O, the joy of weaning: offering banana to my baby and having it squashed, smeared, or spat out. I sit next to him, offering encouragement and a smiling face whilst simultaneously wincing as a piece of banana dribbles down the leg of the high chair and another bit encrusts itself on his outfit (I never quite know how it manages to get past the bib). Very little banana actually makes it into his mouth and even less, if any, reaches his stomach. This kind of scenario is how me and my son began our weaning journey. I knew that I was in for a challenge (six months later and mealtimes are easier and more rewarding***).
So, I knew I’d need to think wisely about the first foods to offer little V. I had the advantage that I’d already been through the weaning phase with my daughter. But my son was a whole different story. He was more interested in milk than munching. I selected foods that followed the principles of weaning: foods that 1) provide nutrition (supplementing milk to provide key nutrients such as iron, protein, zinc etc.), 2) enable baby to explore new textures and tastes, and 3) assist the social, physical and emotional development of the baby. Through a period of trial and error, and based on my experience with my daughter and son, here are our top five first foods (in no particular order):
Apparently, British mums are obsessed with broccoli (as I mention here). Rightly so. Broccoli is brilliant because it has an interesting texture, fabulous colour and is full of goodness (broccoli is a rich source of calcium, B vitamins and magnesium). Moreover, broccoli is perfect for weaning because it is easy for little hands to hold so that babies can nibble, suck, and gum away at the florets. As the anxious parent watching on, I was not so concerned about choking because my babies mainly just took the little flowers into their mouth (rather than chunks of stem).
I love lentils. And so did my babies. Lentils are tasty, easy to cook and little bundles of nutritional wonder (lentils offer one of the best sources of vegetable-based protein and are rich in iron, calcium, zinc and magnesium). They can be puréed for spoon feeding or stuck together for finger foods. What more could we want from a weaning food?! Ok, some people may be reluctant to serve lentils in the early days of weaning (concerned that lentils may be difficult to digest) but, so long as they are cooked completely, there is no reason to expect them to be any different to other new foods (just give them a whirl and see how your baby reacts). For my two little folk, a variety of lentils were introduced from the start and eaten enthusiastically (recipe to come soon).
With both of my children, oats featured heavily in their breakfasts as a baby (and still do). My daughter enjoyed apple-y oats (recipe to follow) and my son developed a love of porridge from an early age. Oats are incredibly versatile and constitute a nourishing alternative to other grains such as white rice (i.e. baby rice) because they provide a source of calcium, iron, magnesium and B vitamins.
4. Rice cakes
O, the wonder of rice cakes! Healthy, inoffensive little snacks that can be dished out in an emergency to satisfy and entertain hungry babies. Rice cakes encourage babies to develop their hand-eye co-ordination and give them the opportunity to suck the rice cake into a slimy pulp. Made of brown rice, they do provide a source of B vitamins and zinc. Also, rice cakes form the second part of my blog name so I obviously had to include them in this list.
Apples or apple puree seem to sneak into a lot of processed baby food. Even the savoury stuff seems to include a bit of apple. I can understand why: apples add sweetness, are easy to cook with, and form a staple fruit in the UK. Whilst I wouldn’t encourage adding apple to everything and anything you cook, they do constitute a healthy and pleasing pudding or sweet snack for little babies.
So that’s our top five. What are yours?