I'll admit that when I reached out to Boob to Food's Luka McCabe, I did so somewhat selfishly. Mourning the imminent conclusion of breastfeeding my last baby, and somewhat confused about conflicting research around weaning (despite him being my third child), I thought Luka might be able to shed some light.
And wow, was I right. With a business – and a movement – known as Boob to Food, it makes sense that Luka is an expert in all things weaning. The registered midwife and nutrition student is passionate about feeding mothers and children, believing that if good foundations are set at an early age, bad habits (and preventative diseases) can be avoided later in life.
Perhaps most pleasingly for the confused among us, Luka is not a steadfast proponent of baby-led weaning or purees, but rather, taking an approach that suits your family and your child best. As long as it’s nutrient-dense and enjoyable, Luka approves.
Let’s dive into the unmissable advice from Luka, who is here to make feeding and weaning our babies not just achievable, but enjoyable.
How do our babies’ nutritional requirements evolve in the first 12 months of their lives?
Breastmilk (or formula) will meet your baby’s nutritional requirements for their first 6 months. At around the 6 month mark, your baby will start to require some extra nutrients that your breastmilk or formula no longer completely meets, such as iron, zinc, vitamin D3, DHA, calcium and choline. Did you know that between 6-12 months your baby actually requires more iron than an adult male!
Research always seems to be changing about when to introduce solids (4 months? 6 months?). What’s your view and why?
Funnily enough, the guidelines were actually changed back in 2002 by all the leading health organisations; the World Health Organisation, Health Canada, American Academy of Paediatrics, Australian National Health and Medical Research Council and the UK Department of National Health. All these leading organisations recommend that babies be exclusively breastfed (or formula-fed) for the first 6 months, with complementary foods accompanying breastfeeding until 2 years.
The guidelines are there for a reason, and should be taken as that – a guide! The reason why 6 months is recommended is that is when MOST babies would have met the ‘developmental signs of readiness’.
It is MORE important that you look for your baby meeting the signs of developmental readiness rather than waiting for a specific age, as these are the indicators that your babies delicate digestive system is ready to tolerate solid foods. These include:
- Your baby being able to sit relatively unassisted (no props).
- Are actively participated in meal time: ie. can turn their head away to notify you that they have had enough food, can help to hold a spoon or self feed, move their head towards the food and are interested in meal time and what you’re eating.
- Have lost their ‘tongue thrust’ reflex – which usually is gone by around 4 months; which is a reflex that helps prevent choking where the tongue automatically pushes solids out of their mouth once they hit the tongue.
- Baby is developing a pincer grasp; they may not have mastered this yet, but babies will start to practise picking things up with their thumb and forefinger as opposed to a whole hand grab.
Most babies would have met these signs of readiness somewhere between 5.5 and 6.5 months!
What foods do you suggest starting our babies on?
My whole philosophy on baby food is to make it as nutrient dense as possible. Our babies stomachs are so small, yet their nutrient needs are quite high. They especially require high amounts of iron, zinc, vitamin D3, and healthy fats/omega 3/DHA. I also like to include probiotic rich foods such as fermented foods. Unfortunately many of the highly marketed baby foods do not meet these requirements; or are fortified with synthetic nutrients to meet these needs which are not as easily tolerated by babies. I focus on what may be considered strange foods, but the foods that really ‘pack a punch’ with each mouthful. Foods such as organic liver, other grass fed meats, organic chicken, egg yolk, bone broth, bone marrow, fermented foods such as sauerkraut brine and of course, lots of wonderful vegetables and some fruit. Fish (especially sardines) are a favourite of mine, however fish should be introduced a little later, around 8 months when baby has been tolerating other non allergenic foods with no issues.
When and how do you suggest introducing foods that can be more allergenic (like nuts, etc)?
The current allergy guidelines recommend that all the top 9 allergenic foods (egg, peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, fish, shellfish, soy, wheat, dairy) be introduced and frequently given between 6-11 months as studies have shown that earlier introduction (prior to 1 year) is reducing the prevalence of food allergies to these foods. I recommend following my food guides, which meet the current allergy guidelines whilst also taking into account your babies delicate digestive system. For example, a food like egg yolk can be given at 6 months, but dairy should be left until closer to 10-11 months and started with a fermented dairy or high fat dairy thats easier to digest such as milk kefir and butter.
How quickly should we introduce new foods?
You can introduce the foods at whatever pace you like! The only foods I say to go slow on are the top allergenic foods, where I recommend giving them seperate to any other new foods, and to be given every few days for at least 3 exposures.
What are your thoughts on purees vs finger foods?
To be honest, I think both have their place. Unfortunately it seems like baby led weaning (BLW) aka finger foods, has taken quite a cult like approach; where I have even seen on some BLW facebook groups mothers being banned for even mentioning a spoon or puree. This makes me sad, because even though I personally like BLW, its not for everyone. BLW can cause feelings of stress for some new mothers, especially those of us who are a bit anxious. This can then cause mealtime to be a very stressful experience for both mother and baby; as baby will mimic our feelings around food and may even portray aversions to food because of it.
My kids were both fed with the combination method; where they were fed some purees, and then moved onto finger foods. My son was on puree for about a month, and my daughter didn’t even last a day until she declared BLW was for her (she would not, and still will not have a bar of someone feeding her).
I do think that if you are spoon feeding/puree that you should introduce SOME finger foods by 9 months of age. Food is so much more than just nutrients, and its a real experience for baby; learning about different textures, smells, colours and flavours – all of which are quite hidden in puree foods. You can do this by adding some foods you’re comfortable with alongside babies puree for them to play with and explore, or place some of their puree on their highchair tray to mush around and explore!
How do we manage the choking/gagging risk with finger foods?
Finger foods should be prepared appropriately for baby by:
- Making the foods ‘finger’ shaped (similar size to your index finger) which allows baby to grasp like a handle and take bites.
- Remove any stringy bits/skin.
- Make sure the texture is quite soft, foods should be able to be squashed by your babies tongue and palate. To test this, see if you can squeeze the food between your index finger and thumb easily.
- Meats offered in strips and slow-cooked/poached.
- Do not offer any round foods like cherry tomatoes/grapes. These need to be quartered. Choking occurs when something is completely blocking the airway. The airway is round in shape, so just keep that in mind when offering foods, and if in doubt – just cut smaller!
How important are solid foods in the first 12 months? Is it more about textures and tastes, or is there a real nutritional need?
Both! Babies have incredibly high nutrient needs; most will be met by breastmilk or formula, but they do have a need for certain nutrients, primarily iron/zinc. But it is also all about the experience, and making it an enjoyable experience for all.
At what point do solid foods take precedence over breastmilk/formula when it comes to nutritional requirements for our children?
After 12 months, however that is not to say that foods shouldn’t be nutritious until that point!
If our babies start to take more interest in solid foods than breastmilk/formula, should we worry?
This can be very common, and is a good sign your baby is a good eater! However, like I mentioned in the previous question, breastmilk or formula should be the priority until atleast 12 months. If you are finding your baby is prioritising food, I would try and space out the milk feeds and the solids; offering the milk feeds first. For example, breastfeed upon waking, then wait an hour or two to offer breakfast, then in another couple of hours offer a breastfeed before lunchtime, and offer lunch an hour later etc. This is so that baby is hungrier at milk time than they are at solids time!
Conversely, if our babies show no real interest in solid foods, should we worry!?
This can also be very common, and for some babies it can take until 9ish months to become interested in their meals! If your baby is over 9 months and still not showing any interest I would just mention it to your health care provider.
How often should we be feeding our babies food? Should we think of it as simply breakfast, lunch and dinner?
Every baby’s needs will be different, some babies will start with 1 tsp a day, others with 3 meals a day! As long as the solids foods are not displacing breastmilk/formula feeds before 12 months there is no right or wrong.
Just a couple of things to be cautious of however, is that breastmilk does not contain fibre, so if you introduce too much food too soon on their delicate digestive system, that can be a lot of fibre to learn how to digest; which can often lead to constipation. So, start slow, and follow your babies guide if they want more, then you can offer more! The key word here being ‘offer’ – so baby is in control of how much they eat!
As a general rule:
- 6-7 months will usually have 1 meal a day, sometimes skipping a day.
- 7-9 months 2 meals a day
- 9-12 months 2-3 meals a day
When should we start thinking about family meals and eating the same foods?
I personally think that meals should be eaten as a family from the very beginning; and that baby can simply have some, or all of what we eat (depending how well you eat of course; generally having babies can be the catalyst for our own healthy eating journeys!) For example, if you are having a roast chicken and vegetables for dinner, just make sure you cut some of the vegetables in a safe eating size for baby and do not add any salt to those! If you are a gamily that eats a lot of dairy/gluten at dinner time then your baby may not start to eat your foods until 12 months + once all the top allergens are introduced.
What tips do you have for setting up really good eating and food habits from an early age?
Eat as a family whenever possible around the table.
Eat the same food as your children, so that meals aren’t seen as ‘kids and adults’ foods.
Don’t shy away from certain flavours because you don’t think your baby will like them; eg sardines! Most babies will surprise you and love them the most!
Introduce these strong flavours and foods early (not when you have a cheeky 2 year old)!
Don’t put any emphasis on eating some foods over the others – for example; don’t demand your child eats their broccoli over eating the other foods on their plate. Because, kids like to do the opposite of what we suggest!!
Talk to your kids about the benefits of the foods they are eating; eg. we eat liver because its high in iron and gives us lots of energy; or we eat sauerkraut because it helps our bellies, we eat fish because it helps grow our brains!
When your kids are old enough, let them help you with cooking and making the foods! Having an involvement with meals really increases the chances of them eating it!
Grow your own food with your kids – might be a pipe dream for a lot of us, but even having a couple of pots with herbs and letting your kids be the ones to care for them, pick them for meals etc may increase the chances of them eating these herbs!
Are there any things you suggest we don’t do with our babies when it comes to food?
If you can, try and keep mealtime as relaxed as possible, so choose a feeding method that suits your family that causes the least anxiety (spoon, combination or baby led weaning).
Try not to force feed your baby, which can often occur with spoon feeding. Remember, your job is to offer your baby food, if they are turning their head away and indicating they have had enough, then respect this. This respect will in turn develop healthy eating patterns and self regulation in the future.
Don’t offer unsafe size/shape/texture foods that would pose a choking risk.
Just because you don’t like a food, ie liver or sardines, don’t project that your baby will not like that food also! They like to surprise us with their expansive, non biased palates! Stick to whole foods over packaged and processed foods.
What are some of your favourite meals for babies? Any go-to recipes?
I like to keep baby food pretty simple, some pan fried organic liver strips, steamed vegetables with ghee and egg yolk, bone marrow stew, sardines and avocado mash, bottles of nourishing bone broth, chia pudding, gelatin gummies.
These recipes are from my new book being released soon, called Boob to Food. This book was created out of a need in the market for a book that incorporated both information about the how/what/when of feeding babies, and also nutrient dense recipes to complement this information.
Beef and Marrow Stew
Appropriate age: 7 months +
This meal is comforting, nutritious and delicious for the whole family. The bone marrow adds a rich source of gelatin, collagen, zinc and iron; all vitally important for your baby.
- 2 TBSP ghee or coconut oil
- 1kg beef shin (bone in), trimmed and cut into
- big chunks, bones reserved
- 1 large onion, peeled and roughly chopped
- 2-3 carrots, peeled and cut into 2-3 inch
- finger-shaped chunks
- 2 celery stalks, trimmed and roughly chopped
- 1L bone broth
- 400g can organic whole/plum tomatoes
- 1 sprig of rosemary
- 1 sprig of thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/2 bulb of garlic, peeled
- 1 stick cinnamon
- 2 TBSP grass fed collagen
- 1 tsp rice flour
- Preheat the oven to 180C (365F). Heat 1 TBSP of ghee in a large cast iron pot over medium heat.
- Add the beef chunks in small batches to not overcrowd the pan, and brown until caramelised all over.
- Remove the beef from the pot and place in a small bowl, heat the other TBSP of ghee and gently fry the onions for 5 minutes, then add the celery, garlic and herbs and fry for a further 3 minutes.
- Add the beef back to the pot with any juices in the bowl, the reserved bones, the cinnamon stick and the tinned plum tomatoes. Pour in the bone broth and bring gently to the boil. Cover with a double-thickness piece of tinfoil and a lid and place in preheated oven for 3 hours.
- The beef is ready, when it can be broken up with a spoon, at which point remove the pot from the oven and using a slotted spoon, transfer the meat and carrots into a bowl.
- Using tongs, spoon any bone marrow out of the bones into the pot, stir and strain the stew through a sieve into a large saucepan. Discard the solids from the strainer.
- In a small bowl, mix the rice flour with 1 TBSP of cold water then add to the stew with the collagen. Stir until dissolved and bring the stew to a simmer to let it thicken slightly.
- Once simmering, transfer the meat and carrots back into the stew and stir to combine.
- Serve immediately, or store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or in the freezer for up to 3 months.If spoon feeding, you can blend the stew in a food processor or with a hand held blender until completely smooth.
Spirulina Banana Mash
Age appropriate: 6 months +
Incorporating spirulina is a great way of increasing the nutrient density of your baby’s food (and your own) and a great plant-based alternative for iron for babies on a plant-based diet. Spirulina is a complete protein, high in iron, calcium, zinc and beta-carotene. Spirulina is also a prebiotic food, which helps feed the good bacteria in the gut.
Spirulina is quite strong in flavour, so I recommend starting with a small amount. It is easily incorporated into meals, sprinkled onto baby’s foods, or added to smoothies and sauces.
- 1/2 ripe banana
- 1/4-1/2 tsp organic spirulina
- Add banana to a small bowl and mash with the back of a fork.
- Add spirulina and mix through. You can increase the amount of spirulina as your baby’s taste develops.
Notes: For BLW finger food, cut banana into finger safe shaped pieces, and sprinkle with spirulina to serve.