Tuesday 31 July 2012

Introducing Solids: Not OR but AND

Natural yogurt with nectarine purée and blueberries

In the first year or so of parenthood, you will likely hear the following:

  • Breastfeeding OR formula?
  • Cot OR co-sleeping?
  • Stroller OR sling?
  • Baby-led weaning OR purée?

I hate all the ORs. I prefer AND. Why doesn't anyone talk about breastfeeding AND giving formula? Why not use a stroller for certain activities AND a sling for others?

I'm a firm advocate of AND methods. I have tried all of the above at one point or another in Junior's short life and they all work in different ways.

As for introducing solids, it seems that people either want to place you in the purée camp (and scoff at you for being a first-time parent who doesn't know better) or the baby-led weaning camp (and deny that there is a time and place for soft foods that can be given with a spoon.)

I started introducing solids at 24 weeks with the reliable starter food, baby rice. Junior is now 33 weeks and eating a variety of purées, fruit, vegetables, yogurt, cheese, meat, toast, and cereal. I aim to give him something on a spoon AND some finger food at every meal, so that he can develop different muscles and motor skills while broadening his appreciation for different tastes and textures.

I am not against store-bought food, but I try to follow two rules: 1) it should be something I wouldn't bother making by myself, and 2) it should only contain ingredients I would use if I could be bothered - in other words, natural ingredients without salt, sugar, or additives.

While I have been relying on store-bought pouches for mains, I purée my own fruit and veg for him. I know that a lot of parents think puréeing is time-consuming, but I do one item at a time and it only takes a few minutes. Most people purée large batches and freeze them in ice cube trays; this works if a) your baby likes the food enough to eat the whole tray, and b) you have sufficient storage space. In our case, I am still discovering what Junior likes, AND we have a tiny freezer, so I have opted for smaller portions more frequently.

For finger food, I give Junior soft fruit that he can pick up and gum without the need for blending: blueberries, kiwi, ripe nectarines, banana, ripe pears. He also likes toast, cheese, and Cheerios. I cut most things into small bites for him, as opposed to giving him larger pieces that he can hold and chew on - he tends to gag on bigger pieces, whereas he can actually ingest small ones.

Again, I know that the prevailing wisdom of baby-led weaning is to simply give the baby what you are eating in normal sized portions, but I prefer to help him out at this stage. (Plus, I'm sure our diet is too salty and processed to be healthful for his tiny body - not to mention ours!) As he gets older, I plan to give him lumpier food and introduce more meals that I cook myself.

Choosing equipment when introducing solids can be overwhelming and potentially expensive. I already had a hand blender, and use the microwave or hob to steam vegetables, so I decided that I did not need to invest in further appliances. I did buy:

  • 3 plastic bowls
  • 3 plastic spoons (with heat indicators to show when food is too hot)
  • 6 pots with lids for storage
  • 1 free-flow sippy cup
I use small soy sauce dishes for finger food. Otherwise, I would recommend using resealable plastic bags for finger food on the go.

The one item Junior does not seem to like or understand yet is the sippy cup. He started holding his own bottle around 10 weeks, but he just can't wrap his head (or hands) around the sippy cup. For now, I'm mainly giving him formula in bottles, but I keep trying water and formula in the sippy cup as well.

So, to sum up: purée/spoon foods AND finger food. Different textures AND flavours. Protein, meat, dairy, fruit, AND veg (assuming the baby does not have allergies and you have not chosen to give him a vegetarian diet, for example).

Experiment with the foods and routine that work best for you and your baby, AND know that there is more than one way to approach solids.

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