Weaning is such an exciting milestone for you and your baby, however, with lots of conflicting advice surrounding the subject and with the rise in popularity of baby-led weaning, it can sometimes feel overwhelming working out which method to adopt, when to start, with what foods and how much.
The ethos behind baby-led weaning is that you let your baby feed themselves from around 6 months (or whenever they are able to pick up food and bring it to their mouth). Whether you plan to forgo the puree step altogether or decide to offer some soft finger foods alongside the more traditional spoon-led method there is no right or wrong – all babies are different and it’s about what works for you and your family.
Giving purees when your baby is ready for first foods (particularly if slightly earlier than 6 months), with the introduction of finger foods and family meals from around six months is a fantastic flexible option.
Here are some of my top tips on how to introduce finger foods into your early weaning routine.
Is my baby ready to explore baby-led weaning?
A parent’s instinct is usually right and you’ll get a feel for when they are ready but here are a few key signs to look out for:
· She can sit up unassisted
· She is able to chew (even if she has few or no teeth)
· She has lost the tongue-thrust reflex (automatically pushing solids out of her mouth with her tongue)
· She has developed sufficient hand-to-eye coordination to pick up food and put it in her mouth
· She shows that she wants to join in family mealtimes
Best first finger foods
Soft finger foods such as steamed carrot and broccoli or roasted sweet potato wedges are great foods to get started with. First tastes such as carrot or sweet potato should be cooked until soft, but not mushy so that they can grab it with their fist. Wedges of mango and chunks of banana or avocado are also great from 6 months as they help your baby learn to chew and swallow when their reflex is safely close to the front of the mouth. It’s best to wait until your baby has teeth before you offer harder foods such as crunchy raw carrot batons.
Babies around 6 months tend to use their whole hand to pick things up so avoid making the pieces too wide. Fairly long pieces stand a better chance of being picked up so I would suggest cutting food into 5–6cm batons or sticks so that half is held in a baby’s hand and the other half sticks out. A crinkle cutter is also a great early weaning buy. Use it to cut up fruit and vegetable shapes -the ridges will make it easier for your baby to grip the food and even more fun to chew on.
Here are some other great first finger foods to try:
· Batons or wedges of pear, peaches and strawberry pieces
· Cubes or fingers of bread or pitta
· Soft pasteurised cheeses cut into chunks
· Cooked eggs, cut in half
· Pieces of cooked fish such as salmon and chicken (the dark meat is extra nutritious)
It’s understandable to worry about your baby choking and it is one of the top questions I get asked when parents are thinking of starting baby-led weaning or offering finger foods early on in their weaning journey. However your baby is fed, they should never be left alone while eating, and they must always be supported in an upright position.
Whether you are feeding purees or finger foods (or both), your baby’s own developmental abilities are what ensure that the transition to solid foods takes place at the right time for her, reducing the risk of choking. That’s why it’s important to start weaning only when your baby shows signs she is ready.
PARMESAN ROASTED SWEET POTATO WEDGES
Suitable form 6 months +
Prep: 5 minutes
Cook: 20 minutes
Makes: 4 portions
800g sweet potatoes scrubbed and cut into thick wedges or chips
2 tbsp oil
1 tbsp cornflour
1 tbsp finely grated Parmesan cheese
3 large sage leaves, chopped (optional)
A little salt and pepper (for babies over 1 year)
1. Preheat the oven to 200C / 400F
2. Place the sweet potato wedges or chips on a baking tray. Add the oil and cornflour and toss together.
3. Roast for 20 minutes, turning them over after 15 minutes. Add the Parmesan and sage (if using) and put them back in the oven for 3 to 4 minutes until the cheese has melted.
CHICKEN AND APPLE BALLS
Suitable from 6 months +
Prep: 5 minutes
Cook: 10 minutes
Makes: 20 chicken balls
250g chicken breast, cut into chunks
250g boneless chicken thighs, cut into chunks
1 large Granny Smith apple, peeled and grated
1 onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 tbsp fresh thyme or sage, chopped, or a pinch of mixed dried herbs
1 egg yolk
1 unsalted or low-salt chicken stock cube, crumbled
50g fresh white breadcrumbs
Salt and freshly ground pepper (for babies over 1 year)
Plain flour for coating
Vegetable oil for frying
1. Put the chicken in a food processor and pulse for a few seconds.
2. Using your hands, squeeze out a little excess liquid from the grated apple.
3. Mix the apple with the chicken, onion, herbs, egg yolk, stock cube (if using) and breadcrumbs and roughly chop in a food processor for a few seconds.
4. Season with a little salt and pepper (if using).
5. With your hands, form into about 20 balls, roll in flour and fry in shallow oil for about 5 minutes until lightly golden and cooked through.
BAKED FRITTATA SQUARES
Suitable from 6 months +
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 40 minutes
Makes: 4 portions
300g new potatoes
1 onion, sliced
6 tenderstem broccoli spears
2 tomatoes, sliced
5 large eggs
4 tbsp milk
50g strong Cheddar cheese, grated
25g parmesan, grated
1 tbsp olive oil
A 20cm square tin
1. Cook the potatoes in boiling water for 15 minutes until tender. Peel and cut into slices. Cook the broccoli in boiling water for 5 minutes, drain and run under cold water. Drain.
2. Heat the oil in a saucepan, add the onion and fry for 5 minutes until tender.
3. Preheat the oven to 180 C Fan. Line the base of the tin with non-stick paper and grease the sides of the tin.
4. Arrange the potatoes, onions and tomatoes in the tin. Beat the egg, milk and Cheddar cheese and season. Pour into the tin. Arrange the broccoli on top and sprinkle with the parmesan.
5. Bake for 20 minutes until lightly golden and set in the middle.
6. Loosen the edges of the frittata. Turn out onto a square plate and remove the paper. Turn upside down and then cut into squares.
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