The world of baby food and nutrition can be confusing and overwhelming, usually involving lots of mushy things. To help parents navigate this tricky world, we turned to food blogger and nutritionist, Laura Ford to ask her when the right time is to start introducing toddlers to solids and finger food. Read more to find out her top tips…
Knowing when to start feeding your baby solids (otherwise known as weaning or complementary eating) is a common concern amongst many parents. By around six months old, babies require additional nutrients found in other foods apart from breast/bottle milk. Including food in the diet of a six-month-old is not only important from a nutritional perspective but also for the following reasons:
> Development of oral motor skills – this includes learning how to move foods in their mouth using their tongue and jaw.
> Exposure to different tastes and sensory processing – this occurs through providing your baby with a variety of tastes and textures which will enhance their ability to process other things such as touch, taste and smell whilst they are eating.
> Development of fine motor skills – occurs through self-feeding when your baby picks up food and puts it to their mouth.
The process of switching from exclusive breast or bottle-feeding to complementary eating may seem daunting at first but it is a really fun part of a baby’s development and can set them up for a lifetime of healthy eating habits. During this time it is important to focus on exposing your baby to a variety of different tastes, colours and textures whilst trying to focus on what is going into their mouth (or all over them!). Remember that most of your baby’s nutrition will come from their feeds and this process is about familiarising them with the idea of eating and giving them the freedom to try different things.
Another thing to remember is that every baby is different, so look out for key development signs that your baby is ready to start weaning. Some of these signs include:
> Being able to sit up and support their head.
> Showing an interest in food – this may mean grabbing for your food or wanting to eat off your plate. Putting objects and toys into their mouth and chewing them.
> Being more hungry in between feeds.
So when to start? At around six months, start to introduce smooth purees and mashed foods. Developing research suggests that during this time including foods such as eggs, nut butters, wheat, fish, dairy products and soy may also help to reduce the risk of developing allergic reactions later in life. It can be helpful to introduce these foods one at a time so that any reactions are easily identified and if none occur allow these foods to be included in your baby’s diet. Other core foods to include are:
> Iron rich foods such as soft well-cooked meats, iron-fortified cereals softened with breast/bottle milk, tofu and legumes/beans. These foods are particularly important for effective neuro-cognitive development and prioritising plant-based iron sources is important if your child is following a vegetarian diet.
> Full-fat dairy products such as yoghurt, cheese slices and custard.
> Mashed fruits and soft steamed vegetables such as avocado, banana, sweet potato or broccoli etc. Selecting foods with different colours and textures is important for mental stimulation and having a variety of colours provides your babies with a wide range of nutrients.
> Avoid adding salt, sugar, honey or sweeteners to their meals and let your child learn to love the natural flavours in food.
6 – 9 MONTHS
From 6-9 months your child will start to learn how to self-feed with their hands and fingers so it’s important to include foods that have soft lumpy textures and finger foods. Finger foods are basically any type of soft food that your baby can pick up with their hands. In addition to the aforementioned foods other options to include are:
> Mashed boiled eggs.
> Soft, crustless bread or sandwiches with soft fillings such as cream cheese, nut butter or avocado.
> Soft, cooked pasta, rice or noodles – these can be served plain or with flavouring such a Bolognese sauce
Always supervise your little one when eating and make sure they are sitting up and are well supported to prevent any choking risk. Try to avoid whole nuts, seeds and large chunks of firm food during this time as they may also pose a choking risk.
9 – 12 MONTHS
From 9 – 12 months your child may be able to self-feed with a spoon so you will be able to add more variety to their diet with hard finger foods and minced/chopped up family meals. Also, remember that on many occasions your child is seeing these foods for the very first time so it’s okay if they reject them. Some babies will need to see new foods more than 10 times before they’ll even consider putting it in their mouth, so it’s completely normal if your child is the same. Just remember to stay relaxed and accept they will make an adorable mess. Allow this to be a time for them to experiment and play. You’ll be rewarded when you have a less fussy eater later down the track!
Be aware that babies are at greater risk of food poisoning so ensure all your meals are fresh, well cooked and properly stored. Always keep an eye on your child whilst eating and contact your GP or medical professional if you suspect any allergic reactions.
For more nutrition advice and information, check out Laura’s blog here.