Learning to eat: when are babies ready?
At about six months of age, your child needs more energy and nutrients than it can get from mother’s milk or powdered milk for infants. At that point children have the right motor skills, and their digestive, immune and metabolic systems are ready for puréed food. But weaning requires time and effort.
Little gourmets are good to go
By around 5 to 7 months, babies have the skills needed to eat puréed food. But it’s easier said than done. So far they’ve been drinking milk, which meant they had to push their tongue forward. Now they need to learn to move the purée backwards. “It’s helpful if the child can sit straight and hold its head up,” says Annina Pauli from Zurich Nutrition Centre. Give your child a spoonful of purée from time to time to see if it’s interested in the new food.
Take it easy
Start by replacing the lunchtime milk meal with baby food, because that’s when most babies are wide awake and in a good mood. If it doesn’t work, give it the breast or bottle and try again in a few days. “Children have their own rhythm,” says Annina Pauli; switching to solid food may take up to several weeks. Only start to leave out the milk once your child manages to eat its fill of purée. The next step is to introduce solid food in the evening.
One step at a time
Since breast milk tastes sweet, at the beginning sweet vegetable purées are best, for example carrot, sweet potato or pumpkin. However, there’s no “one-food-fits-all strategy” when it comes to weaning, explains Pauli. The order you introduce foods in is up to you and the individual preferences and cultural circumstances of your family. “In the beginning, however, it’s advisable to offer new foods separately a few times, as too many different flavours at once can overwhelm babies.”
5 to 7 months:
Start weaning using simple vegetable purées before adding potatoes, rice, meat, etc.
Up to 8 months:
Up to three solid meals a day
9 to 11 months:
Up to four solid meals a day
12 to 24 months:
Up to four solid meals a day plus up to two snacks, such as bread, fruit or vegetables (from the age of 1 year most children will eat with the family at the table)
Home-made or ready-made?
Home-made baby food takes time, but then you know exactly what’s in it. And if your baby doesn’t like the food at first, you can freeze it in portions so your hard work isn’t wasted. With ready-made purée:
- Try to choose organic ingredients.
- Baby food shouldn’t contain any additives (such as preservatives), sugar, sweeteners, salt or spices.
Careful with dairy products
”Milk and yoghurt are recommended only in small quantities as an addition to vegetable purées,” says Pauli. Other dairy products such as cheese and quark should only be eaten from the age of two, as their high protein density isn’t yet suitable for a child’s nutritional needs.
Don’t forget fluids
Even when they start eating solid food, your child may still want to drink breast or bottle milk, for example in the morning after waking up or in the evening before going to bed. “In addition, they should drink around 200 ml of liquids a day”, says Pauli. “Water or unsweetened tea, such as fennel tea, is perfect.”
Annina Pauli is a qualified nutritionist (BSc) and works at the Zurich Nutrition Centre, ernaehrungszentrum.ch (only German). Here she specialises in pregnancy, infant, child and family nutrition.