Weaning beyond peanut – part 1

Carina Venter and Rosan Meyerbaby-watermelon

The previous blog focused on the introduction of peanut in infants following the release of the NIAID guidelines. In the next two blogs blog, we would like to discuss the introduction of solid foods further.

Weaning: Points to take into account when introducing solid foods for ALL babies 

1. Importance of exposure to different tastes/flavor 

We have shown in some of our studies that avoiding milk from a baby’s diet with cow’s milk allergy, can lead to reduced likelihood of eating milk based foods even at 10 years of age. On the other hand, tastes and flavors that infants are exposed to, positively affect their preferences of those foods later in life. Infants are very good in distinguishing between different flavors and the more often they get exposure to a particular taste/flavor the more likely they are to eat that particular food – some foods needs to be given at least 15 times before the infant will happily eat it. The weaning period is therefore an ideal time to set the foundations for good eating habits.

2. Importance of exposure to different textures

Infants should be introduced to a variety of textures in early life ranging from purees, mashed, dissolvable and fingers foods. They should ideally tolerate the textures of family meals by 12 months, though some foods such as meat will need to be cut in smaller pieces.  Studies show that those infants, who have not eaten lumpy textures by 10 months of age, are more likely to develop faddy eating behavior in later childhood. Some mothers may prefer to do baby led weaning in which case you will offer your baby (age appropriate) foods that are soft-cooked and cut or mashed into small easily manageable pieces. This normally means that you will skip the phase of giving thin and runny purées and feeding your baby with a spoon. However, in terms of peanut, we suggest that you follow the recipes suggested by NIAID, included in our previous blog to prevent the risk of choking.

3. Importance of a varied or diverse diet 

A varied diet during infancy plays three important roles.

  • The more varied the foods introduced during the first few months of weaning, the less likely children are to have faddy eating behavior when they are toddlers.
  • A more varied diet will also positively influence nutrient intake.
  • Most importantly however, a more diverse diet, i.e. a diet with a large variety of different foods in the first year of life is also associated with the prevention of allergic disease, possibly via an effect on the infant’s microbiome.

4. Food preparation 

Food preparation and the use of home-made vs. commercial foods have recently been highlighted to play a possible role in the development of allergic disease. Commercial foods are sterile, the anti-oxidant content may be less than that of home-made foods and the variety can be reduced compared to home-cooked foods. This does however not mean that commercial baby foods cause food allergies, and home-cooking using lots of sugar and salt won’t benefit your baby either! Our common sense advice is: Cook/bake foods suitable for babies when you can, mash a banana or grate an apple when you can and use commercial foods in times when you are travelling or not at home.

See our next blog for guidance on introduction of other allergens.

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