When you’re deciding what to feed your baby during the early stages of weaning, there are three golden rules to bear in mind:
- The food must be mild in flavour. Until now, your baby has only been used to milk, so bland foods will be less of a shock to her developing palate.
- It must be easy to digest. Her digestive system is still maturing, so she needs foods that pass through the gut easily and are unlikely to cause problems like constipation.
- It must be non-allergenic. Certain foods are thought to be linked with the development of allergies if they’re introduced too early. Although babies should be able to stomach most foods from six months, it’s wise to start with those that are least likely to trigger a reaction, particularly if you’re weaning your baby a little earlier than the guidelines recommend.
So what are the safest foods for your baby’s first few meals?
1. Cereals and grains
Bland, easy to digest and unlikely to trigger allergies, basic baby cereals like baby rice are perfect for your little one’s first meal. They’re also easy to tailor to your baby’s own tastes – you can make the meal as runny or as thick as you like, using expressed breastmilk, formula or cooled boiled water to get the right consistency.
Look in the baby food section of the supermarket and you’ll find a good range of baby cereals, made from non-allergenic grains like rice, quinoa, millet or spelt. These cereals are an especially good starting point if you’re weaning your baby before six months. But do check the ingredients: some cereals which are labelled as being suitable from four to six months may contain gluten (also listed as wheat, rye, barley or oats), which some health professionals recommend avoiding until six months plus, as it can be hard to digest and is linked with allergies.
Well-cooked veggies are a great next step once your baby has had her first few tastes of food – or you can skip the baby rice stage altogether and go straight for vegetable purees. Health visitors advise introducing vegetables before fruit to avoid your baby developing a sweet tooth at this early stage of weaning. Nevertheless, babies naturally prefer sweet flavours to bitter ones, so start with mild tasting root vegetables like carrot, sweet potato, butternut squash or swede.
Make sure the vegetables you offer your baby are well cooked so they’re soft enough to digest, and blended to a smooth, runny consistency: you can add breastmilk, formula or cooled boiled water to make the puree easier for your baby to eat. Vegetables also make perfect first meals if you’re trying baby-led weaning: simply chop them into hand-sized batons and steam, roast or boil them until they’re soft enough for your baby to chew on.
A week or so into weaning, once your baby has got used to taking basic cereals and vegetable purees, you can add fruit into the mix. This is an exciting stage for your baby, as most tiny tots find the sweet flavours and bright colours exciting. Soft, ripe fruits like banana, avocado and mango can simply be peeled and pureed raw, adding a little milk or water to thin if necessary, while hard fruits like apple and pear should be cooked until soft at first so they’re easier to chew, swallow and digest. Again, if you’re trying a baby-led approach, you can offer fist-sized chunks of ripe or cooked fruit rather than pureeing it.
Don’t forget that you can increase the variety of flavours in your newly weaned baby’s diet by combining purees of different vegetables, different fruits, or even fruit and veg together. Combinations that seem unpalatable to us, such as banana and avocado, often go down surprisingly well and will all help to broaden your baby’s repertoire.