Feeding can be fun

Sou'wester and kagoul on? In the second part of a series we're introducing your baby to solid food. By Charlotte Preston and Trevor Dunton
Mealtimes can be a major cause of parental grief. Whereas sleep, or the lack of it, can be a problem for you, the concern around feeding is very much centred on your baby. Every parent worries whether their baby is eating the right stuff in the right quantity to be healthy and happy. We focus on making the transition from milk to solid food as smooth and stress-free as possible, and also on establishing healthy eating habits so that your baby develops an enquiring and open attitude towards food.

If your baby's first months require few dietary decisions, the introduction of "real" food at around four months brings many questions. What do you give him to eat? What will he like? Where do you stand on the sweets, chocolate and fizzy drinks issue? And how do you know when to start? A couple of clues to look out for are when your baby gets excited when you're eating and looks greedily at your dinner, and when feeds are becoming more frequent and he doesn't seem as satisfied.

Be prepared. During the third month kit yourself out with the basic weaning kit - industrial-size plastic bibs, plastic bowls and spoons and the life- saving blender. The Little Terror Good Feeding Guide gives step-by-step guidelines on weaning, what foods to give and how to adapt feeding habits for each phase of development. But whatever the phase, the following general principles apply.

1. Whether you're just about to start weaning or trying to introduce table manners to your toddler, the key is to be relaxed. If you can handle him in an unflustered, sensitive way when he's spitting out your lovingly prepared food, he's less likely to develop more serious eating problems. In practice this means:

praising good behaviour and ignoring bad - baby can quickly learn to manipulate mealtimes; trying to be patient if he dawdles, and not wearing designer clothes when feeding - assume you'll get pebble-dashed and dress accordingly.

2. Make mealtimes fun. If you're just in from work, feeding your baby may be the last thing you feel like doing, but mealtimes are great for getting to know each other. Even if you're eating later, join him with a cup of tea. He'll learn that mealtimes are special, something you do together.

3. Make sure he's not overtired. A sleepy child rarely has an appetite.

4. Making fresh nutritious food need not be a chore. First, keep it simple - you don't have to rival Marco Pierre White! Second, plan ahead - make extra and freeze ice-cube size portions. Also keep stocked up on healthy convenience foods eg bananas, avocados and milk.

5. Research has shown that babies are far more open to new tastes and flavours than was previously thought, but if offered only bland foods he will quickly become one of the turkey nugget brigade. Keep experimenting with new tastes, colours and textures.

6. What to give? Unlike adults and over-fives, babies need lots of calories and fats to help them grow and develop. Good examples are dairy produce, oily fish and avocados. You can start to reduce the fat content of your child's food after two years but he'll need full-fat milk up to the age of five.

7. The best drink is plain water. Fruit juice must be diluted 1:5 with water. Limit sweet drinks to special occasions rather than as a daily indulgence.

8. Most babies will need to snack between their three main meals. But go for healthy options such as fresh fruit, rice cakes, raw carrots or dried apricots.

Finally, if you're worried about over- or under-eating, check your baby's growth against the centile chart in your baby book. If he's overweight, check whether he's having too many milk feeds in addition to his meals. Granny might need to hold back on those daily doughnuts.

If you can introduce him to a rich and varied diet from the start, you'll be opening him up to one of life's greatest pleasures.

The Little Terror guides by Charlotte Preston and Trevor Dunton are published by Metro Books, price pounds 2.99