Introducing vegetables first during weaning
Babies love sweet tastes. Which is why, in the past, first foods have often been based on fruit. However, new evidence suggests that starting on single flavour vegetable purees may encourage vegetable-liking in young children. This is because vegetables (such as broccoli, cauliflower or swede) are more savoury in flavour compared to fruits. Food preferences develop at an early age. In fact, the period between the start of introducing solid foods up to 1 year of age is often called the ‘window of opportunity’. Babies are really receptive to new tastes during this time frame. Particularly in the first few weeks of introducing solid foods when babies will often accept a new flavour quite readily. Developing healthy food preferences during childhood is important. Research has shown that early food preferences track through to adulthood. Young children who like vegetables are more likely to be vegetable-loving adults. When you like veg, you tend to eat more of it! That is why the first weaning vegetables are important.
This vegetables-first approach can also work for those doing baby-led weaning. Sticks or florets of soft, cooked vegetables (such as broccoli, cauliflower or green beans) can be offered. You can also give vegetable finger foods with a purée of the same vegetable.
Pureeing single vegetables in the first few days helps the baby get used to the different flavours of vegetables. The unique tastes of vegetables can be lost if two or more vegetables are blended. 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. Sometimes, slightly sweeter flavours are needed just to encourage them to open their mouths and get used eating. If you are introducing solid foods a little later (after 6 months of age) you will need to think about introducing 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, pulses (such as beans and lentils), tofu, green leafy vegetables, chopped nuts and eggs.
If your baby is showing signs that they may be ready for solid foods, you may wish to give the vegetables-first approach a try. You could do this for the first few days or a couple of weeks, depending on the age of your baby. Variety is key so 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.
What if we have already started weaning?
Don’t worry if you have already started introducing solid foods and you didn’t do the vegetables-first approach. There are other ways to encourage vegetable-liking. Repeated offering of vegetables is key. It can take 8-10 times of offering 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. Eating enough fruit and vegetables can reduce the risk of some chronic diseases. These include heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers. Vegetables can offer a slightly different range of nutrients compared to fruit. So it’s good to eat both! Vegetables are generally lower in naturally occurring sugars too.
- Children have an innate preference for sweet foods but can learn to like new foods through experience.
- Starting them off early on vegetables may help to encourage vegetable-liking. Vegetable-liking can track through to adulthood and be of benefit to health.
At Yummy Tummy Nutrition we offer evidence-based family nutrition advice for baby-led weaning, fussy eating and beyond. We offer 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. Sign up to our baby-led weaning course today.
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