Messy eating: Our weaning journey

As with many stages of parenthood, I dived into the weaning stage with a mix of anxiety and excitement.

I remember saying months ago that I couldn’t wait for our little one to try ‘real food’ mainly as I had hoped she would need less milk feeds, and therefore reduce the amount I would need to express milk for her.

Starting to wean

Initially we had been told by a health visitor that as our baby was slow to gain weight and on the lowest centile, that we may like to wean early (at 5 months). However, this is the only advice we got. When we questioned it, we were told “maybe try some baby rice.” No further info on what type to use, how much and when to try it.

We didn’t give her baby rice. In the end I started to puree some bits of food such as banana and just before she turned 5 months I gave her a little lick of it off my finger. Later that night she vomitted a lot, so I figured she wasn’t ready.

We offically began weaning when she was 5 months old and started with a pre-made pouch of pureed carrots.

It went down well.

Since then, I feel that I have just been winging it. There are a number of step by step plans and books out there that you can follow, but I sort of feel I have made it up as I have gone along, apart from the odd bit of googling and advice from mum friends as to what she can and cannot have.

I will not say I am an expert with weaning now, after all it has only been a few months. However, I have picked a few tips up along the way.

Traditional vs Baby Led: your baby will let you know what method they prefer

Prior to weaning, we both felt baby led would be the best way to wean, as it apparently can help lead to less fussiness later on. It is also can help to develop their motor skills such as dexterity and coordination.

That said, baby led weaning did frighten me somewhat. The thought of giving a little baby a cooked stick of carrot to eat didn’t seem natural. Would they know how to break it up and swallow it properly?

So we decided to start with a pre made vegetable pouch and see what happened.

Some pre made puree pouches that we have had in the cupboard to try

Within seconds, our little one had grabbed the spoon out of our hands and wanted to feed herself.

Little miss independent!

So we knew that baby led would be the way to go. However, we do now do a mixture of baby led and traditional weaning (i.e. spoon feeding some mash potato or porridge), but she has shown a strong preference to doing it herself.

Start with veg

If you do happen to read any guides or books on weaning, a lot of them will tell you to start your baby with veg. Some will say to introduce one vegetable at a time and do so for 1-2 weeks, then move on.

The idea behind this is to get your baby used to less sweet flavours so that they will be more open to having vegetables in the future.

We didn’t really do this fully. We did start with carrot, but then gave things like baby porridge and mango with yoghurt. However, I don’t feel this has hindered us and we give several vegetables per day and all of them get eaten.

Timing is key

When it comes to mealtimes, timing is key. If possible try to have mealtimes within a similar time each day, or as close to as possible.

We often try to sit down as a family to eat dinner at 6pm, which is lovely as we can all eat together, and by doing so creates positivity around food. Breakfast and lunch tend to vary on times depending on what we are doing (in lockdown, not a lot some days!)

We eat dinner together most nights, and its lovely having our baby at the table (or literally on the table some days)

In regards to timing, we also had to make sure that we were offering food at a time of day when our little one would be most happy to eat. For example feeding when she was close to nap time, or needed a change is not ideal.

The other thing to note about timing is to ensure you have the time. Having a meal will take a long time for a baby. Heck, even eating one slice of toast takes a lifetime. So make sure you aren’t in a rush to go somewhere or do something, so that you can give your full attention to the task in hand.

One piece at a time

Initially I was trying to set out full ‘meals’ for our little one, and present it to her on the one plate. However, I soon realised that she was too overwhelmed with the options in front of her, and it all got thrown everywhere. So instead, I found that handing her (or putting on the tray in front of her) one piece at a time to chew on and explore worked much better.

a full meal set out which is rarely all eaten, but leftovers are saved as a lunch the next day
It’s messy

Weaning is a messy game, and there is no point trying to clean as you go or telling your child not to make a mess. At the end of the day, this is their way of exploring food. If they get to 9 years old and are still mushing food on their face or throwing it around the room, then you may have a problem.

We purchased a wipe clean table cloth, which has turned out to be really useful, as well as bibs with sleeves. We use the Bibado bibs, which strap underneath the high chair, and so all the fallen bits of food get collected in the pouch and you can just empty it in the bin – saves so much time afterwards.

Weaning with our bibado bib

The other thing we purchased was a splash mat to sit under the high chair, as despite how good our bib proves to be, we find that food still gets thrown on the floor, which isn’t ideal when you have a light coloured carpet in the dining room.

Our high chair with splash mat for weaning
Don’t be concerned with the amount they take on

When looking into weaning, it can be easy to aspire to those instagramable looking meals, presented on the ever popular bamboo plates. I will admit though that was me at the beginning. I wanted her plate to be filled with a variety of colours and presented well. This isn’t always the best way though as like I said above can be too overwhelming when multiple options are in front of them, and it is more than likely to go all over the floor.

An overloaded plate which can be off putting for babies

With that, after some time I became less concerned with the amount she was taking on during a meal. Some days, we would have a clean plate and other days she wouldn’t have touched much of what was there.

However, don’t be dismayed. If you think about it, there are some days when we don’t feel like eating much and would prefer having cereal and toast for dinner, and other days were it is like an all you can eat buffet.

Meal planning makes it easier

For some time now, we have been meal planning to reduce waste and help eat less crap food or just order a takeaway, and have tried to stick with this as we have become parents.

With weaning, a lot of advice will be to just feed your baby what you eat, just avoid adding salt and don’t give them things like honey or uncooked meats and cheeses like brie.

With that, we looked at a list of meals that we would usually eat – approx. 15 different variations and then we looked at whether our little one could eat it, and if not how we could adpat it to make it more baby friendly.

To snack or not to snack

Most advice will be that babies under 1 do not need snacks, and to offer more milk if they are hungry. However, we have occassionally given some melty sticks as an additional taster, especially as she sees us snacking and wants what we have. This has also made us think about what we eat, and if we even need to be snacking.

Milk is still their main food source

During our weaning process I did get concerned at times when we were getting our little one to eat much, but needed to remind myself that milk is her main source of nutrition and had to think of the rhyme “up until one, food is for fun!

What foods we have tried by 7 months old 

Most advice will be to give babies under 9 months 1-2 “meals” per day, but often we have been offering something at every meal, which we feel is fine as she is still on the lower centile for weight, so won’t harm her.

Here are some foods we have introduced so far.

Overall, we have been finding weaning to be a fun process and look forward to introducing her to even more foods and flavours.

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