Words & Images: Joe Wicks – Wean in 15
Record-breaking cookbook Author Joe Wicks is back with his first children’s cookbook: Wean in 15. Written with a leading registered nutritionist, and drawing on inspiration from his experience with his daughter, Indie, Joe has created 100 tasty, quick recipes to take you from breastfeeding, through first foods, to enjoying family meal times.
Weaning can be a daunting prospect but Wean in 15 cuts through all the information to provide the simple advice that Joe has found most useful as a father. The recipes are split into age-stages, and the book is packed with expert tips on nutrients, allergies, supplements and fussy-eaters.
Here is a list of fifteen things I’ve learnt that I wish I had known when lndie was 6 months old. This is when we started weaning her onto solid food. Hopefully it will take away a bit of the worry, stress or fears you may have before moving forward through this book.
It doesn’t matter if you decide to spoon-feed your baby, do baby-led weaning (BLW) or a combination of both. Either way your baby can get all the nutrition they need to grow and develop. We did a combination of both with lndie.
Your baby’s appetite, just like your own, will vary every day depending on many factors. This means there is no perfect portion size for all babies. Each baby is individual so try not to compare yours to others. You will learn very quickly how much to offer your baby because they will let you know if they are full up or still hungry. If you find the portions in my book are too small or large for your baby just adapt them and save any leftovers for lunch the next day.
If your baby does refuse to eat, stay calm and remove the pressure on yourself and your baby by leaving the table. They may not be interested in food in that moment but probably will be later. We usually play with lndie or take her to the park to burn some energy and work up an appetite. Most of the time we reheat the food we initially offered, and she eats it all.
Your baby will pull very funny faces and often reject something new you have offered them. This is normal. They are experiencing a new flavour or texture for the very first time. Perhaps they are in shock, sometimes they are disgusted and sometimes they are overjoyed. Don’t be disheartened or upset by their response and assume they hate it. It’s so important to expose your baby to something multiple times before really knowing if they totally dislike it. lndie for example, can’t stand avocado on its own. We offered it to her as a finger food and a mash more than ten times and had it thrown back at us. Rather than give up on this really great source of healthy fat we just started to add it into wraps or pasta and she’s fine with it and gobbles it up. I think the texture was what put her off, not the flavour.
Weaning babies is very unpredictable and requires lots of patience. One day your baby will love something you cook and eat the whole lot in minutes. The next day you can offer the exact same thing and they look disgusted and won’t touch it. This has happened with lndie many times, especially if she is overtired, unwell or teething. Don’t let this worry you. In the early stages of weaning your baby will be getting most of their nutrition from breast or formula milk.
Try not to let the fear of choking hold you back from offering finger foods or thicker, lumpier textures of food. A baby choking is very rare as long as you chop and prep foods properly. Your baby needs to learn how to deal with solids and how to bite, chew and swallow food as they progress through their weaning journey. Babies also have a very strong gag reflex, which is further forward in the mouth than it is for adults. So quite often you will see your baby gag and bring foods to the front of their mouth with their tongue. It’s a bit scary the first time you see it, but it’s important not to panic or get really alarmed or start pulling food out of their mouth. If you honestly do find the thought of offering finger foods to your baby too worrying, then just focus on spoon-feeding and offer small amounts of super soft finger foods (overcooked veggies for example) that you can easily squish between your finger and thumb, until you build up the confidence for more advanced textures. It’s not a competition or race, so go at your own pace and increase to lumpier textures when you and your baby are ready.
Try to be adventurous with new flavours and food groups. You can offer just plain steamed, boiled or pureed foods for months but imagine how delightful it is for your baby to experience different flavour combinations and textures each week. We constantly challenged lndie’s palate from early on with things like stews, orzo, risotto and curries using spices like paprika, cinnamon, cumin and turmeric. We introduced coconut milk, Greek yoghurt and homemade pesto and excited her senses every day. This is one reason why lndie has such a big appetite and eats almost anything. We’ve created a mini foodie by being the chefs at home designing the menu and always trying to change the special of the day. It’s so easy to encourage fussy eating by limiting the options and only offering what we know they will love and never reject. So be adventurous for your baby even if you aren’t yourself. Keep the variety, keep it exciting and keep encouraging.
A calm and peaceful environment makes all the difference when it comes to a healthy eating routine. We have lndie sitting in her high chair at the table with acoustic lullaby music playing on Spotify. This means she has an instant familiarity and she knows it’s time to sit and eat. Of course, we eat out a lot too but when at home we try to keep the same familiar environment with as little distraction as possible.
Be a role model and try to sit down together to eat whenever possible. We all have busy lives and I know this can really be a tough one. Babies are constantly watching and learning from us, so it’s good to show them that mealtimes are relaxing and enjoyable. It’s natural to want to just stare at them, trying to make them eat their food, but we’ve learnt now that lndie will often eat more when we’re not pressuring her and are just getting on with our own meals. I missed out on this as a kid so I hope it’s something we continue as our family grows .
Prepping like a boss is key! Something we’ve really learnt is that there is no point in putting a lot of effort into cooking one meal for a baby that may end up thrown over the walls. Always make enough so that there can be leftovers to store in the fridge or freezer for when you’re really in a rush. Another idea is to batch-cook things when the baby is napping so you’ve always got something prepared .. . Cooking around a hungry baby is NOT fun!
Allergic reactions are a big fear for new parents on the weaning journey. lndie actually had a reaction to some cashew butter we gave her on toast when she was 7 months old. It wasn’t serious but we still had to take her to the hospital. An allergy test revealed that she is allergic to cashews and pistachios. Prior to this we had given her peanut butter and almond butter mixed in with her porridge and she was fine so it was a surprise for us. Even though it was upsetting we kept calm in front of lndie. There is really no way of knowing what your baby is allergic to until they start to try things so don’t let this fear hold you back from introducing certain foods.
One dilemma we initially faced with weaning was trying to understand when to reduce lndie’s milk intake and how to get the right routine and timing with milk and food. When you first begin weaning, it’s ideal to offer your baby the same amount of milk as you did before they first began their solid foods. Breast milk or formula milk will still provide the majority of calories and nutrients that babies need each day at the start of weaning. As you notice the frequency of your baby’s meals, along with their portion sizes, increasing, you may start to notice a very natural and gradual decline in the amount of milk your little one takes too.
The biggest challenge a parent may face is trying to get their babies and toddlers to eat vegetables. Some babies will eat loads of veg from day one and keep it up forever. Others will dislike them from the start and refuse every veg on the planet. As lndie got older she started to refuse plain steamed or boiled veg (I don’t blame her really, boiled broccoli smells like fart). We just incorporate lots of veg into her meals, for example in pastas, omelettes, curries and even things like savoury porridge, which she loves. It’s good to keep exposing babies to veg in the whole form, but essentially your baby doesn’t need to sit with a side of steamed greens or a head of broccoli to be healthy. With the wonderful recipes in my book your baby will be eating plenty of veg and getting all the goodness they need.
It’s really easy to panic and worry that your baby isn’t getting enough food if they refuse the meal you offer them. This may make you begin to offer an alternative meal or give lots of snacks. But only offering the things you know they will love and always eat means your baby will learn very fast that they will get exactly what they want if they make a stand. This can really narrow their food options and lead to fussy eating. We rarely offer lndie alternatives and avoid letting her graze on snacks in between meals. We learnt that if we gave lndie a banana or some berries and then tried to give her dinner an hour later she would rarely have an appetite for it. Babies have little stomachs, so focus on a good mealtime routine and avoid filling them up with snacks.
Finally and most important of all: enjoy the weaning journey. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself or the baby, you’re doing the best you can, you’re learning and your baby loves you for it! It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks of your parenting as long as you and your baby are happy. Take lots of photos and videos too. This will be a very short time you look back on once your baby is all grown up so try not to stress and worry and just HAVE FUN!
For more information on each of these topics and loads of delicious baby recipes, buy Joe’s book, Wean in 15.