How often should I introduce new flavours to my baby?
Do you start with veg or fruit? is the 3-day-wait rule out of date? When to introduce fish and meat? Expert answers from a child nutritionist plus mums share their experiences
Baby food doesn’t have to be boring and repetitive – even if it is mushy! By the time your baby is around 6 months and starting to wean, your baby’s tummy is developed enough to handle lots of different food. And, says dietician and child nutritionist Sarah Almond Bushell, it's fine to introduce new flavours on a daily basis.
It can be a really fun (if messy) stage of development for your baby. But it’s an important stage too, when it comes to opening your baby’s mind to delicious and strange new tastes.
Can you introduce flavours from the start of weaning?
Yes, if you want to, although lots of parents use baby rice mixed with milk for their baby’s very first tentative step into solids. It’s your choice –but start with a single flavour rather than mixed
Then as soon as your baby has got used to this new experience of food in mouth, it’s time to start with new flavours. This could be as early as one or two days into weaning – but do remember to go at your baby’s pace.
So how often should you introduce new tastes and flavours?
You can introduce new tastes on a daily basis, says dietician and child nutritionist Sarah Almond Bushell.
“At the start of weaning I suggest introducing new food singularly,” she says. “However it’s not practical to do this for every food item on offer.
“Therefore once weaning is established and baby will happily accept several teaspoons of food I’d suggest combining flavours to widen their repertoire of tastes and flavours.
“You could offer a new flavour at each meal, and certainly at around 7 months you could be offering both savoury and sweet options.”
If you have a family history of allergies, there may be exceptions with certain foods when it comes to combining (more of that later).
Sunny5 shares her experience of starting weaning on our MFM forum. “It's all about trying them with different tastes and textures while keeping their milk going in the first few months of weaning.
“I tried baby rice initially but then moved on to mashed up sweet potato.
“Then I added a new veg or fruit every few days or so. I wrote down what I'd given in case of any reaction (allergy or tummy wise).”
And, if they’re not really into what you’re giving them – panic not. Lots of MFM mums have experienced the ‘yuck’ face from their babies when introducing some new foods. For example, Supersquish says:
“Keep giving him whatever you’re trying every few days. Babies react with a grimace to new food, but that doesn’t mean they don’t like it.
“It's frustrating I know, I pushed on with my son and so glad I did! He eats almost everything now, he still not keen on hard cheese but I'm getting him to eat it from time to time.”
Does that mean the 3-day-wait rule no longer applies?
Yes, the 3-day-wait rule has had its day.
“Waiting 3 days in between each new food is no longer practical,” explains dietician Sarah. “The three-day rule suggestion was given to try and identify adverse reactions or allergies to foods.
“In reality these are so rare and reactions are incredibly unlikely to be to the traditional first foods of fruits and vegetables (to be an allergen, a food needs to contain protein).
“Now that most babies start weaning at around 6 months, parents need to progress through the stages quite quickly in order to ensure that their baby doesn’t miss the ‘window of opportunity’ for acceptance of new foods.
This ‘window of opportunity’, as it’s called, is the time from early weaning to around 10 months when your baby is very open to new tastes – and before fussiness can kick in!
Another reason that the 3-day-wait rule is no longer used is that allergic reactions don’t always appear straight away.
“Although some allergic reactions are immediate and can happen within minutes,” says Sarah, “some also take a long time to present, way after the 3-day limit.
What flavours and foods should you start with
Tempting as it may be to start with the sweet flavours of fruit, it’s a good idea to introduce savoury tastes right at the beginning.
It’s extremely common for babies to prefer sweet over savoury food, so keep introducing new vegetables as you’re potentially setting up the blueprint for your baby’s future foody likes and dislikes.
”Babies are born with an abundance of mature ‘sweet’ taste buds, the sour and bitter ones are still developing, this mean that they will have a preference for sweet foods, hence the easy acceptance of breast or formula milk from day one,” says dietician Sarah.
So if you can, kick off with flavours like carrot, swede or mixed vegetables and move onto fruitier tastes later.
And when it comes to those savoury tastes – perseverance is the key.
To sum up: keep going with the broccoli!
Why do you need to introduce lots of new flavours
We all know that babies around 6 months of age are curious about all sorts of things – especially exciting things to pop in their mouth.
So, constantly introducing a new range of flavours is an exciting way to develop their senses, and the perfect way to feed your baby’s curiosity.
There’s also evidence that babies who are exposed to a wide range of foods and flavours early on are less likely to become fussy eaters.
“By introducing lots of flavours, textures and tastes during the ‘window of opportunity’, babies will become familiar with a wide variety of foods,” says Sarah. “So when the fussiness begins, it’s less likely to be relating to previously accepted foods.
When and how to introduce meat and fish to your baby
Meat helps to bring iron, zinc and protein into your baby’s diet. Fish is great for protein too but choose fish that is low in mercury, for example, salmon, cod and pollock.
You can start introducing meat and fish within the first few weeks of weaning. Start with less dense meat, such as chicken, and then move on to small, chewable red meat dishes, such as minced beef.
“I’d suggest introducing meat and fish after weaning is established, rather than as one of your baby’s first foods,” advises Sarah
“If you are weaning using purees rather than following a baby-led weaning plan, you can make meat have a smooth texture with a hand blender. You’ll need plenty of vegetables and some liquid such as baby stock or milk to create the correct consistency.
“It’s really important to include meat or vegetarian iron rich alternatives (lentils, eggs, fortified breakfast cereals) from round 6 months as they are an important source of iron, and the stores your baby was born with will be starting to run low.”
So what did our mums do? “I started my little girl off with just pureed veg/fruit,” says Sherrie Griffiths.
“Now that she has mastered that I have started to add meats/pasta/rices to give a more lumpy texture.
“I make homemade food for my little girl and find it time-consuming to buy whole chickens, turkeys.
“So I tend to buy minced meats instead (chicken mince, turkey mince, pork mince, lamb mince, beef mince).
“They are easy to blend up with veggies and you can brown them off in under five minutes and they’re easy for baby to swallow.”
Mummy Swann adds: “My little man didn't really like mince so I used to puree up chicken thigh meat or slow cooked beef as the puree is thicker than just a vegetable puree so it still helps with texture.
“I found the transition to meat quite easy as both my children took to it really well.
“I started with chicken first in both cases then moved onto red meat.”
How to tell if your child’s allergic to certain foods
As we mentioned right at the beginning, you can, in general, introduce new flavours to your baby on a daily basis – but if you have any family history of allergies (including asthma and eczema), you may want to be careful around certain allergenic foods.
“Food allergies are more common where there is a family history of asthma, eczema or allergy and can present in many different ways,” advises Sarah.
According to Sarah, symptoms of food allergies can include:
- tummy pain
- difficulty or reluctance to feed or constant crying when trying to feed
- a skin rash
- poor growth
“Not all reactions are immediate, some can take several days to appear making an allergy difficult to diagnose,” Sarah adds. “If you are worried, make an appointment with your health visitor or GP who can refer you to a paediatric allergy doctor for tests and a dietitian for an exclusion diet if needed.”
Our mums, though, definitely discovered that it’s pretty clear cut if your little’ ones’ allergic:
“We’ve mainly had reactions in the nappy department,” laughs sunny5. “We avoid parsnips as twice they've gone straight through him.
“Also I once gave him a tomato flavoured crisp and it gave him little spots around his mouth and chin. I expected the same with fresh tomato but he was fine!”