Welcome to Weaning – by leading children’s cookery author Annabel Karmel

Just when most parents have mastered the daily milk rounds, the wonderful world of weaning beckons. Blending, storing, mashing and messy highchairs are all part of this exciting journey. For over 25 years I’ve guided millions of parents through every stage of feeding and now I’m delighted to be sharing my expertise and inspiration in celebration of Weaning Week!   Where to start? Up until now your baby has been comfortable with breast or formula milk but if you spot signs of them being hungrier than usual even after their milk feed or waking in the night, it may be an indicator that they’re ready to move on to solids. The UK Department of Health advises that babies should start weaning from around 6 months, although do be sure to have a chat with your Midwife or healthcare professional if you feel your baby is showing the signs of being ready for some simple solids earlier than this. The first time you feed your baby solids can be a nerve-wracking experience so make sure you find a relaxing, quiet place with no distractions and take it slowly, following your baby’s lead. Every baby is different; some jump at the opportunity of trying new tastes and textures while others may be more reluctant, but both of you will soon get the hang of it! When you’re getting started, it can be a good idea to give your baby a little milk before the solids to stop frustrations arising if they are very hungry and struggling to get to grips with the new skills required to satisfy their appetite. It can also help to establish a routine and have meals around the same time each day. To begin with, give just one feed a day, around midday, and gradually increase to breakfast, lunch and dinner. Introducing new foods during the day also means that if there is going to be a reaction, it is less likely to occur in the middle of the night.   First Foods First foods should be simple, easy to digest, and unlikely to provoke an allergic reaction. Start with a single ingredient, ideally a fruit or vegetable. Root vegetables like carrots, sweet potato and butternut squash are very popular first foods; they have a naturally sweet flavour and can easily be puréed to a smooth texture. As a tip, try mixing them with a little breast or formula milk to ease the transition.  With fruit it’s important to choose those that are ripe and have a good flavour. Good first fruits are apple and pear which can be steamed or cooked in a saucepan. Fruits like banana, avocados and papaya don’t require any cooking at all and you can just mash with a fork for an instant nutritious meal for your baby – great for when out and about. Remember not to get too hung up about portion sizes or nutrients. If the food is wholesome and fresh and your baby is taking a little, you’ve done well.    Planning ahead Being well prepared is a great way of ensuring you have everything you need and can save you lots of stress on a busy day. If you can, get batch cooking – it can be difficult to blend such a small quantity of food so why not prepare purees in larger batches and then freeze individual portions in food cube trays. When it comes to defrosting, take the puree out overnight and reheat in a saucepan or microwave – stirring thoroughly to remove any hot spots. Never refreeze a puree that has already been frozen and remember not to reheat foods more than once.   When to move on? Between six and nine months, once first tastes have been accepted and your baby’s digestive system is maturing, you can start to increase the amount and variety of food you give your baby. Babies are developing quite rapidly at this stage, so this is a window of opportunity to help them master the art of chewing and a time to introduce a variety of flavour and texture. Not only should you be increasing their variety of fruit and vegetables, but you should be introducing dairy produce, meat, poultry and fish to ensure they are getting the all-important nutrients needed for their development.   Baby-led weaning  Whilst a high percentage of parents start-out with spoon-led purees, baby-led weaning (BLW) is fast growing in popularity. There are two ways of weaning; spoon feeding purees and BLW.  Most mums know me for my failsafe puree recipes, starting out with smooth flavours, then introducing new tastes and textures, adding soft/cooked finger foods at around 6 months or as soon as your baby is able to pick up food and bring it to her mouth. The philosophy behind BLW is to let your baby feed herself from 6 months, missing out on purees and spoon feeding altogether.  It gives them the opportunity to explore a variety of different tastes and textures from the beginning, helping them to eat a wide range of foods and develop good eating habits from the start.   The more you allow your baby to experiment with feeding themselves the quicker they will master the art. Happy weaning! Annabel www.annabelkarmel.com  What to give (6+ months) Carrot Butternut Squash Sweet Potato Parsnip Potato Pumpkin Papaya Apple Banana Avocado Eggs   What to avoid (under 12 months) Salt / sugar Pate Shellfish Spices Smoked foods Soft / blue cheese Nuts and seeds (although peanut butter can be introduced after 6 months) Honey

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