should be able to squash finger foods between finger and thumb. To start with, avoid finger foods that your baby could break into large chunks such as cucumber.
Avoid cutting foods into circular coin shapes especially if they are raw, instead opt for cutting into batons or wedges (roughly 5 – 6cm) so they are narrow enough to hold easily. Remove the skin from most fruits and vegetables as it could be a choking hazard.
3. How should I introduce texture?
Tackling lumps, bumps and texture is a really important milestone within weaning. Obviously, if you’re including finger foods from the outset, then texture will be on the menu from the very start.
But even if you’re spoon-feeding, don’t delay in starting to make meals less smooth, and more textured within a few weeks.
4. How much variety should my little one be eating?
Between eight and ten months is a window of opportunity for your baby to explore a whole variety of food. It’s the perfect time to introduce them to different produce and flavours, and by including them in more family meals, you’ll help them make that transition into a more varied and versatile diet.
Start introducing small portions of what you’re eating, albeit adapted slightly to be chopped or mashed to the right consistency for them, and with a close eye on ingredients, for example no added salt or sugar.
5. When and how should I introduce peanut butter?
As with other allergens, it’s best to introduce finely ground nuts as soon as possible to help desensitise babies.
You can introduce a small amount of peanut butter on a spoon (if the consistency is too thick you can mix with a little of your baby’s usual milk) or spread onto cut up pieces of toast. You can also mix with mashed banana or something like sweet potato puree as an alternative.
EXPERT TIP: Introduce new foods one by one, leaving a day or two between each one, to see if there’s a reaction.
6. When and how should I introduce eggs?
Introduce eggs around the same time you start to introduce solids around the six-month stage. Eggs are highly versatile and can be boiled, scrambled, mashed, or even mixed into purees.
Be sure to steer clear of big chunks to avoid choking.
7. When and how should I introduce cow’s milk?
Childhood food allergies seem to be on the increase, so it’s natural that some parents might be nervous about introducing foods that could cause problems. However, it’s worth noting that the actual incidence of food allergy in babies is very small – about 6%.
Many babies grow out of allergies like cow’s milk allergy by the age of 2 or 3.
You can introduce cow’s milk into baby’s diet from around six months by using it in cooking or mixing with other food.
However, it is recommended not to be given as a drink or substitute to breastmilk or formula until 12-months old, as it doesn’t contain enough Vitamin D to be a suitable alternative.
8. Can I bring my baby up as a vegetarian?
Giving your baby a vegetarian diet is fine as long as it is carefully balanced. First foods are usually made up of fruit, vegetables and baby rice, but once first tastes have been accepted, it’s important to introduce foods that are rich in protein – this would usually be meat and fish.
At this stage, you should start to introduce foods such as tofu or beans and pulses, dairy products, eggs, green leafy vegetables (such as broccoli, spinach) and fortified breakfast cereals. In order for them to absorb iron, they need to combine non-meat sources of iron such as lentils with vitamin C.
Give your baby vitamin C rich fruits such as strawberries in the same meal. If you’re raising your baby on a meat-free diet, she’ll need two or three portions of vegetable protein or nuts every day to ensure that she is getting enough protein and iron.
9. How can I encourage my fussy-eating child to be more adventurous?
Giving your children a limited number of foods will only escalate their fussiness and deprive them of the essential nutrients they need to grow and develop. Most children adore cooking and helping out, and it’s amazing how being involved in the planning and preparation of a meal can stimulate a child’s appetite.
Eat together to show your fussy eater how good the food is – little ones love to mimic, it’s how they learn and helps create a positive atmosphere around eating.
If you’re really worried that your fussy eater isn’t getting enough nutrients, then you can always sneak them into their food by blending and mixing into sauces, or by creating healthy versions of traditionally less nutritious foods like burgers, pizzas and nuggets! If time isn’t on your side, my snap frozen Little Tasters range offers bite-size portions of my cookbook favourite recipes and are packed with yummy hidden veggies, making them nutritious and delicious.
10. When should I start introducing flavours?
I’m not a fan of bland, boring food, and around about the eight-month mark is the perfect time to experiment with everyday spices and herbs like garlic, basil, oregano, dill, rosemary and even a mild curry powder.
Adding salt and sugar should be avoided before one, so adding a little spice and /or herbs is the perfect way to pack in flavour to your baby’s food. It also allows babies to get used to a range of flavours at a time when they are open to experimenting with new tastes.
And it’s a great transition into family food. If they’ve, had it from the start, they are more likely to accept them. Start with a very small amount and avoid anything too spicy.
What to read next
- Baby-Led Weaning: Your Guide to the Dos and Donts
- 5 Easy and Cheap Baby Food Recipes to Make at Home
- 9 Easy Baby Food Purees (That Really Do Taste Scrumptious!)
About the author:
Annabel Karmel is known for her baby and toddler-friendly recipes and she’s recently launched the Little Tasters range – her famous recipes are now snap frozen, with locked-in goodness and taste for your children, perfect for those days when you haven’t got time to make something from scratch. They are available now in major supermarkets and independent grocery stores. Visit Vesco for more info.