3. What foods can my baby have while weaning?

Hero image dad and baby

Find out what foods to use first when weaning a premature baby, and how to introduce more foods.

Make sure you talk to your health professional about any additional nutritional needs your baby may have, especially if they were born very early or have complex care needs.

What sort of foods should I start feeding my baby?

When you start weaning, your baby will only take a small amount of food as they get used to something new. Milk will still be their main food for many months.

You only need to offer food once a day to start with. You can follow your baby’s cues and gradually build up the number of meals. Remember to take your time and go at your baby’s pace.

First foods may be smooth or mashed, or you may choose to offer more textured foods early on. Visit our page about introducing textured foods for more information - Introducing textured foods.

You can feed your baby using a small soft plastic spoon, with your hands, or your baby may feed themselves by hand. You can give your baby a spoon to hold as you feed them, either with some food already on it, or empty.

It’s not a good idea to put baby cereal into a bottle. It doesn’t help your baby put on weight or learn how to eat solid food and it can mean they don’t drink enough fluid.

If you buy baby food in pouches, empty the food into a bowl and let your baby feed themselves, or use a spoon. This helps your baby learn to eat, rather than just sucking directly from the pouch, and can help reduce the risk of tooth decay.

There are no special types of first weaning foods that are better for preterm babies. However, it is helpful to use as many home-prepared foods as you can. Gradually build up the range of tastes you offer.

Weaning can be really enjoyable. Take your time and watch them discover new foods, textures, and learn new skills. Don't be afraid to offer your baby the same foods you're having.

Alex, dad to Freddie, born at 26 weeks

The benefits of home-prepared meals:

  • They can help your baby move on to eating family meals, as the flavours will be more familiar to them.
  • They are easier to prepare to the texture your baby can manage.
  • They are usually cheaper and can be more nutritious than shop-bought baby foods.
  • They are encouraged by the British Dental Association as many commercial baby foods are high in sugar and processed foods, which are bad for babies’ teeth.
  • You can build up the different tastes of your baby’s meals by trying various different combinations of foods.
  • It is a good idea to cook a batch of food that can be frozen in small portions (for example in ice cube trays), to use later.
  • Of course, there are always times when shop-bought food is useful and easier to use, and that is fine. It can also be mixed with home-made food.

Good to know

There are some foods you shouldn’t give your baby in the first year of life.

For more information visit the NHS Start 4 Life website - Safe Weaning | Foods To Avoid | Start for Life

Some ideas for first foods you might like to try are:

  • Baby rice (made up with your baby’s usual milk), either on its own or with cooked fruit or vegetables.
  • Cooked, starchy, mashed vegetables such as potato, sweet potato or yam.
  • Other vegetables cooked and mashed, such as carrot, broccoli or squash.
  • Cooked or raw mashed soft fruit, with skin and pips removed, such as apple, pear, peach, banana, or avocado.
  • Cooked, mashed, split lentils without skins.
  • Scrambled or mashed boiled eggs (using your baby’s usual milk to mash) - make sure they have the Red Lion Stamp on them. For more information about the Red Lion Stamp, visit their website - British Lion Eggs.
  • Cooked, soft or pureed meat or fish, mixed with baby rice or vegetables.
Fruit comp bigger

Useful tips for introducing food

Our top tip is to make and freeze purees in ice cube trays so you have small portions of a variety of flavours ready on hand for whenever they might seem interested.

Michelle, mum to Chloe

Here are some other useful tips as you progress weaning:

  • Babies often like strong tastes so, it’s fine to add garlic, onion, herbs, or spices to your baby’s food if you use them in your own cooking.
  • If you need some liquid to soften mashed food, use your baby’s usual milk. If you use stock or gravy, it should be salt-free.
  • Avoid adding salt, sugar, or honey to your baby’s food.
  • If you enjoy food with chilli, introduce it gradually for your baby’s’ food.

And some other useful guidance on foods and meals:

Follow these links for many different meal ideas and recipes at each stage of weaning:

Follow these links for more information on safe preparation of your baby’s food:

If you are concerned about your baby’s bowel habits during weaning, such as constipation or loose stools, contact your GP or Health Visitor.

Preterm babies can appear to have digestive problems, pulling faces and being quite noisy around mealtimes.

As long as their poo is soft there is not usually any cause for concern, and they will gradually get used to the sensations in their stomach.

If you are concerned your baby might have acid reflux, visit our page about it for more information - Bliss Reflux Information.

What if my baby refuses food while weaning?

Refusing food is very common in young children – it’s all part of their learning. If your baby refuses food, instead of offering another mouthful, stop and wait to see if they give you cues that they want to try again.

Don’t force them to take more food. Your baby will show you signs that they have had enough.

Start with small amounts of food to begin with, especially if you are trying a new food - and don't expect it all to be eaten. If your baby doesn’t seem to like a particular food at first, it is likely to be because it is not familiar to them.

If you are spoon feeding, offer the spoon gently. Only put it into your baby’s mouth if they open their mouth to accept the food.

Babies pick up on how others are feeling, so try not to show any anxiety or frustration at mealtimes as it might put your baby off eating.

Gradually increase the amount you offer in response to how much your baby is eating. Once you think they have had enough, take away any leftovers and don’t comment on what they haven’t eaten.

Even if you think they haven't had enough to eat, don't worry. They will usually eat more when offered food later that day or the day after. None of us eats the same amount of food at every mealtime.

How do I know if my baby has had enough to eat?

Here are some examples of cues that your baby has finished eating:

  • Turning their head away.
  • Pushing the spoon away.
  • Spitting food out.
  • Losing concentration.
  • Becoming restless, and easily distracted by other things.
  • Try not to wait until your baby begins to get bored, upset or cry before offering a different food or ending the meal.

Most babies will eat what they want in the first 20 minutes or so of a meal. After that they may carry on exploring food and eating a little, but it is fine to stop the meal when they begin to lose interest.

Your baby will let you know when they have had enough food and are ready to end a mealtime. Over time, you will learn the cues that your baby gives to tell you they are finished with eating before they get bored or distressed.

Reasons your baby may refuse food

All babies will refuse food at some stage. Your baby may do this because:

  • The food is too hot or too cold
  • They are tired
  • They are already full
  • They are not yet used to the food’s taste or texture
  • They are feeling unwell

Exposure to new foods increases their acceptance

For all babies, weaning is a time to learn about tastes and textures which are very different from the milk they are used to.

Sometimes a new food is greeted with a grimace or a gag - even if it isn’t lumpy - or pushed out of the baby’s mouth.

However, it has been shown that offering the same food several times over a few weeks can increase a baby’s familiarity with the food and help them learn to enjoy it.

We all tend to like and accept foods we are more familiar with, and this is the same for babies.