First Foods for Babies: WHY the Veg-Led Approach?
Something I talk about ALL the time across my blog and all of my social media channels is about encouraging an approach to Veg-Led weaning for babies.
As part of my #Weanalong series, in this blog I wanted to cover a bit more about the background as to WHY I’m an advocate for this method. As well as HOW to follow this method when starting weaning your little one.
Sweet vs. bitter tastes
Traditionally, babies have been offered sweet fruit purees or baby rice as their first introduction to solid foods. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this approach. However, more recent research suggests that offering a variety of tastes, including more bitter flavours, may help to increase the acceptance of these foods later on in childhood and through to adulthood.
Babies have a natural preference for sweet foods. So starting straight away with sweeter foods, such as fruits, is often seen as the most natural way of beginning to introduce solid foods. However, when it comes to weaning, the main aims are experimentation and exposure.
The first tastes are all about getting baby used to everything about weaning. The smells, tastes, textures as well as the coordination and behavioural aspects involved with eating. Not a lot of food is expected to actually go in during those first few weeks. So introducing new flavours that baby is less used to, such as bitter green veg, is a great opportunity for exposure right from the beginning.
Nowadays, young children are surrounded by foods that are high in sugar and it can be incredibly hard to limit their intake. You can read more about sugar for children here.
Try to help develop a child’s taste preferences
Introducing more bitter and savoury flavours early on can help to develop a child’s taste preferences. Also it can help acceptance of these types of flavours and foods throughout life. Some research suggests that between 6-12 months is when babies are most likely to try and accept new foods. Often referred to as a “window of opportunity”. Which makes it a good time to offer a wide variety of foods.
I do want to stress that there really is NOTHING wrong with starting weaning with fruits or other foods. Offering vegetables first is not a guarantee for your child eating vegetables. Nor is it the only way to get them to eat vegetables throughout their childhood. The veg-led approach is simply a more modern way of starting your baby on solids. Backed by scientific research, which shows that it can have a positive impact on their vegetable intake.
Why is it important for children to eat vegetables?
A balanced diet is really important for children. Both to support their growth and development and also to help promote life-long good health. Including a wide variety of foods from different food groups (starchy foods, dairy & alternatives, protein-rich foods and fruits & vegetables) helps to ensure your little ones are getting the right balance of nutrients to support their development. You can read more about a balanced diet for toddlers in my blog.
Vegetables provide a whole range of nutrients including:
- Fibre – helps to promote a healthy gut and can help with constipation
- Vitamin A – plays a role in eye and skin health as well as our immune function
- Vitamin C – helps to protect cells from damage and supports immune function
- Folate – supports brain development during pregnancy, supports immune function and helps the production of red blood cells
- Potassium – helps to regulate water content of the body and helps nerve and muscle function
We know from research that a balanced diet, rich in vegetables can help protect against a variety of long-term conditions. Including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity. A healthy diet during childhood, is more likely to lead to a healthy diet throughout adult life. Further helping to promote life-long good health.
How do I follow the veg-led approach?
Typically, my advice to parents is that for the first two weeks of weaning, offer single tastes of a DIFFERENT vegetable every day. And to go for green, bitter vegetables as opposed to sweet foods. The image below shows an example of what this might look like below.
This really is just a guide and should be adapted to work for you and your family rather than being an exact schedule to follow. You can use whatever vegetables you have at home. Frozen and tinned varieties work just as well as fresh. You can start by mixing a vegetable with some of baby’s usual milk as a puree or offer as a finger food. Or even offer a mix of both and let your little one decide.
Something that’s important to bear in mind regardless of what foods you’re offering first, is not to put pressure on your baby. Or expect that they’re going to eat absolutely everything first time around. A really interesting point from the research is that a key predictor of fruit and vegetable intake is the enjoyment of these foods. All children are capable of enjoying a wide variety of foods and flavours. Especially if they’re given the right support and environment to do so. That’s why considering the mealtime environment is really important when introducing foods to your little one.
The key is to have fun and encourage baby to explore what you’re offering. Rather than expecting or pressuring them into finishing everything off. Parents often think that if their little one isn’t showing any interest or eating anything at all, it’s because they don’t like the foods. But this isn’t necessarily always the case. All babies will react to starting solids differently and remember that these are entirely new sensations for baby. So it’s only natural that it will take some getting used to. Read more on “what to expect in the first month” here.
What happens next?
I’ll be sharing a lot more about the next stages of weaning over the coming weeks. Once you’ve offered single tastes for 10 days or even a couple of weeks, the next steps would be to include more variety. Build in other flavours, including sweeter vegetables and fruits. Also starchy carbohydrates and iron-rich foods such as beans, pulses, meat or fish. You can start to mix different flavours together and build in more finger foods if you haven’t started with those already!
Finally, something to bear in mind when progressing through your weaning journey, which is particularly relevant for increasing vegetable intake, is repeated exposures. Offering an unfamiliar food just once is unlikely to result in your little one eating it all up straight away. Plus then liking it the next time they’re given it. Once you’ve introduced single tastes of vegetables, keep offering them and try mixing up HOW you offer them, without expectation or pressure. This is all about building familiarity with these foods. So that they no longer become strange or unknown foods that little ones don’t want to try.