NEW: Weaning Babies at Nursery

19th April 2024

How to feed weaning babies in a nursery setting 

Helping babies along with their weaning journey whilst they’re at nursery can be a little daunting for staff working with them. This can be due to the fact that babies all take to weaning in very different ways and go along the journey at very different paces too. It’s hard to offer one style of food or meal for each individual baby’s requirements. In this blog, I’m going to talk through some tips and considerations for feeding weaning babies whilst they’re in a nursery setting.  

I’ll cover the benefits of letting babies lead their weaning journey somewhat, as well as talking through “baby-led weaning” and offering advice on giving babies finger foods and moving through textures to help babies become competent little eaters!  

First foods - baby purees?  

Traditionally, babies begin their weaning journey with pureed foods - typically vegetables, fruits or baby rice or porridge as their very first foods. As they progress through weaning, they may be offered whole meals in mashed (or pureed) forms - e.g. spaghetti bolognese, Shepherd's pies, or curries mashed well or blended to a thin consistency.   

 Purees can be helpful for a number of different reasons: 

  • They allow babies to try a variety of different types of food and flavours easily. Lots of different foods can be mashed or blended to be suitable for babies. This helps to ensure that they can get a variety of different nutrients, such as iron, which are important for growing babies  
  • For many caregivers, offering textured foods or finger foods can be quite worrying and they feel much more comfortable with pureed foods. This is totally understandable and, particularly in a nursery setting, offering purees to young babies can be a little more straightforward 
  • Eating purees gives baby some experience and practice with using cutlery, which helps them to develop the skills and coordination to competently use cutlery throughout their childhood 
  • At a nursery setting, even if you don’t know what kind of foods a baby is ready to eat, or is used to, purees can be a safe option for all.  
Do babies HAVE to start with purees? 

Whilst lots of babies may start weaning with thinner purees, babies CAN have soft lumps or thicker textures (including finger foods) right from the start of weaning too. Babies’ gums are very tough, and it is a common myth that babies need to have teeth before they can chew. As long as any lumps in the food are soft and easily mashable, babies should be able to manage these early on in their weaning journey.  

It’s VERY common for babies to gag when weaning - it’s all part of their learning to deal with different textures and it doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s something wrong. Gagging can be really uncomfortable to witness, and it can put many caregivers off giving babies more textured foods, or even finger foods. However, as babies are exposed to more variety and are able to practise more, you should start to see them gagging less. They do need to be offered a variety of foods in order to develop the skills needed to competently manage them.  

What about Baby Led Weaning? 

Baby-led weaning (BLW) is a method that encourages babies to feed themselves right from the start of weaning, by being given pieces of food to pick up with their hands. BLW has become very popular in recent years and many parents start their baby’s weaning journey by offering pieces of foods, rather than thinner purees off of a spoon. There are plenty of benefits of BLW, but that doesn’t mean that caregivers HAVE to follow this method, or that you can’t do a bit of both - BLW and more traditional spoon feeding at the same time works well.  

Research into BLW suggests that allowing babies to self-feed can help them to develop a positive relationship with food, enjoy the process of eating and potentially be less likely to be less fussy with food as they get older…. BLW also helps to encourage independent eating and exposure to family style foods and mealtimes right from the start. Some studies also suggest that BLW helps babies to self-regulate their food and energy intake, but more research is needed here. 

As I mentioned above, babies don’t HAVE to have thin purees - and appropriately sized and cooked finger foods are perfectly good first foods for babies too.  

 Offering finger foods 

I’m a big fan of a “best of both” approach when it comes to offering babies solid foods. Offering them some puree/mash alongside some softly cooked, mashable finger foods allows them to explore both and choose which they want to try. Some babies much prefer purees or eating from a spoon, whilst others want to use their hands and are only interested in finger foods. To me, this method really is “baby-led” because it allows babies to choose what they prefer and to have some control over the eating process.  

Therefore, if you can at your nursery setting, offering some food off of a spoon whilst also offering some appropriate, soft finger foods can work well.  

 Some of my favourite finger foods for babies are:  

  • Softly cooked veggies - make sure you can mash them easily between your finger and thumb 
  • Pancakes or muffins cut into strips 
  • Well cooked pasta 
  • Toast fingers - spread with some nut butter, avocado, hummus, butter can help it to soften a little 
  • Tofu 
  • Strips of salmon or very softly cooked meat 
  • Strips of omelette 
What should baby purees be made of?  

For babies right at the start of weaning, they’re traditionally offered quite sweet tasting flavours, such as fruits, carrots, sweet potatoes or baby rice/porridge, which tend to be quite sweet. Whilst there isn’t anything wrong with offering these foods to babies early on, it doesn’t help to introduce anything NEW to them.  

Breast and formula milk are quite sweet, and babies are born with a preference for sweeter tasting foods. So if we’re offering them sweet tastes when they start weaning, it is quite likely that they’ll take to them quite happily. HOWEVER, weaning is all about babies learning and exploring, and this includes flavours! If they’re not exposed to more bitter, savoury tastes, then they won’t have the opportunity to become familiar with them and learn to accept those foods as well. Research also shows that when babies are offered a wider variety of tastes early on, they’re more likely to accept a wider variety throughout their childhood.  

I often talk about “veg-led weaning” - which means starting babies with a variety of more bitter veggies such as broccoli, cauliflower, courgette or potatoes. For the first 10 or so days of weaning, I recommend offering a different SINGLE vegetable as they get used to the new textures and flavours.  

After this, I recommend starting to think a bit more about mixing flavours and building up towards offering a balance of food groups. Rather than single veggies, think about including: 

  • A starchy carbohydrate - e.g. pasta, rice, cous-cous, potatoes, bread, wraps 
  • Protein food - meat, fish, eggs, beans, pulses, nuts, seeds 
  • Dairy or alternatives - milk, cheese, yoghurt - if a baby can’t or doesn’t have dairy, a fortified alternative should be offered 
  • Fruits and vegetables 

Iron is a really important nutrient for babies when they’re weaning, as the stores they have from birth start to run out around 6 months. It’s really important to include iron-rich foods as soon as they move on from those single flavours, to ensure they’re getting some iron from their foods. Iron rich foods include:  

  • Red meat 
  • Poultry 
  • Beans, lentils and chickpeas 
  • Nuts – especially cashew nuts 
  • Seeds – in particular ground linseed, hemp seeds and pumpkin seeds 
  • Dark leafy green vegetables – kale, broccoli, swiss chard 
  • Tofu 
  • Dried fruits – apricots, figs and raisins  
  • Fortified breakfast cereals  

Note - if offering plant-based sources of iron (e.g. nuts, seeds, beans, lentils and chickpeas), offer alongside vitamin-C rich foods, such as berries, oranges, tomatoes or peppers to help increase absorption.  

Moving on through textures 

Something that is really important to bear in mind when it comes to offering babies pureed foods, is HOW to progress through a variety of textures. Whilst it’s fine to start weaning with thin purees, it IS important to help babies get used to more textured foods fairly early on throughout their weaning journey. The advice above focuses on those early weeks and months of weaning, and as your baby gets familiar with food, moving the textures up is really key! 

Some research looking at textures suggests that the earlier introduction of lumps and bumps in baby’s food and a move away from thin purees helps babies to enjoy better dietary variety and also to be more accepting of different textures too. Some studies show that it’s ideal to introduce babies to more textured foods, including soft lumps, mashed food and thicker consistencies BEFORE the age of 9 months to ensure that babies have the skills to eat well.  

Moving through textures can be done gradually and doesn’t have to be overwhelming - either for the baby or the caregiver. Gradually adding a little less liquid, blending a little less or simply mashing foods rather than blending them can all help to add a little bit more texture to a baby’ meal.  

I hope you’ve found this blog helpful, for PLENTY more advice about HOW and WHAT to feed babies, from weaning through to toddlerhood and beyond, check out my blog.  

Or to find out more about Zebedees' baby puree range for each stage of weaning, read their blog

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