Weaning to Avoid Fussy Eating: The Top 5 Tips
Weaning is either that lovely time you spend pureeing delicious hand-cooked meals for your delightful baby whilst smiling and taking beautiful pictures. Or it’s that awful time of trying to fit lumps of smashed sweet potato into those tiny ice-cube holes in the tray with a starving, screaming 6 month old in the chair behind you who wants nothing to do with any of this healthy eating lark.
Luckily most of us fall somewhere in between and, to be honest, weaning is actually fairly straightforward. Although I do say this as a dietitian who has been at this for year. It was a great relief to find out that the theory worked when I had my own two boys.
What is weaning?
Weaning is about introducing foods to complement breastfeeding (or formula if you are bottle feeding). The idea is to start babies with a life-long love of food and eating. It is helping them to enjoy lots of different flavours and textures and getting balanced nutrition. No big deal, so.
To be honest, I find most people overthink it. There are books and articles and websites and Mothers-in-law (Hi mum-in-law!) and tons of advice out there. And most of it is good. The only problem is when it starts to get contradictory. Should you wean at four months or wait for six? What are the best first foods? (If baby rice was good enough for me why does my baby need sweet potato anyway? Was that even invented when I was small?). What about food allergies and how on earth do I get my baby to eat any of this stuff when all he really wants is yoghurt and lots of it.
We are going to look at what you can do when you are weaning to help avoid fussy eating later down the line. The top 5 tips are:
1. Don’t stop offering a food just because your baby spat it out. Your baby will spit out the first few foods they try. This is totally normal. It is not because they don’t like them. It’s because moving food around your mouth is a complicated fine motor skill and no gets stuff like that right first time around. Keep offering the food over the next few days and weeks and you will see them start to manage it; no problem.
2. Don’t stop feeding if they gag. Now, there is a real difference between a little gagging (coughing, red face, occasionally tears in eyes but clearly still breathing) and choking. It is worth doing a basic first aid course for children so you know how to tell the difference and what to do if choking does happen. There are some links below. However, a little gagging is normal. Even fully grown adults occasionally send food down the wrong way. Babies do this a little more often but gagging is how they clear it. Don’t panic. Give them a moment or two to work through it and then continue feeding. Lots of parents are terrified when this happens and stop feeding (sometimes altogether). However, your baby will learn from your reaction. If you seem calm, and take gagging as the normal part of learning to eat that it is, your baby will be quite happy to continue with the rest of the meal. Put on your happy, smiley face. You can have the heart attack later when you’re on your own.
3. Move through the textures. Whether you started at four months with purees or jumped straight in with baby-led at six months, you need to teach your baby lots of different food textures. This is the real way to prevent fussy eating. Fussy eating is always about the feel of the food in your baby’s mouth. So move them through the purees from smooth to thicker to soft lumps to mashed, lots of different finger foods and up to family meals. It helps to know that your baby should be eating normal, family meals (well cut up) by the time they are one year old.
4. Introduce lots of different foods. This is important. It is easy to keep going with the five or six foods that your baby likes. However, babies are more open to new foods up to 18 months. After that you will find it a lot harder to get them to try new things. The more different foods and different textures your baby tries in the first year, the less likely they are to be a fussy eater.
5. Remember it takes up to 16 tries for a baby to like a new food. So don’t just try once and give up. Keep going back with it. My first baby loved pureed apple but it took us about 6 goes to get him to like carrot. Giving up too soon means that food may be out of their diet forever.
The key question when you are weaning is: What do I want them to be eating at 15? Now is when you decide. Keep offering all the foods you would like them to eat when they are older. Offer all the textures as your baby is ready for them. Offer them foods you don’t like as well as foods you do. And let them mess. Babies learn from touching, smelling and feeling food (and, yes, rubbing it in their hair) as well as by taste. So put on the bib, spread out the newspaper, set up the baby wipes, and dig in.
Check out our Weaning and Fussy Eating Course for Parents and Carers