Weaning 101 - A Crash Course on How to Wean

So I officially started my third round of Weaning - by third round, I mean weaning for the third time. My third baby recently turned 4 months and for me, 4 months (17 weeks) marks the start of weaning. Deciding when to start is a personal choice, my paediatrician recommended starting closer to 4 months as there is some evidence to suggest this makes the weaning process easier and also reduces possible allergies, however, I am no doctor and if you are concerned about when to start you can always do your own research and consult a paediatrician.

Everything weaning related is a bit hazy in my mind and so researching for this post was a huge refresher for me too. Here, I go through a crash course (based on Annabel Karmel) on: What to start when, How to prepare, How to feed, The utensils you need, Foods to avoid, and so much more. 

I hope you find the below helpful, and as always, if you feel there are any important omissions or tips you'd like to share, do reach out! Please keep in mind this is not everything on weaning - you can talk for hours and hours about textures, allergies, food combinations and so much more - this is simply just a crash course for those who need the essentials to start. So, here goes!

Recognise the Importance of This Time

Weaning is an exciting and daunting time. You have the power to really shape your child's taste buds for the long run and so it is important to try as many combinations and array of flavours as you can, subject of course to the recommended starting age for various foods which I will go into. Weaning significantly later than 6 months is not advisable, as it is around the 6 month mark that your baby's milk will no longer provide all of the required nutrients. However breast milk or formula is still required up until the 12 month mark, after which the diet will likely be varied enough to contain all the nutrients they need. Between 6-12 months it is relatively easier to get your baby to try new things, so definitely use this window to try and test lots of flavours.

I have always followed the Annabel Karmel way of doing things, which has worked well for all my children. Her book on Weaning linked here, is an excellent guide for parents. The notes below are taken from her book linked here

Weaning Stage 1

This first stage of weaning is all about introducing new tastes and it can take take some time. Don't lose hope or get frustrated, changes always involve some transitions. Do not worry so much about portion sizes at this stage, the main goal is to just get baby to try new textures and tastes. And definitely don't compare your baby to others - weaning is such an individual process, baby's take to things at different times. My children have all gone through phases of being great eaters and terrible eaters - like with anything parent related, never get too comfortable with a phase, because the phases are constantly changing.

A good starting point is baby rice, which you can make using your breast milk or formula. The consistency should be similar to yogurt, and as weaning goes on, you can progress to lumpier, thicker purees.

At the offset, a few spoons a day are great, and after a few weeks, this can gradually move into one to two "meals" a day. By the time your baby is on three "meals" a day (around 10 months) you can start cutting down on milk simultaneously, as they will be getting the required nutrients from their balanced diet of carbs, fats, fruits, vegetables and fibre.

Keep a food diary

This is actually very important to monitor any reactions and to keep a tab on what you've tried, what worked well and what you want to try again after some time. Annabel Karmel recommends trying to new foods every 24 hours, however, if your child is at risk of allergies, then try every 48-72 hours. If there is a reaction stop the food immediately, and consult your paediatrician.

A Guide to Starting New Foods:

Stage One: Around 4-6 months

  • Consistency - semi-liquid purees, easy-to-gum finger foods, depending on your baby's ability to gum and chew
  • Fruits - ripe peaches, banana, apples, pears, papaya, mango, melon, avocado
  • Vegetables - potatoes, swede, carrot, parsnips, sweet potatoe, butternut squash, pumpkin
  • Cereals and grains - baby rice, millet and quinoa

I typically start with baby rice, mixing with formula (although my baby rice packet requires 1 tbsp of rice with 3 tbsp milk/water, I add 4 to give a more yogurt-like less gloopy consistency), once a day at lunch time, for a week, and then I start with vegetables (sweet potatoe, butter nut squash, carrot). 

Stage Two: 6-9 months

  • Consistency - thicker purees, adding tiny lumps and mashed or finely minced food, melt-in-the-mouth and bite-and-dissolve finger foods
  • Fruits - plums, nectarines, berries, cherries, guava
  • Vegetables - sweetcorn, spinach, peas, cauliflower, courgettes, broccoli, green beans, onions, sweet peppers mushrooms
  • Cereals and grains - any grain such as rice, barley, pats, wheat ion bread, pasta, breakfast cereals, couscous
  • Protein - chicken, white and oily fish, well-cooked eggs, red-meat, tofu, pulses, nut butters, very finely ground nuts
  • Dairy - hard pasteurised cheeses, cottage and cream cheese, full-fat plain yogurt, cow's milk (in cooking and with cereal), butter, fromage-frais

Stage Three: 10-12 months

  • Consistency - minced, chopped, mashed and lumpy food, bite-and-chew finger foods
  • Fruits - citrus fruits (but watch for a reaction), dried fruit
  • Vegetables - continue to explore lots of vegetables including baby sweetcorn, sugar snap peas
  • Cereals and grains - continue to expand your baby's tastebuds for grains, including brown rice, spelt, whole-grains and flaxseeds
  • Protein - continue expanding your baby's tastebuds for proteins, including different cuts of meat and new varieties of fish
  • Dairy products - soft pasteurised cheeses

Foods to Avoid:

  • Fatty food - it's important to choose healthy fats and to avoid very fatty foods that can put pressure on the digestive system, in particular, deep fried food is a bad idea for babies, as are foods cooked in a lot of butter or oil
  • Undercooked eggs - these can cause salmonella. Eggs need to be scrambled or hard boiled ideally, until your baby is at least 12 months old
  • Honey - is not recommended for babies under one because there is a small risk of contracting botulism, a rare, serious form of food poisoning
  • Unpasteurised dairy products - milk, cheese and yogurt must be pasteurised to prevent the risk of bacterial infections. Cows milk as a drink in not appropriate for babies under 12 months of age, but it can be used in cooking and in other forms such as cheese, butter and yogurt. Avoid runny cheese such as Brie or those with "mould" such as blue cheese
  • Artificial sweeteners, flavours, additives and preservatives - when buying baby food look out for E numbers, which are the numbers given to additives. E300 to 304 (vitamin C) and E307 to 309 (vitamin e) are ok, but be sure to avoid any others
  • Salt - there should be no added salt to baby's food. Processed meats are really high in salt, so avoid these. Salt can cause long-term damage to a baby's body, particularly to the kidneys
  • Sugar - avoid added sugar at all cost, opting for natural sugars in fruits and vegetables. Maple syrup and molasses are fine

Getting Started: What You'll Need (noted as useful or essential)

  1. A steamer (useful - not only is this a quick and easy way to cook fruit, vegetables and poultry but steaming helps to preserve essential nutrients
  2. A microwave steamer (useful) - steaming in the microwave is a great way to cook small portions for those who are strapped with time
  3. An electric hand blender (essential) - great for making small-quantities of baby food and for pureeing family meals for your baby (you can freeze these in small portions and you them when you need them)
  4. A food processor (essential) - this is ideal for producing larger quantities of purees for freezing. Choose one that comes with various blades to create a variety of textured foods later on. I loved this Beaba Babycook 2-in-1 steamer and food processor linked here. 
  5. A vegetable masher (essential) - perfect for creating lumpier textures
  6. An ice-cube tray with lid (essential if you want to batch cook) - for freezing small portions of puree - you can consider buying trays of different colours so you can easily recognise different foods
  7. A flask (essential) - ideally with a wide neck, this is a great and easy way to transport hot food when you're on the go. I like these Skiphop Flasks.
  8. A bib (essential) - my tips for bibs - have something that is wide, can be easily wiped and folded away - I love this one for babies from Pottery barn as it's super soft, and this one from IKEA for when they get to stage 2 of weaning and become messier
  9. A high chair (essential) - choose one that you can wipe clean easily, small babies require a padded insert for support and a belt is essential. I like this one from IKEA, which is very affordable, light and can be transported easily from room to room. 
  10. A mess mat (useful) - placed under your baby's chair, this mat will protect carpets and flooring from inevitable spills, find one that is non-slip and stain resistant
  11. Feeding spoons (essential) - choose a soft, plastic spoon that won't hear baby's gums. It should be small enough to fit easily into her mouth, with a long handle. I love these silicone baby spoons from Beaba
  12. Small bowls (essentials) - to begin with you'll need small food containers that you can hold in one hand - these are ideal for freezing, storing and re-heating food and you can also feed your baby from them. Choose ones with lids to make transportation easy and make sure they are dishwasher safe, I like these from Tommee Tippee. I also love these Bamboo suction bowls from Eco Rascals for when babies start to try and feed themselves.
  13. A lidded cup (essential) - from six month, milk and water can be offered in a cup. The liquid should flow freely but not too quickly, with easy-grip handles. I find this Tommee Tippee one to be great.

What foods should I choose?

  • Fresh or Frozen? - while you would assume fresh is always better, in reality most of what we consume has been picked much before we see it on our plate. if you can get fresh food with a quick turnover time such as from a farmer's market, fresh is best. but, second best is definitely frozen. Frozen food is flash frozen often minutes after picking, maintaining a high level of nutrients. 
  • Local and Seasonal - local and seasonal is always best, they are likely to be fresher, holding more nutrients and also less expensive
  • Raw or cooked? This is a tricky one. Ideally, raw fruits and vegetables contain a greater quantity of nutrients than cooked. However, raw foods tend to be high in fibre which is not ideal for baby's tummies. And research shows that we absorb more nutrients from some cooked food than we would if they were raw. Carrots and tomatoes are good examples. The answer? A few soft, raw, fresh foods (mangoes, bananas, avocados) are great, but until weaning is established, the majority of their food should be cooked.
  • Organic? There is little evidence to support that organic food is more nutritious. That said, some believe that purees made with organic ingredients have more natural sweetness and flavour which helps when introducing babies to food. Many non-organic foods are fortified with iron and calcium, which is important for babies. 

Preparing Meals

  • Steaming - is a great way to preserve taste and vegetables. 
  • Microwaves - studies show that steaming in a microwave is safe and leave nutrients relatively in tact. Place the fruit or vegetable in a dish (or microwave steamer), cover (leaving a vent for steam) and cook on full power until tender. You can use the cooking water or your baby's milk to help achieve the right consistency. 
  • Boiling - although this does rob many foods of their nutrient value, some foods simply don't become soft enough for pureeing using steam. Be sure to only use a small amount of water and save the cooking liquid to thin the pureed food to eating consistency.
  • Baking or roasting - if you're baking or roasting for your family, add in some vegetables for baby. Vegetables like potatoes, butternut squash and pumpkin have a great consistency when baked and mashed.

Food Hygiene

  • Use different chopping boards and knives for meat, fruit and vegetables
  • Pureed food spoils more easily, so use immediately once prepared, or refrigerate it once its cooled (it will last for 2-3 days)
  • Purees can be frozen and will last for several months
  • By the time your baby is at a weaning age, they will already be putting things in their mouth so do not worry about sterilising their spoons, they just need to be washed with hot water and soap. Bottles do need to be sterilised, particularly the teats. Warm milk is a breeding ground for bacteria.

Pureeing baby's food

  • Once your fruit/vegetable is cooked until tender, you can puree them in a food processor or with a hand blender. 
  • First foods need to be semi-liquid and similar to yogurt - add some of baby's milk and cooking liquid or boiled tap water to thin the puree. 

Freezing & Re-heating

  • Always allow food to cool before freezing.
  • Fill the ice-cube trays or pots almost to the top and freeze. To thaw, take the food out of the freezer several hours before a meal then reheat until piping hot. Allow to cool before serving. It's important to cook food thoroughly. Do not refreeze meals that have previously been frozen and defrosted. 

Organic food pouches

  • Whilst these are perfectly safe, and extremely convenient especially when in a rush or on-the-go, store bought food pouches have almost no nutritional value, owing to the heat treatment used to give them a long shelf life. The flavour is also different which can make weaning harder in the long-run. A good options for those with less time is batch-cooking and freezing. 

The very first spoonful:

  • Where? Choose a spot where you'll be regularly feeding your baby so that she begins to associate it with mealtime. 
  • In what? A bouncy chair, car seat or high-chair work well.
  • When? Around an hour after your baby's normal milk feed and after she's had a nap, is a good time to start first tastes. She won't be irritable with hunger. Somewhere around midday is ideal, as she'll most likely be alert and ready for a new experience. If she is unwell, hold off.
  • Which food? A plain puree of a single root vegetable such as carrot, or a cereal such as baby rice, mixed with your baby's milk (follow the instruction for the baby rice, adding a little more milk if you need to to achieve a yogurt consistency). Starting with sweet fruits such as pear straight away may cause future problems, as your little one may love the sweetness so much that trying anything else becomes a challenge.
  • How much? First foods are simply tastes and her usual milk will remain the main source of nutrition. One or two tablespoons of puree is about right for the first week, but she may want more or less.
  • How often? Once a day is perfect for the first week or two. Then experiment if your baby is keen for more. 
  • What temperature? Heat the puree in the microwave or on the hob, stirring to make sure it's equally heated. Test a little on your wrist to ensure it's warm but not too hot. 
  • What if baby does not like it? Some babies can take several sittings before they get used to the idea of having solid food. It may not be the puree your baby dislikes, it may be the whole process of weaning. If your baby expresses dislike for a certain puree take it away and try again in a few days. You may have to offer the same puree several times before she begins to think of it as being "familiar".

 The next few weeks:

  • You can introduce a new food everyday or so, sticking with fruit, vegetables and baby rice for the first few weeks. If she likes it, stick with it. If she doesn't like it, try again in a few days or blend it with more of their usual milk. Once she's tried one new food and shown no adverse reaction you can introduce another. It's fine to combine purees once your baby has tried the single ingredient. Baby rice can also be blended with any fruit or vegetable puree. 
  • Portion size? Don't worry too much about this. As long as baby is eating regularly and introduced to a range of fresh, nutritious foods, it's a success.  As baby heads towards two or three full meals a day, you'll want to make sure that she is getting at least a spoonful of fruit and vegetables, a carb (such as pasta, potatoe, baby rice) some protein (lentils, soya, meat, fish or dairy and some healthy fats, which are also in dairy products, nuts, ground seeds and meat). The quantity doesn't matter as much as the variety.

Good first-stage finger foods (at around 6/7 months)

  • Very well steamed vegetables that dissolve immediately in the mouth (e.g. carrot sticks, broccoli florets)
  • Mini rice cakes
  • Very well steamed fruits (apple, pear)
  • Hand sized shunks of soft raw foods (avocados, bananas)
  • Melt-in-the-mouth baby snacks such as baked corn snacks

The First Week Meal Planner and Guide

 Day Early Morning Breakfast Lunch Tea Bedtime
1 Breast/bottle
Breast/bottle

Carrot or Baked Sweet Potatoe Puree Breast/bottle

Breast/bottle
Breast/bottle
2
Breast/bottle
Breast/bottle

Roast Butternut Squash Breast/bottle

Breast/bottle
Breast/bottle
3
Breast/bottle
Breast/bottle

Apple Puree Breast/bottle

Breast/bottle
Breast/bottle
4
Breast/bottle
Breast/bottle

Potatoe Puree or Swede Puree Breast/bottle

Breast/bottle
Breast/bottle
5
Breast/bottle
Breast/bottle

Pear Puree with baby rice Breast/bottle

Breast/bottle
Breast/bottle
6
Breast/bottle
Breast/bottle
Carrot Puree or Baked Sweet Potatoe Breast/bottle
Breast/bottle
Breast/bottle
7
Breast/bottle
Breast/bottle
Roasted Butternut Squash Breast/bottle
Breast/bottle
Breast/bottle

 

When your baby is ready for more, add in Breakfast, and then further down the line, Dinner.

All of the above is taken from the very helpful book on Weaning by Annabel Karmel. Her book is filled with countless puree recipes, toddler meal recipes, notes on allergies, food preparation, food aversions, 'what to do if' scenarios. It is extremely helpful to those who are starting to wean for the first time. 

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