- Do not start early.
By 17 weeks or so your little one will start watching your every move, including everything you touch and what you eat. If they are doing this, counts your stars that your baby has good eyesight, but don’t be fooled by thinking that means they want what is in your hand. Babies are physiologically ready to wean between 24-26 weeks; starting earlier then this puts pressure on them to perform a skill their body isn’t ready for – it can put pressure on their stomach, intestines and kidneys to absorb a food they are not ready for (which may lead to long-term complications e.g. leaky gut, allergies etc) and it is more work for you, as you are trying to feed someone that isn’t ready to eat. You have your whole life to shop, cook and clean up after them – don’t rush it!
And if you think your little one is hungry, just remember that that milk contains more calories than any weaning food, so a truly hungry baby is going to be better off with another feed rather then anything solid.
- Learning to chew takes practice
In the same way you didn’t expect your little one to nail rolling over, sitting or crawling day 1, it is the same with chewing. They will gag and even have the odd vomit. They are also likely to try and re-eat what they’ve just vomited or gagged! It can create some less memorable moments, but gagging is normal and will happen more than once as your little one masters the concept of putting food in their mouth and then sorts out chewing. Try not to act overly concerned when they gag or vomit – even though it can be a bit scary. If they know they can get a reaction from you, it can become a way of gaining attention. And most of all, don’t revert back to purees – gagging is a normal part of learning and no reason to take steps backwards.
- Do not buy any fancy equipment
Of course the companies that sell the fancy equipment are going to tell you that you need them, but truly you don’t. The only piece of equipment you really need to have in the kitchen is a potato masher to make mashed food and then lumpy-mashed food. From there you can start cutting the meals into small pieces (ok so a knife is beneficial too). Having lots of little freezer-friendly containers of various sizes is a definite bonus, but save your pennies that you would have spent on a puree-type machine and spend it on a massage for yourself. You’ll enjoy it much more and won’t have to find space in the cupboard for it later on either.
- Finger-foods are your best-friend.
To teach your baby to chew, the best foods are finger-foods and there aren’t many foods that can’t be offered to a baby to hold and chew/suck. In every meal there will always be something your baby can hold to get used to the texture and have that ‘control’ over the meal that they desperately want. Pasta, strips of meat, vegetable sticks, bread ‘soldiers’, sliced fruit, flakes of fish, chunks of potato or sweet potato… And as your little one gets more confident they will probably want to start feeding themselves the rest of the meal too. Within weeks your little one will be able to sit and eat whilst you can do other stuff! Bliss! Check your email, call a friend, start preparing another meal, or even eat your own meal – you will love finger foods and the independence it brings you both.
- It will be messy, messy, messy…
Whilst finger-food and self-feeding are good ways to avoid fussy eating, it is a messy business. For as many things that successfully go in your baby’s mouth, there will be little bits squashed onto fingers, rubbed into eyes and hair, wiped onto highchairs, under table-tops, down table-legs, thrown onto the floor, kicked onto another chair… The list goes on. I swear I have a 1mx1m space in my kitchen that should be the cleanest place in Britain as I’m on my hands and knees wiping it down after every snack and meal. Instead I continue to find bits of rice, smears of yoghurt, breadcrumbs and the odd dehydrated blueberry in places you swear you cleaned earlier. Oh and couscous? I recommend it from a Dietitian’s view on variety, but it is truly the worst thing in the world to clean up. You have been warned.