I've been weaning my daughter for nearly 5 weeks now and have learned a few lessons. Its going really well and she is now on to lumpier textures, more adventurous flavours and even some finger foods.
When you start to wean your first child there is an element of excitement about introducing them to a whole new exiting world of food, and if you're a foody like me, you want them to eat the best food and to bliming well enjoy it! I've found a great baby cereal that I used for my baby's first forays into the world of food – Plum Baby's Four Grain Super Porrridge - its organic (I'm not fussy.. it just is, OK?), it's not mucked-about with, and looks and tastes great (yes, I've tried it too!).
Before my daughter was born, no-one had spoken to me about weaning so I didn't really know where to start. My health visitor at 6 weeks gave me a very vague leaflet about it and warned me, on pain of death, NOT to start before 6 months (I ignored her – my little girl has an appetite that would challenge most fully grown adults and there was no way I could hold on). Other than that, I was originally guided by the free samples I'd been sent by the various parenting clubs and the options I had for those first tastes didn't look very appetising... fruit flavoured cereals or very bland baby rice, euch.
During the first 3 months after the birth I spent a lot of time in my local supermarket waiting for the pharmacy to prepare prescriptions for me (ho hum... nearly recovered now though!) and in that time I would wander the baby aisles and see what was on offer, baby-food wise. I spent some time reading the back of packets and jars and was truly appalled at the list of ingredients on some of the items I saw. Baby cereals with lists as long as my arm of preservatives and flavourings, jars of vegetables with added sugar (what???), stabilisers, emulsifiers, blah, blah, blah!
As it was, I had no intention of buying jars or ready made foods – I love to cook, and if it takes me a few extra minutes to prepare baby-safe versions of my lunch and dinner then so be it – my little girl is worth it. I was, however, looking for something akin to baby rice to use as a very first food... something smooth, something that would mix well with breast milk or formula milk (for a good transition from milk to solids) and something that would inspire my girl on the start of her exciting journey into the world of food and drink!
I did find one or two of the organic baby rices, such as Hipp Organic, that were just what it says on the packet, rice and nothing else! Why can't more foods be like that? Why does baby rice need to be anything other than rice? On that point, why baby rice? Most new mums have heard about baby rice but what's so special about it? It's just finely ground rice which you can find without the word 'baby' in front of it for a much cheaper price in most big supermarkets (I use it in my onion bhajis!). Can you imagine eating a plain bowl of boiled rice? Boring huh? You'd add a curry or a stir fry, I bet! Well baby rice is pretty much the same, very bland and not a great way to jolt your baby's taste buds into action... plus, have you ever noticed that if you leave it for too long, it turns into slop???
I've recently read an interesting book, The Food Our Children Eat, by Joanna Blythman; its a bit preachy but does give some practical advice on getting weaning right. She points out that at this age, many finely milled cereals (a wider range is available from wholefood shops) make good weaning foods... the more flavoursome the better (steer clear of wheat-, rye- and barley- based cereals until your baby is a little older as these may cause allergies).
I did manage to find one baby cereal that looked a little out of the ordinary. Plum Baby's Four Grain Super Porridge - http://www.plum-baby.co.uk/our-food/our-cereals/id/38#content - seemed like just what I was looking for as my daughter's first food. It is made from four different gluten-free gains, quinoa, rice, millet and amaranth. The only other ingredient is Thiamin (vitamin B1) found naturally in quinoa, which also contains relatively high levels of protein, for a grain.
The porridge is easy to make up with a little water and milk (I use the small amount of breast milk that I can still express each morning). At first you can make it quite smooth and gloppy; as your little one gets older you can make it lumpier and blend it with exciting things such as fruit purées (my munchkin loves it mixed with banana) and with yoghurt or fromage frais.
The first thing you notice when you mix it together is that it smells good! It smells like real hearty porridge and has actually inspired me to make a bowl of porridge for myself on some mornings. It looks far more appetising than the baby-rice slop and having tried my baby on both – the porridge is definitely more popular.
After her first fortnight of weaning, my daughter was enjoying a fruit-based porridge experience most mornings (she tends to eat fresh veg at dinner time now). One morning when I had no fresh fruit in the house, I thought I would try her out on one of the free sachets of fruit flavoured cereal that I had been sent in the post... I won't try that again. She screwed her face up at it and spat most of it out (I was secretly proud of her). I don't blame her though, here's a list of just some of the ingredients in what is portrayed as a healthy fruity breakfast:
Baby-grade fruit (not that you'd be able to identify it in the end product, as it has been dried and ground down as fine as the cereal)
Milled rice and corn
Demineralised whey powder
Skimmed milk powder
Vegetable fat (contains emulsifier soya lecithin)
Vitamins, minerals, calcium, iron, zinc (why we need so many of these added, I'm not entirely sure... but it makes it sound healthy, doesn't it!)
It all just seems so unnecessary. What does demineralised whey powder add to my growing baby's diet? I've thrown the sachet away now. Goodbye and good riddance!
So, if you are looking for a first taste and texture experience your little one that has nothing unnecessary or nasty added, for then I would definitely recommend Plum Baby's Four Grain Super Porridge. You can buy it in most big supermarkets or online at their website - http://www.plum-baby.co.uk/shop/products .