Introducing vegetables first during weaning

Dr Ros Miller

Registered Nutritionist @ Yummy Tummy Nutrition

How can I encourage my baby to like vegetables?

Babies love sweet tastes. Which is why, traditionally, first foods include purees heavily based on fruit. However, new evidence suggests that starting on single flavour vegetable purees (such as broccoli, cauliflower or swede), which are more savoury in flavour compared to fruits, may encourage vegetable-liking in young children. Food preferences are developed at an early age, which is why the period between the start of introducing solid foods (at around 6 months of age) up to 1 year of age is often called the ‘window of opportunity’. Babies are really receptive to new tastes during this timeframe, particularly the first few weeks of introducing solid foods, and will often accept a new flavour quite readily. Developing healthy food preferences during childhood is important as research has shown that these food preferences track through to adulthood. So, young children who like vegetables are more likely to be vegetable-loving adults and eat more vegetables as a result!

This vegetables-first approach can also work for those doing baby-led weaning by serving sticks and florets of soft, cooked vegetables (such as broccoli, cauliflower or green beans). Those doing a mixed approach (spoon feeding and finger foods) can give the soft-cooked vegetable florets and sticks with a purée of the same vegetable.

Pureeing single vegetables, rather than blending together two or more vegetables, in the first few days also helps the baby get used to the different flavours of vegetables. The unique tastes of vegetables can be confused if blends of different vegetables are given. Once babies are used to the taste of a vegetable, blends can then be introduced.  

Can this approach work for all babies?

This approach will not work for every baby – some babies are not that eager to try solid foods and might require those sweeter flavours just to encourage them to open their mouths and get used eating. Those introducing solid foods a little later (after 6 months of age) will need to skip this initial vegetables-only tasting stage and introduce a greater range of foods, particularly iron-rich foods, from the start. Iron-rich foods should be introduced at around 6 months of age when your babies iron-stores are starting to run low. Good sources of iron include red meat (such as pork, beef or lamb), pulses (such as beans and lentils), tofu, green leafy vegetables, nuts (do not give whole) and eggs.

So, if your baby is approaching 6 months of age and is showing signs that they may be ready for solid foods, you may wish to give the vegetables-first approach a go. You could choose to do this for the first few days or a couple of weeks, depending on the age of your baby. Please note – introducing solid food before the age of 4 months is not recommended as your baby’s kidneys and immune system are still developing. Variety is key so when you start introducing solid foods, try a new vegetable every day or so. It isn’t the quantity that is important at this stage, it is the tasting of different flavours. After this you can start to introduce iron-rich foods, protein foods, dairy foods, fruit and starchy carbohydrates in addition to the vegetables.

What if we have already started weaning?

If you have already started introducing solid foods or your children are passed weaning age and you didn’t do the vegetables-first approach, no need to worry. There are other ways to encourage vegetable-liking, including the repeated offering of vegetables. It can take 8-10 times of offering a food for a child to even taste it, a few more to like it, so the key is to keep trying.

We are all encouraged to eat at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day. On average, like older children and adults, young children aren’t eating enough vegetables. Evidence shows that eating enough fruit and vegetables can reduce the risk of chronic diseases including heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers. Vegetables may be particularly beneficial as they can provide a different range of nutrients compared to fruit, including minerals such as calcium and iron, and are generally lower in naturally occurring sugars.

In summary

·         Children are born with an innate preference for sweet foods but can learn to like new foods through experience.

·         Starting them off early on vegetables rather than fruit may help to encourage vegetable-liking, which can track through to adulthood and be of benefit to health.

At Yummy Tummy Nutrition we offer evidence-based family nutrition advice for weaning, fussy eating and beyond through private 1-2-1 consultations and group workshops in the Haslemere area. So, if you would like to book a session or find out more about the services we offer, please get in touch

Ros Miller