Mama’s tips on weaning a hungry kid…
I’ve written a few blogs touching on what I’ve learnt from weaning my ravenous little guy but not a ‘how to’ guide and so when another friend asked me for my tips I figured I might as well write them all down in case anyone would find them useful.
I don’t claim to be any kind of expert but we are very fortunate to have a little guy with a very hungry appetite. It is in fact my challenge to try and find foods that he doesn’t like rather than ones he does, and whilst we may just have gotten a good eater I also think it’s partly down to how he’s been weaned.
So, here’s how we did weaning and some thoughts and tips I hope you might find useful.
My intention had always been to wait until he was at least six months old and go straight down the baby led weaning route but at five months he was desperate for food.
We started, at around 4-5 months, to sit him in his highchair (propped up with cushions!) at meal times so he could get used to the idea of eating as a family and pretty quickly he couldn’t cope with the fact that we were eating and he wasn’t. He would flail his arms and kick his legs anytime we brought our food to our mouths in the desperate hope that he might get some. So, we figured he was probably ready and at 5 and a half months we decided to give in and go the puree route to start.
We began at tea time by spoon-feeding a little pea puree. Given all the books and online info I’d read (I’d done a lot of research), I expected him to only eat a mouthful or two but he loved it and ate a bowlful. I was a little in shock if I’m honest. The little guy was hungry and desperate to eat so he got on to three meals a day within a few days and he started cutting down his milk himself.
We did two weeks of puree meals (pea/broccoli/courgette/butternut squash/sweet potato/banana/pear/apple etc.) and then when he reached six months we added in finger foods. Because we’d already started with purees we decided to carry on with a mixture of pureed/mashed foods and finger foods.
My top tips
Ditch the books… I love a bit of research, in books, on blogs or asking people in person but when it comes to weaning I reckon it’s best to ditch the research and follow your kid’s lead. I was definitely over-planning and worrying about when to add foods or cut down milk but he knew what he wanted to do and he made it clear.
For example, one of the books I’d read was Gina Ford’s ‘The Contented Little Book of Baby Weaning’. I know many are unsure about how they feel about the structure of Gina’s routines (or are very sure how they feel!) but my little guy has been a Gina Ford baby right from the start so it’s worked for us. At 5 months he was almost word-for-word in the Gina routine so the book gave me a helpful overview and helped me understand how to gradually add in meals and cut down milk. However, he didn’t eat like a Gina baby so we stuck to our sleep routine but ditched the weaning book!
Some health visitors (sorry) give outdated, or unhelpful/untrue, advice. Check with other Mum friends before taking it as gospel truth… I know lots of friends have been told by health professionals that they must not start weaning at all before 6 months because their kids will be at risk of allergies and eczema. The NHS website says that there is no evidence of this so I’m going with that! We just waited until six months to introduce cows’ milk, eggs, wheat, gluten, nuts, peanuts, peanut products, seeds, fish and shellfish and did them all one at a time just to make sure he didn’t have any allergies.
Embrace the mess. This is one of my biggest bits of advice when it comes to weaning. I have been asked by so many parents, “how did you get such a good eater?” and I am convinced that is hugely down to the fact that we have allowed him to plaster his food all over himself, the highchair, the table, the floor, etc. 9 times out of 10 the parents asking me will say, “oh I couldn’t do that”, and they will be the ones spoon feeding from a bowl out of the kid’s reach. This may work for some parents and it’s your method of choice then go for it, but I’ve not yet seen a fantastic eater who has been weaned this way so I’m not yet convinced. Kids are naturally inquisitive and keen to get into everything, why would they feel any differently about food?
Try not to do any puree/mash only meals. Similarly to above, always give an opportunity for food exploration, even, if it’s only a slice of bread because you forgot to get anything ready. Let your kid be part of the process.
Eat together. Occasionally it won’t be possible for us to eat together and the little guy does a solo meal but as much as possible we eat all our meals together. This can be a hassle as our dining table is in another room and getting all the food from the kitchen can be a pain with a screaming hungry toddler but the pros by far outweigh the cons. Having run toddler groups where parents showed me their kids, who refused to eat at home, were wolfing down bowls of pasta happily alongside their toddler chums, I am convinced that eating with others encourages babies to eat. It’s certainly working for us.
We’re fortunate enough that my husband can get home from work in time for a family meal, if that’s not possible for you I’d recommend having a snack with your baby when they eat at dinnertime, even just to give the illusion of a shared meal.
Figure out your food rules and stick to them. We’re quite strict on eating in our family and it’s definitely paying off. The little guy has to be sat down to eat a meal or snack. Sometimes (now he’s walking) he’ll wonder a little distance with a breadstick before we catch him but a simple, “sit on your bottom” and he’s down. He’s so got that this is the rule now that if he sees food that he’d like to eat he’ll just sit down wherever he is. I’m sure that not being allowed to wander around and snack how he pleases has helped him to sit and appreciate his food.
All the food doesn’t have to be eaten. I’ve seen so many programmes on TV about obesity (more research!) and one of the things often mentioned is that our ‘you must finish your food’ mentality may have had an impact on this. I want the little guy to learn to stop eating when he’s full not become an adult who overeats out of habit. We don’t want to waste food but we also don’t want to develop an unhealthy relationship with food so I won’t ever force him to finish a meal. This may mean that one day he might eat only a small portion of his first course before having yoghurt for ‘pudding’ but then the next day he’ll eat all his main. It’s all about being willing to go with the flow!
If food is thrown on the floor you won’t be getting any more. This isn’t so easy at the beginning but we often don’t give our kids enough credit for how much they understand and our little guy has pretty quickly understood that if he throws his food on the floor then we assume he’s saying he’s done eating. Now, at 14 months, he has a warning of, “no. If you throw it on the floor there won’t be any more”, and if he wants to keep eating he stops!
Learn some baby sign, or make up signs for your family. Our little guy has signs for “food/hungry”, “milk”, “more”, and “finished” (amongst others) and they have been invaluable when communicating during meals. He’s now moved on to putting his cutlery in his bowl when he’s done, we didn’t mean to teach him that he just clearly has good manners! The more we can teach our kids to communicate before they have the speech to do so the more they will feel in control and able to make choices about food.
Offer choices. From the beginning I would hold up options, e.g. an orange and a banana, and ask, “which one would you like?” Even though I was offering them I was seriously surprised by how quickly he understood that he could choose the one he wanted. I’m sure that giving him more choice has helped him enjoy meals.
Cutlery or hands, it’s all good! At 14 months the little guy is just getting the hang of cutlery but sometimes he still goes for a scoop with his hand. To be fair, it’s a lot easier to get a good mouthful of mash with your hand than with a fork you just placed in the bowl and hoped food would jump on, so who can blame him? We’re encouraging him to use his cutlery and celebrating when he does but not pressuring him to have to use it.
It’s fine to decline food, we’ll try it again. Someone told me the other day that there’s some statistic (so sorry I haven’t backed this up with a link!) about how many times it takes to try a food before we like it and generally parents give up before that point. I just keep trying foods. For example, some days the little guy loves apple, some days he refuses it. Often I think it’s down to teething, or just that he fancies something else. But, if I was to stop offering it then I’d miss the days where he wants to eat it. So, I just keep offering a variety of foods. You never know it might have been that the next time was going to be the time they tried the food and loved it.
Re-familiarise yourself with first aid. One of my biggest fears was that the little guy would choke on food too big for him but he has swallowed whole king prawns without batting an eyelid. It is literally one of the most terrifying things to watch. However, babies gag reflexes are incredible. When they first start weaning their gag reflex is higher up in their mouth so if food is too big they gag sooner than we would. This moves down as they get older and better at eating. How amazing is that?! I did re-familiarise myself with first aid on what to do if a kid is choking and would recommend that to any parent. When the little guy got some broccoli stuck in his throat I was calmly able to slap him hard on the back until he spat it out (and then preceded to eat it again before I could whip it away. So gross).
Offer water all the time. We have a water baby. He drinks so much. I would say just have a cup out all the time and keep offering it. You will be grateful when it comes to changing a pooey nappy and your kid has drunk plenty of water!
If you’re feeding a hungry kid like I was you will learn that the saying, ‘babies/toddlers know when they’ve had enough’, is total rubbish! If I didn’t stop my kid eating he would go pop! He will eat and eat and eat. He loves food. Fortunately he is active ALL the time so although he’s now a good size, he’s a good size for a toddler not a whale. Seriously, he would be huge if he wasn’t so active.
Have fun! There are so many opinions on how to wean and when to wean, but ultimately you know your kid. Have fun making food and watching them experience it. How often do you get to see someone try something new every day?
Extra info and random questions
Would it not be better to just wait until 6 months?
If your baby isn’t that fussed then yes definitely wait until 6 months. I think you’ll know when your baby is willing and ready to eat. If at 5 and a half months they’re not fussed then save yourself the hassle and wait!
Our little guy went from being on the 9th percentile for his weight to the 50th after a week of food so it was definitely time for him to eat.
What about milk?
At 6 months, I was still breastfeeding, gradually switching out feeds to formula so that when it came to it I didn’t stop in one go.(I kept getting blocked ducts and mastitis and couldn’t bear the thought of getting any more.) At 7 months the little guy completely lost interest in breastfeeding, it wasn’t fun for either of us anymore as he was totally distracted so we switched to formula. We cut out his 11am feed within weeks of being established on food as he just didn’t want it, and then at 8 months we switched from bottles to beakers. Now, I know in terms of going breast to bottle to beaker we’ve just had a dream scenario with him loving the beaker but my advice is just to try it! You never know if they might love the beaker more than the bottle. Also, don’t be afraid to cut down milk feeds if they’re losing interest, as long as you put lots of whole milk, yoghurt, cheese etc. into their food then they’ll still be getting plenty of what they need.
To be honest the NHS website is the best guide to weaning I’ve read. There’s definitely enough info on that one page to get you going and it’s where I referred to most throughout the weaning process. Click here to have a read.
Basically, from 6 months my best advice is to give your kid a non-salted version (make sure to check gravies, stocks etc.) of whatever you’re eating. We’re now in the habit of only adding salt once we’ve served up and it’s so much easier than preparing separate meals. In fact if we do give the little guy a separate meal he refuses it anyway and wants what we have.
Purees (if you’re starting before 6 months)
I basically any fruit or veg is good to puree but some of the easiest ones are:
Fruits – banana/pear/
Vegetables – butternut squash/sweet potato/carrot/pea/cauliflower/broccoli
Butternut squash curry
Great finger foods
Bread or toast with mashed avocado or scrambled egg
Strips of omelette
Potato – mashed/wedges/little roasties
Hummus with things to dip – pitta bread/cucumber/slightly boiled carrot (raw carrot is hard if you have no teeth!)
Any soft(ish) fruit! Just make sure it’s big enough for them to hold in their hand with some sticking out, e.g. piece of banana or avocado
Vegetables – carrot sticks/broccoli (big pieces)/courgette sticks
Chuck chicken , an egg, breadcrumbs, vegetables (courgette works well) in a food processor. Just play with amounts until you get a good consistency.Whizz them up. Roll into balls and bake for 25-30 mins.
You can basically put anything into these, the little guy loved them from early on and they were a great way to introduce herbs and spices.
Combine mashed banana, coconut oil, oats and any other fruit you want to add (e.g. apricots or mashed apple) and make into little balls. Bake until golden brown.
I bought the River Cottage Baby and Toddler Cookbook which has lots of nice recipe ideas but if you just search for baby led weaning recipes online you will find masses of options.
Thanks for reading! Hope you have great fun with weaning your little one. Do post a comment if you have any tips to share or questions to ask. I’d love to hear from you.
And, check out my other blogs on weaning here: