THE SENSORY SIDE OF WEANING by The Children’s Nutritionist

Weaning your baby is an incredibly exciting time. It’s such an important milestone in your little one’s life and it’s likely to be the messiest…but that’s no bad thing! 

Did you know that all of the mess helps your baby’s brain develop? 

A baby’s growing brain is ever so sensitive to changes in its environment and your baby uses all of their senses to notice these changes and learn from them. 

By letting your little one experience foods though their sensory system you are giving them the opportunity to create new pathways in their brain and therefore learn.

Research even suggests that encouraging your little one to explore food in this way will help them to accept a wider range of foods as they become older and may even prevent fussy eating.

Colours

Food that has visual appeal will stimulate your little one’s sense of sight – similar to you or I, babies ‘eat with their eyes’. 

Letting your baby simply see food is the very first step of them accepting it. 

As you bring the food closer to their eating space their visual sense becomes more engaged and this is where the other senses will start to be involved.

Textures

For every new texture that you expose your little one to you are helping them to experience the sense of touch. The new sensations on their fingers when they pick up the food and also in their mouth when they explore and eat it. 

These new experiences are so valuable in helping your little one to accept many different foods as they get older to prevent fussy eating.

Shapes

Allowing your little one to explore a wide variety of shapes and sizes of foods will help them to work on their motor skills.

These shapes also help them to build connections in their brain that improve their ‘cognitive development’ or understanding of the world around them.

Flavour

Believe it or not, but you can add spices to your baby’s food.

Learning about flavours actually happens before your baby is born as the amniotic fluid in your womb takes on the flavour of the food you eat, and breastmilk does this too. So by the time your baby is ready for weaning, they may already have an adventurous palate.

There are some flavours to avoid, salt for example isn’t good for babies, their kidneys are just not yet mature enough to deal with it and do check the food labels as some spice mixes have added sugars too.

Great herbs and spices to start with include paprika, garlic, basil, cumin, cinnamon, ginger, sage and yes, you can introduce chilli but my advice would be to take it slowly!

Top tips

Let’s look at some of the best ways for you to provide your little one a sensory experience:

  • Try to prepare food with your baby watching – let them see how you touch the food and how it transitions from raw ingredients into something that smells and tastes wonderful
  • Cook all the colours of the rainbow – this doesn’t need to be all in one meal or all in one day but it could be!
  • Take care over how you present the food.  Your little one might be too young to appreciate fun animal shapes but they will appreciate a fun plate such as the new Nuby 100% rice husk tableware.
  • Talk to your little one about colours on their plate, this actually helps develop language skills!
  • Add herbs and spices to their weaning foods, stewed apples taste amazing with a sprinkle of cinnamon and sage goes really well with chicken.
  • Help your baby learn how to bite and chew through role-modelling the movements that you would like to see – this works best if you are eating the same foods as your little one and at the same time.
  • Don’t be afraid to let your baby get messy! Wearing the food is all part of the sensory experience and is them exploring their sense of touch.
  • There’s no such thing as too much ‘playing with your food’.  Try to offer a range of textures in a meal and let them smear and poke and rub as much as they like to get those brains firing!
  • Try some messy play away from the table too.  Messy play can be ‘clean’ such as knocking over towers of cucumber rings and driving toy cars through dried pulses or if you’re brave enough play with custard or yoghurt!
  • Try not to clean your baby before the end of the meal (uless food goes in their eyes).  Letting them experience the sensation of food on their skin and in their hair will help them to become more comfortable with food in the coming years
  • When it comes to the end of the meal, let your baby help you to clean themselves by bringing them a bowl of warm, soapy water and a flannel to let them splash around rather than bringing out the wipes.

The key to successful weaning is to let your baby be the one to decide whether he wants to pick the food up and put it in his mouth or in his hair or whether it’s thrown on the floor for the dog or the cat (frustrating as this may be).

Let them explore all of the wonderful tastes, colours, shapes, smells and textures that food has to offer in the way that they want to do it and watch your little one’s relationship with food flourish.

About the author: Sarah Almond Bushell is a registered dietitian and blogger. You can read more of her blogs over at www.childrensnutrition.co.uk and follow her on Instagram @thechildrensnutritionist

*All of the opinions and advice shared in this blog are those of Sarah Almond Bushell. They are based on her own experiences and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organisation, employer or company.

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