Weaning: First foods and what to avoid
With so much information out there, it can be difficult to keep track of what food is okay for your baby and which ingredients need to be avoided. Here’s a brief guide to the best first weaning foods and when they can be given – as well as a rundown of items that are off the menu.
The first thing to remember is that, when you start introducing your baby to solids at around six months, you must keep up his milk feeds, whether you’re breastfeeding or using formula. For a considerable time to come (up to 12 months but at least until he's fully established on three decent meals a day), your baby still needs to get most of his daily nutrients and calories from milk.
When it comes to his first meals, keep it simple (just one new thing at a time so you can check he doesn’t have a reaction to anything) and if you’re giving cooked foods ensure they are properly cooled before serving – a burnt tongue isn’t going to get your baby off to a flying start with weaning.
What first foods should I give my baby?
Government advice is to start weaning at around six months. Good things to start with are puréed or mashed vegetables and fruits (or steamed veg sticks or sticks of soft fruit if baby-led weaning). Here are a few ideas to get your baby started on the good stuff.
- To start with I mashed up loads of vegetables only for my babies to totally reject them! But they did like holding banana and squishing that into their faces. Avocado is soft, tasty and full of unsaturated fats that help your baby’s brain develop.
- Banana is nice and soft, and a good source of potassium, vitamins and iron.
- Apples and pears are a popular first flavour and can be steamed until soft for young babies.
- Prunes are popular for their sweetness but they also contain plenty of fibre and are excellent for digestion.
- Broccoli is high in fibre, folate and calcium. Get your baby eating this now and it could lead to a lifelong love of greens. Kale and spinach also go down well but broccoli is especially good if you’re trying baby-led weaning as its shape is ideal for grasping.
- Carrots puréed or mashed are popular with babies, perhaps because they’re easy to digest. They’re also full of vitamins A and C and calcium. Parsnip is another vegetable option that steams and mashes well and has a sweet taste that appeals to young taste buds.
- Sweet potato is very popular with babies. Its colour, texture and sweetness makes it a favourite. The same is true of butternut squash.
- Yoghurt is good for teeth and bones and is easy to eat. Make sure you go for whole milk yoghurt rather than low-fat varieties, as your baby needs the calories.
What foods should I avoid giving to my baby?
- Sugar. Your baby doesn’t need it, so avoid it as it could cause tooth decay. Also avoid honey until they are a year old – as well as being sugary, it contains bacteria which can cause toxins in babies' intestines and lead to infant botulism.
- Salt. It’s bad for your baby’s kidneys so leave it out of his food, check the salt content of what you give him and avoid using gravy and stock cubes. Babies up to 12 months should have no more than 1g of salt a day in total.
- Raw jelly cubes. Babies and children can choke on these. The same goes for marshmallows and whole ‘round’ things such as grapes and cherry tomatoes.
- Low-fat foods. Your baby needs the vitamins and calories contained in fat. That’s why children under two years old should have full-fat dairy products.
- Saturated fat. While some fats are good and babies need plenty of calories, things like biscuits, cakes and crisps are high in saturated fats so should be avoided.
- Raw and undercooked eggs, unless they have the British Lion stamp on them. If they don’t make sure egg whites and yolks are cooked through before giving them to your baby.
- Nuts. Whole nuts of any kind are unsuitable for children under the age of five because of the risk of choking. Products containing peanuts are safe for most children but, if there is a history of conditions such as asthma, eczema or hay fever in the family, foods containing peanuts are best avoided until the age of three.
- Too much fibre. Fibre is great but an excess can stop babies absorbing enough iron and calcium.
- Shark, swordfish and marlin – because of potentially dangerous levels of mercury in these fish.
What can my baby eat from seven to nine months?
Between seven and nine months , your baby should be starting to eat solids three times a day, though milk (breast or formula) will still be his main source of calories and nutrients.
Here are few more things to try now he’s getting the hang of this eating business:
- Cereals, along with his usual milk. You can buy iron-fortified baby cereals, that sometimes include a bit of fruit, too, to mix with his milk for breakfast and give a mush with plenty of texture but a familiar taste.
- Small amounts of soft, cooked meat and poultry gives your baby important doses of protein and iron and can be shredded finely and pureed with vegetables or given as strips to chew on – chicken breast is particularly good for this.
- Lentils (make sure they’re well-cooked) and other pulses are high in protein and iron and a great meal for spoonfed babies.
- My daughter loves sticks of mango or mini cheese toasties. She adores peeled grapes and strawberries but they are a bit slimey. And of course the ultimate favourite for the little monkeys are…BANANAS! Boiled eggs (again, well-cooked) are a good finger-food choice around now and also a good source of protein.
- Now is also the time – drum roll please – for your baby to have his first toast.
- He can begin eating dairy products from six months (but his usual milk should not be cow’s milk until at least 12 months), so try yoghurt, cooled-down custard and add grated cheese to meals or give him sticks of mild cheddar. Obviously, never give your baby brie, stilton or any other soft or mould-ripened cheese.
- Always choose products with no added sugar or as little sugar as possible and salt is still a no-no too as their bodies can only process small amounts.
What can my baby eat from nine to twelve months?
This is when you can be a little more adventurous with what you feed your baby. Continue to give him plenty of finger foods but start to involve him in your family mealtimes, with minced or mashed versions of what you're eating.I sometimes found my daughter needed fruit before a meal, almost to give her the energy to tackle the meal itself. A handful of raspberries on the plate next to some cottage pie might look weird to our adult eyes but she enjoyed it.
Foods to introduce at this age can include:
- Crusty bread
- Lightly cooked carrot sticks
- Apple slices
- Spaghetti bolognese
- Fish pie
- Cauliflower cheese
- Chicken korma
What can my baby eat from twelve months?
By now, your baby should be in a pattern of three meals a day, as well as snacks in between. Each day you can aim to give him:
- Three to four servings a day of potatoes, rice or pasta.
- Two-a-day servings of meat, fish, eggs, daal or lentils.
- Three to four servings a day of fruit and vegetables.
At this point, your baby is also able to have whole cow’s milk as a drink. It’s fine used in cooking and in dairy products from six months but until they are a year old, it doesn’t contain all the nutrients they need to replace breastmilk or formula. Choose full-fat dairy products as your baby needs the extra fat and vitamins they contain.
Get more information on food and portion sizes for one- to four-year-olds here.
Can I use ready-made baby foods?The ready meals in jars are largely textureless sludge, although I found them handy when out and about because they don't need warming up – you can just grab one and crack on.
Ready-made baby food (in packets, tins, vacuum-packed tubs or frozen cubes, as well as jars) can be a lifesaver if you're a spoon-feeder and find yourself away from home and blenderless. Or if you’re still at home but just can't face another evening in with a steamer, a sieve and a sweet potato.
But, just like adult ready meals, it's never quite as tasty and wholesome (or economical) as the real home-cooked thing. And it's generally sweet and ultra-smooth, too – great for new weaners, perhaps, but not ideal for older babies who should be weaning to lumpier, more flavoursome foods.
Recipes for your baby
Weaning your baby is tough and, while a list of ingredients is all very well, recipes are what really make your life easier. We teamed up with leading food guru Annabel Karmel to bring you a series of tasty weaning recipes that are packed full of goodness and simple to make.