It is no accident that ‘weaning’ rhymes with ‘cleaning’, because as one increases, so does the other, exponentially. Sweet potato in their ears and eyebrows. Avocado hair masks. Porridge drying in the floorboard cracks. Blowing raspberries, literally. Weary little heads rested on a tray covered in carrot puree. The cat now existing entirely on a diet of baby discards.
The tiny clenched fisted, purple faced fury of it all too. Screams of outrage that their own mother could be attempting Death by Frube. The NOISE – spoons and beakers being hammered through the table in an attempt to reach Australia. The hilarious game of How Many Times Can Mummy Pick Up Toast. The ability to be distracted by anything apart from what’s in front of them and a sudden absorption in the engineering of their chair when confronted with a fishcake.
And the bewildering capriciousness: yoghurt refused seven times, and then all of a sudden Charlotte has SIXTY TWO SPOONS. Mango being their favourite ingredient ever until you sneak some chicken in, and then it becomes the Devil’s vomit.
This is, of course, common to all babies. But, being twins, it is both easier and harder, because of their effect on the other. Babies are great imitators. When you only have one, that means they copy adults, hence everyone’s advice that baby should eat with you. With twins though, they copy the other baby. So if Charlotte is gulping something down, Romilly will at least try it. But similarly if Romilly is screaming blue murder and refusing, Charlotte will down tools. I imagine this means they’ll take longer to eat like a grown up, as most of the time they’re just watching another baby. We’ll see.
They’re ‘amusingly’ different in their eating styles too. Romilly is super neat and will examine everything meticulously for traces of poison, will stroke her food, especially if it is wet and doesn’t lend itself to being stroked, and will dissect into subatomic particles. She prefers all things savoury. She’s slow, but usually ends up eating more. She often prefers being hand fed. Individual baked beans…Charlotte is a shoveller but, in true hare and the tortoise fashion, runs out of steam first. She’s VERY messy, and infinitely prefers sweet/stodgy/finger food.
I keep repeating the mantra: ‘before one, eating’s just for fun’. They’re still getting all the nutrition they need from their milk (they’re having 700-850ml a day of Aptamil 3, and at the last weigh in were still comfortably on each of their centiles) so weaning is about introducing new tastes and textures, encouraging interaction, and beginning to teach them to ‘feed themselves’. Ha! It’s difficult though to find anywhere what a portion should actually be. In the early stages, La Karmel says you should be content getting one or two spoons down. Mine probably average about fifteen, but will occasionally go into the fifties, particularly if it’s sweet and stodgy. They certainly wouldn’t eat a whole pouch of shop bought baby food. In fact, Romilly in particular now turns her nose up at anything processed, preferring to have just what we’re having mashed up. This is partly very pleasing and flattering, but also a huge bore, as it means I can never be lazy, and I’m also getting a bit worried what happens when we travel.
Anyway, a brief summary of how we did it, and then some top tips.
We started at about five months. I didn’t want to wait till exactly six months as that would have been right in the middle of our house move, and I wanted them settled into a routine before then. Plus I’d just stopped breastfeeding so maybe guilt played a part – wanted some more good stuff in them. In t’old days, advice used to be to start at 4 months; health visitors now say 6 months; I say worry ye not. Just find a time when you don’t have to rush meals, and can start on the business of processing fruit and veg, and have had time to get all your weaning equipment. A spoon of baby rice isn’t going to kill them at 4 months. Likewise, they’re getting everything they need from the milk so if you wait till after 6 months, whatever.
We started off with a few spoons of runny baby rice at their pre-bath feed so about 5. Once they were taking that, we moved the rice to lunchtime and introduced other things at tea like rusks soaked in milk/porridge. Once that was all being accepted, we started giving cereal at breakfast, and introducing vegetables and fruit at the other meals. I wanted to do this quickly as, well, have you ever tried baby rice? I’d rather lick wallpaper backing.
I set up a small kitchen factory, buying any fruit or veg that was on special offer (including frozen – usually have more nutrients as they’ve been frozen just after picking whereas ‘fresh’ goods can often be lying around for months). And then cooking them, whizzing up with the food processor (absolutely no need to get one of the over priced baby specific mashers/blenders/steamers, spend your money on you instead!! There’s even a branded banana slicer – I jest not – in the latest JoJo Maman Bebe catalogue!) and decanting into ice cube trays, and then bagging the cubes, neatly labelled in the freezer when you’re done.
If you do this in batches, it’s hugely satisfying to look at your bulging freezer drawers, saves you loads of time having to make everything for each meal, and means you can try little veg cocktails with them.
Once they’d got the hang of this, we then started whizzing in some proteins, like grated cheese, tuna, sardines (the boneless ones), ham and chicken. They still don’t really like chicken though, weird.
So, this process has continued, gradually introducing more flavours, and less pureeing. Trust your instincts. And remember that babies have very effective gag reflexes (Nature’s way of making sure you don’t have to eat courgettes) and they don’t need teeth. Or teeth that meet (Charlotte has a bizarre array of teeth in different parts of her mouth whereas Romilly has front and bottom ones that match). They’re very proficient at ‘gumming’ food. I have heard tale of a nine month old munching his way through an adult sized steak over the course of an hour. Is it wrong that I kinda want to keep steak for myself?!
They’re now quite happy to munch on toast (or better, crumpets, Lord knows what will happen when they discover cake!) and will SORT OF feed themselves a banana and potato wedges. There seems quite a strong line drawn between those in favour of ‘spoon led weaning’ and then ‘baby led weaning’ whereby, at its extreme, you dump a load of spag bol on their tray and see what happens. Again, just follow your own common sense and do a bit of both. Anything gloopy they get on the spoon (I do try to let them hold it but the inevitable always happens); anything they can pick up they get on their tray.
And try, just try, through teeth more gritted than the M6, to ignore the food going everywhere, and just think that you’re putting in the groundwork now to have two well behaved little gourmets who will sit quite happily with you in a Portugese café of an evening eating sardines and custard tarts. Probably mashed up together…
Their favourite foods:
- Broccoli, peas, potato, sweet potato, sweetcorn, green beans, celeriac (!), squash, carrot
- Blueberries (they can now have these whole and what LARKS we have rolling them round our trays, throwing them on the floor to see if they bounce), mango, banana, avocado, papaya (plus our branded inventions of ‘guacanana’ which is avocado and banana mixed, and ‘papaguacanana’ which has papaya stirred in, they all go together surprisingly well which, the interconnect tells me, is because they all originate from the rubber tree, who knew), apple, pear, melon, plum, peach, apricot, kiwi.
- Mini pasta (buy the little shells/macaroni in the normal pasta aisle as the kids’ ones are about twice the price) or rice with tomato sauce, with either blitzed meatballs/mince/sardines/tuna/salmon.
- Pork and apple sauce; chopped up ham; fish fingers and fish cakes
- Any bread based products. Apart from bagels because it’s tricky for them to get through the ‘skin’. Rice cakes (known as Nice Cakes).
- They’re moving onto non-baby cereals now: Ready Brek is going down well
- Any food you’re having. Seriously. Just mash it up with a fork and see what happens. I much prefer M&S ready meals to a jar of Cow & Gate so why shouldn’t they? Latest success was slow cooked lamb with a balsamic glaze with celeriac mash and minted peas.
- On which note, don’t be shy of herbs and spices. Italian/Indian babies get on perfectly fine with basil, garlic and chilli in moderation. My two love cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger too.
- Still to try and on the list (we aim to do something new every other day) – aubergine, raw tomatoes, citrus fruit, cucumber, lettuce, pitta, cottage cheese and Laughing Cow, Marmite (that’s going to be clean and tidy, isn’t it), sandwiches, mushrooms, cabbage, turnips, parsnips, asparagus, pizza, sausages.
- I’ve also tried them on foods that family members don’t like eg their Uncle can’t eat bananas, Giant Brother Joe can detect cheese at a mile, I LOATHE peppers, in case there was something genetic. They’re fine with everything apart from Charlotte, oh Loyal One, hates peppers. I will love her forever. Oh, and couscous hasn’t worked on the last 7 outings. Nor chicken/turkey (would have thought that was quite bland, maybe it’s the graininess).
Finally, my hard-won tips:
- Get the really bendy rubber ice cube trays as you’re forever using them, and the combination of frozen fingers and rigid plastic is no fun.
- Give them a clean spoon to play with while you shovel with the other, else they’ll try to grab the one with the food on it, and, well, I quite like the clothes I’m wearing and they tend to look better without tomato sauce appliques.
- Bibs, WTF? Show me a baby that only gets mess on the top third of their chest and absolutely not on their arms. We use those plastic aprons you get for painting, which covers their whole top half. If they made radioactive suits for babies, I’d buy those too.
- Don’t do what I did and not put them in high chairs till they were almost 9 months. I’d got it in my head that they needed to be able to sit. With the harnesses you get, all they really need is to be able to hold their head up. I was therefore trying to feed them on my lap on the (now dead) sofa or in their bouncy chairs. It is SO much easier in high chairs, and they really enjoy being at the table.
- Go at their speed and have plenty of pauses. Some people, without mentioning male members of the family, spoon it in at F1 pace and then when it’s refused conclude they don’t like it and stop. But even adults have little breaks, and we have different courses. Food’s more than just fuel.
- As I mentioned above, there is absolutely no need to buy a lot of the branded, baby-specific kit. Just some plastic spoons as metal is too hard and cold and sharp. In the first months you won’t be giving them the bowl anyway so you don’t even need those. When you do, get the suction ones which stick to the table. They can still reach into the bowl and decant the contents, but they can’t tip it over their head/their sister’s.
- Avoid baby foods. They’re really expensive (especially if you have two) and are just too mushy, I’ve found, plus most of them taste rank. I try everything before I give it to them because if I don’t like it, then it’s a bit mean to expect them to. The only exception is snacks. I buy a lot of the Organix ones – they have corn puffs which look a bit like Wotsits, mini rice cakes (though usually I just give them adult Kallo ones broken up) and biscuits. No sugar or additives. Although I may have to rein back a bit on these because, in Pavlovian dog fashion, Charlotte now grins whenever she hears the rustle of a packet and I think now imagines the word ‘please’ means ‘chocolate biscuit’.
- Baby weaning books (eg Annabel Karmel) are good for ideas and reassurance, but don’t follow them religiously, life’s too short.
- They hate having their faces wiped. I usually give them their messiest food therefore at tea ie just before the bath so they can be dumped in there and get rid of the food themselves!
- They’re not meant to have honey before two (risk of botulism), shellfish and eggs (risk of food poisoning) and nuts. They shouldn’t have high fibre diets or low fat foods. Not because they’re bad, but because their stomachs are only the size of their fist, so you want anything you get in to have the maximum nutrition possible. They can have dairy in things like yoghurt and cheese and in sauces (I make batches of cheese sauce made with milk) but they shouldn’t be drinking it. Again, this isn’t because it’s dangerous, just that it’s designed to give a calf the nutrients it needs, not a human child, so we’re sticking with formula for now. I haven’t tried them on juice yet, just water, as I don’t want them getting too much of a sweet tooth. Plus given the way they fling their beakers around, I don’t really fancy Ribena walls quite yet. That’s one thing we’re behind on actually – have tried the beakers where you still need to suck, and ones with no valve, but they just can’t/won’t hold them themselves, so I have to do it for them. And milk is therefore still in bottles as otherwise half of it wouldn’t go in. Any tips warmly welcomed!
Right. Lunch beckons. And it is sandwich day. Brown bread and Philly in little squares. Let battle commence. This will be followed with raspberries and blueberries in a bowl, which will probably result in a game of fruity air hockey. SUCH FUN!
Before I go though, completely gratuitous picture of the lovebugs being lovebugs.