So you’ve had your gorgeous baby and you want to start introducing them to the wonderful world of food … but where do you start? With more than 20 years experience, best-selling international author and leading expert on feeding babies, Annabel Karmel, shares her wisdom.
When to start?
The general rule is that babies should be weaned from around six months old. Milk provides all the nutrients your baby needs for the first six months or so, but some parents feel that their babies are ready before then. Every baby is different, and in families with a history of food allergy, hay fever, eczema or asthma, it’s best to try to exclusively breastfeed for the first six months.
Importance of milk
When you start weaning, milk will still form a major part of your baby’s diet. Whether you are breastfeeding or using a bottle, milk will provide all the nutrients they need. Babies should continue to have breast or formula milk throughout the first year.
Cow’s milk and goat’s milk aren’t suitable alternatives to breast or formula milk before one year, as they don’t contain sufficient iron and other nutrients. However, they can be used in cooking or with cereal from six months. Use full-fat milk, as babies need the calories for growth.
Occasionally, parents make the mistake of giving their babies solid food when they’re hungry, when what they actually need is an additional milk feed. Plus, giving a baby too much solid food too quickly may lead to constipation. First foods are more about introducing food than giving a full meal.
First foods should be simple, easy to digest, and unlikely to provoke an allergic reaction. Start with a single ingredient, ideally a fruit or vegetable. Root vegetables like carrots, sweet potato and butternut squash are very popular first foods; they have a naturally sweet flavour and can easily be puréed to a smooth texture. As a tip, try mixing them with a little breast or formula milk to ease the transition.
Great first fruits are apple and pear which you cook and purée, and banana, papaya and avocado, which don’t require cooking provided they are nice and ripe. These nutritious fruits are easy.
Baby rice is another good first food; its milky taste makes an easy transition to solids. Check the packaging to ensure you choose one that’s sugar free and enriched with vitamins and iron. Mix it with water, or breast or formula milk, or combine it with a fruit or vegetable purée.
New tastes and textures
At around six to nine months, once your baby has developed a taste for food, you can start to combine flavours and be a little more adventurous!
Green vegetables are full of important nutrients so try them with courgettes, broccoli, peas, spinach and sweetcorn. To make them a little sweeter, you can mix them with root vegetables such as sweet potato or carrot. You should also be starting to introduce grains with as breakfast cereal, rice, oats and wheat in bread.
For protein, try you baby with chicken, white and oily fish, well-cooked eggs, red meat, and pulses.
From six months, milk alone – whether it’s breast milk or formula milk – will no longer provide all the nutrients your baby needs, particularly iron. Around six months, the iron a baby inherits from his mother starts to run out, so it is important to introduce iron rich foods into their diet. Red meat provides the best and most easily absorbed source of iron; I like to make beef casseroles with onion, carrots and sweet potato. You can also add fruits like dried apricot. Simply cook for an hour until the meat is tender and all the flavours have combined, then purée.
Fish, particularly oily fish, like salmon, is important for the development of your baby’s brain, nervous system and vision. Try my delicious salmon purées made by combining poached salmon with steamed carrots, tomatoes and grated cheese.
From six months you can give ordinary cereals such as porridge and you can use cow’s milk with cereals or in cooking but continue with breast milk or formula milk as your baby’s main drink for the whole of the first year.
More by Annabel Karmel
Download Annabel's Essential Guide to Feeding Your Baby and Toddler for lots of family food inspiration. The app offers instant access to 200 delicious recipes for little ones and the whole family, as well as features such as weekly planners, shopping lists, a kitchen timer, recipe notes and videos. Download now on iTunes or visit www.annabelkarmel.com.