I’ve been wanting to write about the introduction of textures during weaning for a while. But for some reason it seemed like a mammoth task.
Many parents are super nervous when it comes to moving on to trying new food textures. This is completely understandable. Up until we start offering solid foods, most babies have consumed nothing except for milk – a liquid with no lumps. Once solids begin to be introduced, whatever method of weaning you choose, it’s a whole different ball game.
Importance of textures
Ultimately, moving on from purees is essential if we want children to enjoy a wide and varied diet similar to that of adults. Weaning is all about the gradual transition to family foods. This of course includes a gradual transition through textures. e.g. purees, to mashed foods to lumpy foods to solid foods.
There isn’t a huge amount of research looking at textures. The research that is available suggests that introducing baby to textures earlier rather than later is associated with higher dietary variety and more willingness to accept foods (SACN, 2018).
One study found that the longer the experience an infant had with textured foods, the better they were accepted at 1 year. Additionally it seems that delaying the introduction of textures could lead to a higher number of feeding problems, compared with infants introduced to lumps and textures earlier (SACN, 2018).
Of course this makes sense. It’s a similar principle to the idea that you need to expose children to the same vegetables multiple times before they like them. Familiarity is once again key for encouraging acceptance, including when it comes to textures.
The latest guidance from the UK Government in their Feeding in the First Year of Life report says:
“Skills such as munching and chewing can only be acquired with experience and exposure to progressively firmer food textures. There is insufficient evidence to give detailed guidance on the speed of progression of solid food textures, but observational evidence suggests that exposure to lumpy foods before 9 months may be beneficial.”
Baby Led Weaning
The Baby Led Weaning (BLW) approach (where you let baby take the reins and feed themselves from the very start) is a very popular method of weaning. This approach is great for many reasons. It certainly helps children cope with a wide variety of textures and more solid, finger foods too.
However, a mixture of both traditional weaning (starting with purees) and BLW is still beneficial to help encourage a variety of foods. It’s also helpful to teach babies how to take food from a spoon and even eat runny foods that include lumps. A mixed approach can also be a slightly more gentle transition in the first few days/weeks of weaning.
Interestingly only 1/3 of parents who choose the BLW approach do so exclusively, with the majority offering some foods from a spoon as well.
So how do we start with introducing textures?
I’ve always talked to parents about the actual “puree” stage of feeding baby being very short. Essentially, you want a nice smooth runny puree that runs off the spoon like soup for your first few tastes. Then you want to think about moving the texture up a notch to continue baby’s progress.
You can do this easily when making purees by adding less milk/water each time you blend up the veggies.
The image below shows a nice gradual progression through textures over the first few months or so of introducing solids…
Remember it’s a gradual progression. It’s good to go at baby’s own pace with a nudge from you to continue moving forwards. Between the first two pots in the image above, you’d want to move from a very thin soup texture to more of a texture that falls off the spoon in a few small dollops fairly quickly (a few weeks of weaning, ideally).
The next two pots would be when baby is accepting foods well and is more than capable of swallowing non-liquidy food from a spoon. It would also be good to offer soft finger foods alongside these textures too (see section below).
By doing it this way you are allowing baby to gradually get used to thicker textures. Then introducing lumps and hopefully continuing with varied textures daily. This is also likely to reduce the chances of baby rejecting foods due to unknown textures and also may reduce the risk of feeding troubles later on.
Finger Foods are important
I’ve written before about the importance of finger foods as well as what finger food options are great to start with. Offering finger foods regularly at mealtimes can also help children to accept a variety of textures. Finger foods help babies learn how to bite off chunks of food, deal with lumps in their mouth and chew/swallow larger pieces of food.
It’s often been advice to parents to focus on finger foods if you’re struggling to get baby to take textured food off a spoon. I’d normally recommend, once a parent and baby is confident with the initial solids and spoon feeding, to try to offer some finger foods at most mealtimes.
But what about choking?
Interestingly, some research suggests that a higher choking risk is often found in children who have finger foods least often. So offering appropriate finger food options alongside a gradual transition through different textures may actually be setting your baby up to deal with lumpy foods much more efficiently.
Always sit with your baby when you are feeding them, especially when it comes to offering finger foods.
I’m planning on writing another blog talking about good foods and recipes for texture development. Let me know if this is something you’d like to hear more about and, as always, do let me know if you have any questions.
For more information you can see my blogs here on the topic of baby nutrition.
And you can also download free factsheets from my company LittleFoodie.Org covering:
Appropriate finger foods
A complete guide to introducing first foods
And our vegetables first approach