Ever since we started our weaning journey two months ago, I’ve been inundated with questions from other first time parents who are confused about how to start introducing their littles to proper baby food. How early should we start? How much should we be giving them? Should we buy pouches or make homemade? Is it meant to replace a bottle/boob feed? Is my baby a fussy eater?
And so to help answer some of your questions, I’ve been speaking with top chef and baby food expert Tom Redwood, founder of Babease, the brilliant baby food brand that’s been making waves in the parenting world since its launch in 2015, thanks to its innovative vegetable-led recipes and focus on premium organic ingredients that are kind to tiny tummies.
So without further ado, here’s Tom to tell us all about the rise and rise of vegetable-led weaning (and why the Government and other big brands are following suit), why fussy eaters are made (not born), his tips on making weaning a success, and why parents should trust their instincts when it comes to introducing their babies to new tastes and textures.
So how did you come up with the idea for Babease?
I’m a chef by trade, so food has always been a huge part of what I do. I’ve also always been really interested in fussy eaters, so was fascinated to learn that so much of it leads back to what food we are exposed to as children.
With that at the back of my mind, I saw my friends weaning their kids on commercial baby food, and was curious about what it tasted like. But when I tried it for the first time about six years ago, I was absolutely amazed at how sweet it was. It didn’t taste anything like what it described on the packaging. I thought, surely there is something better on the marketplace? I quickly realised though that this was the norm, as the vast majority of suppliers in the baby food industry predominantly used fruit in their recipes.
So I decided to try making a batch of my own homemade vegetable-based baby food…and our friend’s baby loved it! Then a couple of their friends started asking about it, so we made more for them and their babies loved it too. They made a joke one evening that I should turn this into a proper business, which got me thinking; is there a reason why most baby foods on the market are so sweet?
If you imagine that you start off on breastmilk or formula, that is already naturally sweet, and then if you go onto fruit, which is even sweeter, to then bring them back down to try and enjoy the savoury flavours, you’ve almost got an impossible task on your hands. And thus our journey began.
I found a couple of small kitchens and did some tests to explore the concept of vegetable based baby food, and the feedback from our baby testers was incredible! To me, this completely destroyed the theory that baby food had to be fruit based, which lots of big baby food brands were saying at the time (this was five years’ ago now). And thus I went on this mission to try and create healthier baby food that led with vegetables.
Do you have kids of your own?
Amazingly not! I come from a large family but my real passion has always been food and to try and make people better eaters. So it’s come from a passion background rather than personal experience. When I started the business, I was shocked to learn that a third of 10 to 11 year olds and a fifth of 4 to 5 year olds in the UK today are overweight or obese. This problem has to start at some stage – it doesn’t just happen overnight – which made me fully appreciate that what we are feeding babies now is setting up their mini palates for the future.
So can you tell me more about vegetable-led weaning? Are there other companies on the market doing it at the moment?
We were the first to come up with vegetable-led weaning as we felt it was important to start babies off on vegetables, to create a palate for savoury flavours. And to start off with, we were certainly on our own.
We officially launched in December 2015, and were the only vegetable-led brand on the market. But since then, slowly but surely we’ve seen the market start to go more towards our way of thinking. I’m sure we are going to see a huge increase in vegetable-based baby food in 2017, as the Government has also started talking about the importance of starting babies with vegetables rather than just fruit. So there is a definite movement towards that way, and we’re really excited to be at the forefront of it.
What’s your biggest bugbear about the baby food industry today?
We list all the ingredients in our products on the front of our packs, and I think it’s crazy that not every baby food brand does this. If you are a parent, and short on time walking along the supermarket aisle, in most cases in order to find out exactly what’s in your baby food, you have to look at the small print on the back of the packaging. But according to our research, nine times out of 10 parents don’t, which means so many people are being completely misinformed about what they are actually giving their baby to eat.
How soon should parents start thinking about weaning their baby?
We’re actually encouraging people away from the term ‘weaning’ as many people feel this means it’s all about reducing babies milk. But that’s not true at all…it should be called complementary feeding, which is what the Government is calling it now as well.
This way, the purees you are giving at the initial stages are to complement rather than replace milk. The actual weaning happens much later once they are ready to be weaned off the mother’s breast milk or the formula, depending on what you are using.
To start off with, age is not an alarm bell – it’s only a guideline. The government advice is quite clear that you should start at around six months, but no earlier than four. Keep an eye on your baby and the key signs they’re ready for solids which are things like, sitting up unaided, holding their head up, so they can support it while eating. Reaching out for food and having the coordination to be able to pick it up and put it to their mouths. And being able to swallow (babies are born with a tongue-thrust reflex which means they instinctively use their tongues to push things out of their mouths). If your baby is showing a lot of interest in what you’re eating, alongside the other key signs they’re usually ready to start. Generally though, just trust your instincts.
It’s important to remember that at the beginning, this isn’t about giving them their calories for the day – at this early stage, food is designed to be introducing taste and a bit of texture to your baby, and that’s all. Because going from milk, which is super smooth, to something a little bit lumpier, needs to happen gradually. As such, first stage pouches don’t have enough calories or protein for a full meal.
Once your little one is ready for the next stage, you not only start to add more texture, but your baby food also needs to contain more specific nutrients and food types, thereby becoming more of a complete meal. That’s why we are the first baby food brand to set a new guideline, making sure that all our Stage 2 recipes and beyond have at least the same amount of calories (or more) as breast milk, which is on average 65 calories per 100g.
Any tips for making the whole process a success?
One of the most important things when starting your weaning / complementary feeding journey is to start from the beginning, sitting down with your baby, and taking little snacks yourself at the same time as you’re feeding, if you can. Some families spoon feed on the go or in the living room, rather than the kitchen. If we can get children to associate food with family time and social occasions, it is a really good habit to get into from the beginning.
As you might have gathered already, our mission is to bring vegetable-led weaning into the mainstream, so everybody knows how important it is to get vegetables introduced to our little ones early. So I’d urge everyone to try to start your babies on vegetables as much as you can, either from pouches or homemade. Get yourself some root vegetables, roast them in the oven, steam or boil them and the puree them up. Ultimately, just have fun with it!
Whether or not you are doing baby-led weaning, it’s a great idea to start getting finger food into your little one’s hands, so they associate a carrot, say, with the carrot puree that they’re eating. So I’d really recommend giving them a stick of steamed carrot or steamed broccoli to hold / play with / suck / chew while you’re preparing their food, as this will make a huge difference to their relationship with food going forward.
What should new parents do if their baby turns its nose up at certain foods?
As a parent, if you’re feeding your little one a new type of food and they reject it, that doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t like what you are giving them. It could just be that they don’t fancy it at that moment, or they need their nappy changed, they’re tired…we’re not born disliking things. They can also pull some amazing faces when they’re trying things for the first time but don’t be put off, it doesn’t mean they’re not enjoying their new adventure with food. Just imagine how amazing it must be to taste something for the very first time!
If they do turn their nose up, try giving them the same thing again the next day, or at a different time of day. It can take up to 10-15 tastes of a food for a baby to accept it, so don’t give up!
Fussiness isn’t genetic. It’s totally down to what you are exposed to. So if you imagine that you only expose your baby to sweet foods for the first six months of their eating life, it’s no wonder they develop a sweet tooth.
I view food very much like music. Imagine that most baby foods on the market today are all your middle notes – think apples, pears, bananas, carrots. If that’s all you feed them, that’s what they’re going to be predisposed to for the rest of their life, which in your adult life equates to things like pizza, pasta, shepherd’s pie, coca cola. If you don’t introduce any high notes, which you find naturally in berries, citrus, some spices and herbs like coriander, or low notes, which can be things like sage, beetroot, mushrooms etc, then how can you expect that you baby will have a balanced appetite?
So every time I’m cooking, even for myself, I always come back to that analogy of music.
What’s your favourite flavour for your range?
I think that the pumpkin and pea is a very nice mild one to start off with, as is our butternut squash, carrot and broccoli pouch. Also, I would suggest trying the sweet potato, carrot and cauliflower…I can’t decide. They’re all good!
Being a chef, I don’t ever stop in the kitchen and, alongside our in house nutritionist and dietician, we always have new recipes in the pipeline. I think that’s one of the things that really makes us stand out from the crowd. We’re always looking for new and interesting flavour combinations as we really believe it is important to stimulate your little one’s palate from day one.
I’m also really proud of one of our stage two recipes – our chickpea, pumpkin, tomato and coconut cream with herbs and mild masala – which was up for a major food award recently in a category featuring loads of established adult products…and I’m pleased to say that we won for flavour! As this shows, we really do pride ourselves on creating food that tastes amazing, whatever your age.
What challenges did you have to go through before launching the brand?
Well, baby food isn’t an easy industry to get into. There are lots of hoops you have to jump through and a lot of stiff regulations to abide by. So, I just made sure I was surrounded by experts who knew what they were doing and how to guide us from the very beginning, from selecting the correct ingredients through to which tests needed to be done both on the ingredients and then post production, to help us create the best product possible.
As an entrepreneur, I personally think the most important thing to do is find the experts with the skills you don’t have, but which complement your own, to help you grow your business, that will be a success for years to come.
So how did you get in front of all the big name retailers and grab their attention?
It’s certainly not easy! As I’m sure you can imagine, they get hundreds if not thousands of approaches every day. But I think the most important thing is to have a product that you believe in, that is innovative or different enough to get attention. And just be persistent! We did it the old fashioned way, by sending emails, often to generic buyers’ addresses, and then if you’re lucky, you get sorted through. But persistence is key.
What’s your proudest moment for the business so far?
As a company we try to celebrate every achievement, as every one is hugely important. From the first listing with Ocado and getting chosen as official stockists by Boots and Tesco, to winning the recent awards or even finding a new farmer to work with, we’re really proud of it all.
As I’m a chef, I really care about where our ingredients come from and I’m convinced that mums and dads across the country also care about that too and assume that the industry goes to great lengths to find the best ingredients. Obviously there are a lot of companies that do, but we really go above and beyond in that respect. Lots of our ingredients are local. For example, we use local British quinoa, we work with farmers to grow pumpkins, carrots, onions, all sorts, and we even grow our own Kaffir Lime Leaves. All our products are also made in the UK – in Wales in the wonderful Brecon Beacons – which is really uncommon. As a business, our ambition is to use as much British grown ingredients as possible.
I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s interview with Tom Redwood, the brilliant chef behind baby food brand Babease! We’ve been using their range of vegetable-led pouches with Teddy since he was four months old, and can thoroughly recommend them on flavour (I’ve tried them and they are delicious, even for adults!). Available to buy from Ocado, Boots, Tesco and via their website here.
So have you embarked on your weaning journey yet? Any top tips for others about to start? As always, we’d love to hear from you, so please do share your experiences and recommendations with the group via the comments section below.