The time has come to start introducing the world of real food to our youngest little girl.
Really it was her who decided it was time 2 weeks ago, when I noticed the topping of my pizza rapidly disappearing from my plate towards an open little mouth (luckily the pizza was sufficiently cooled at the time!). She wasn’t allowed the pizza but went on to have a good suck on a chunk of cucumber and made it clear that she wanted to be involved in this eating malarkey that everyone else engages in!
Some people can get quite anxious about this developmental stage as there’s an awful lot of information on how best to go about weaning out there, quite a bit of it conflicting. For me it was one of the most fun parts of babyhood with my elder daughter, who threw herself into eating anything and everything with gusto and joined our family meals from day 1. As such I’ve been looking forward to doing it all again with my youngest, even if it will quadruple the amount of mess generated at a meal and the amount of washing we get through for a while!
I’d read with interest the literature discussing the ‘vegetables first’ approach to complementary feeding (another term for weaning) last year (Chambers et al 2016; Chambers 2016) and felt that this sounded imminently sensible. The evidence behind this approach is that food preferences acquired during the early years can ‘track’ into later childhood (i.e. food likes and dislikes developed in the early years predict food likes and dislikes in later years). It makes sense then to introduce early on those foods which we would most like our children to continue to include in their diets long-term. These will be the ones with most health benefits and those that children are less likely to naturally enjoy the taste of e.g. due to humans’ natural tendency from birth to prefer sweet, salty and umami tastes over those that are bitter or sour.
The ‘vegetables first’ approach advocates three key aspects to complementary feeding that can help establish vegetable liking in children: vegetables first, vegetables frequently and vegetables in variety.
The paper goes on to suggest ‘In practice, this means that during the very earliest stage of complementary feeding, parents should first introduce their infants to a variety of single vegetables on repeat occasions, making sure to offer one or more different types on a daily basis for at least 2 weeks before foods such as fruit and baby rice are introduced. If a vegetable is initially rejected, parents should continue to offer this food repeatedly as sometimes as many as eight exposures are needed before an infant learns to like it. Once other foods are incorporated into the infant’s diet, parents should continue to offer a variety of vegetables repeatedly’ (Chambers 2016)
Sounds like common sense but the latest Infant Feeding Survey found that only 7% of parents started complementary feeding with vegetables and most of the first foods offered in the UK are bland or sweet in flavour.
So, at 22 weeks old we had a plan. A couple of weeks of tasting solely vegetables would produce a vegetable-loving child(?!). My elder daughter was keen to be involved in her sisters first meal and decided to make her some carrot and orange soup. This wasn’t strictly following the guidance as carrot is quite a naturally sweet vegetable but we went with it and it went down very well. Next came parsnip, then cauliflower, banana, potato, swede, broccoli, apple, tomato and more recently some baked beans and scrambled eggs. The winner so far and enjoyed on several occasions is parsnip, with broccoli a close second. Yesterday we tried a bit of porridge and my daughter looked at me as if to say ‘this tastes of nothing, why would I even bother!’. I guess we won’t know any potential benefit of this approach for a good few years, and I fully expect my daughter to go through the usual neophobic toddler fussiness for a year or two before we get there, but it’ll be interesting to note later on if she continues to love her veg as much as she clearly does at the moment. In the meantime, I am really pleased to have the opportunity to see Gill Rapley, who developed and authored the ‘Baby-led weaning’ approach to complementary feeding, speaking in Cheltenham tomorrow and raising funds for the Gloucestershire Breastfeeding Support Network. Can’t wait to hear what she has to say.
This post was originally written and published in March 2017