"What I hadn’t factored in was that for the first few months of weaning, bottle feeding sessions largely progress as before, whilst we were, after ramping up, doing 3 solid meals with the babies too!"
(TG = Twin Girl, TB = Twin Boy)
It’s recommended that you start weaning from 6 months unless there are specific dietary or health related reasons to do it earlier. There are a few things we were looking for to know that the twins were ready - being able to sit in the high chair and hold their head up, have the coordination to be able to get food into their mouth (or there abouts 🤣) and the ability to swallow food, not spit it out (other than for their own amusement 🤦).
For us, 6 months was about right. Even though we had just gotten into a pretty smooth routine, especially around bottle feeds, I was still super excited to start the babies eating with us because it was such a big milestone for them and it was already great fun having them at the table with us watching us eat so that we could role model the process for them. I was also keen because bottle feeding was taking up a big part of our day, and so longer term I was looking forward to us all sitting and eating together in one go!
What I hadn’t factored in was that for the first few months of weaning, bottle feeding sessions largely progress as before, whilst we were, after ramping up, doing 3 solid meals with the babies too! This was actually one of the busiest times for us, and came as a bit of a surprise to me as in general they were becoming a bit more independent!
Method to the Madness!
The first thing we did (ok, my wife did!) was map out a feeding plan of what we were feeding the children when. We wanted to make sure we had all the ingredients we needed in the house...
From the first meal, we let the twins feed themselves. I have never spoon fed either of them more than the odd mouthful. They just seemed to intuitively know what to do and even had a go at using their little spoons, which was so cute...
What went well/Not so well!
The role modelling and getting the kids involved in meal times before they even started eating made the entire experience of them getting into food so much easier and more enjoyable...
Method to the Madness
The first thing we did (ok, my wife did) was map out a feeding plan of what we were feeding the children when. We wanted to make sure we had all the ingredients we needed in the house (we were still under Covid restrictions, so it was quite hard to pop out for things) and also that we were introducing foods in a structured way so that the twins developed a broad palette - we relied heavily on SR Nutrition's advice (specialising in evidence based child nutrition) on what foods to introduce, when. We started with plain and bitter vegetables (their first meal was broccoli which they loved!) so that twins developed a taste for these first and then gradually introduce other foods.
Weaning day 1 - Broccoli!
If sweet foods are introduced first, children can develop a preference for them which makes introducing a border range of more healthy but less sweet foods more difficult later on. After the first couple of weeks we introduced other foods gradually, starting with sweater vegetables and then on to meat, pasta, and eventually just shared what we were eating with them. At this point we also added in additional nutrients and flavours where we could, like .nutritional yeast, which I had never heard of, or adding nut butters (as part of our allergen tests, see below) to yoghurt
Amongst everything else we had going on finding time to prepare fresh food initially felt like a big ask. At first we steamed vegetables to both preserve the nutrients in the food and also keep the flavour as close to the original as possible so the twins got a real taste. This could be a little time consuming, but it was easy enough to refrigerate an extra portion for the next day. As we varied food more, we found batch cooking for the kids and then refrigerating/freezing this for later didn't actually take much longer than using pre-packaged food, as once the initial batch was done, you just have a quick reheat to do.
We avoided processed foods pretty much completely, even “no added sugar baby” foods seemed to often contain refined fructose (e.g. apple juice) which has much the same effect on the body as sugar, leading to energy spikes and crashes (hello hyperactivity) so we wanted to avoid where possible until the children were a bit older. Babies also can’t process salt, so we had to watch out for this in cooking and anything we brought specially for them - it was crazy that even “reduced” salt and sugar food, often still had a lot of them in!
A food processor was a massive help for us in making purees and chopping/grating veg to go into porridge sticks etc. It also turns out babies can take several sittings to get used to a new food (up to 13!) and TB especially looked pretty disgusted by everything we had him try initially, but then went on to eat it all up. Patience, and persistence in trying a food at more than one sitting was key!
Allergens also needed to be considered in the plan both in terms of small tests for allergies and also to introduce them to the allergens slowly to build up a natural tolerance. This involved things like putting a small amount of nut butters into other dishes to give them some exposure. Of course, when doing this, we needed to be even more attentive at feeding times and after, looking for rashes or any other untoward side effects.
One epic piece of advice we got was to put an old sheet underneath the babies high chairs, and after every meal you can just pick this up and go shake it off/put it in the wash. This was a godsend and honestly saved our floor from foodageddon every day! We also purchased bibs that cover the baby and the highchair trays, and most of the gaps between the two, this generally stopped food going all over their clothes and the highchair, which means you don't need to change them after every meal.
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1. We started modelling eating behaviour early, by having the twins at the dinner table with us once we felt comfortable they were safe to be in a high chair, and let them hold a spoon so they could practice gripping it.
2. We began a version of baby led weaning with one meal a day, and gradually over a month or so ramped up to 3 - bottles did start to drop off, but there was a lag, so we unexpectedly lost time overall in the short term as we had to do both!
3. We (Laura!) had a plan for which foods we were introducing when, with vegetables first, to give the broadest pallet possible, and we gave them a combination of puree and finger food so they would get used to different textures. There were allergens to consider which need to be tested and introduced gradually and attentively.
4. We let the twins feed themselves from the start with finger food, although they put in a surprisingly good (if messy) effort with a spoon! With multiples, this is really important as spoon feeding 2 or more is super time consuming.
5. We fed as much home made fresh produce as possible, and started with a single steamed vegetable served as finger food and puréed so they could get used to different textures and so as not to create a sweet tooth and choosy eaters. This was less effort than we thought it would be as we batch cooked and froze portions.
6. Young children cannot process salt, and lots of pre-packaged foods contain this and sugar (which we were trying to avoid), or refined fructose like apple juice, which is basically sugar. When buying ingredients or the occasional convenience food, we had to check the labels thoroughly!
7. As our twins were generally healthy and a good weight, we didn’t worry how much they ate. Children are machines for self regulation, and for the first month or so really they were just getting into the habit and “tasting” new foods. It was also important that they felt in control of their mealtimes.
8. We tried not to worry if eating was a messy experience! The twins were learning about textures and experimenting with food, which was a good thing and avoids any accidental anxiety created around food and "neatness".
9. We avoided praising eating. There is now a fairly accepted link between overzealous praising of eating and dietary problems in later life (e.g. clearing plate vs stopping when full). As per our general philosophy, we focussed on praising the effort and skills involved, and generally narrating the entire experience (e.g. “you are working really hard to eat”, and “you are using your spoon to put food in your mouth”).
10. We tried to keep the whole experience relaxed so that the children never felt any anxiety about mealtimes. We were patient as they ate, respected them if they didn't want to eat (thankfully rarely) and just hoped subsequent meals or their milk feeds would make up the difference (which they have so far).
11. We both watched a ton of videos on what to do if the twins choked, so it was drilled into our brains should anything ever happen.
From the first meal, we let the twins feed themselves. I have never spoon fed either of them more than the odd mouthful. Even on day 1, they just seemed happy picking things up and putting them in their mouth and even had a go at using their little spoons, which was so cute! I think the role modelling helped here as they had been watching us eat at the table for weeks, and we had even let them hold their spoons once they could grip so they could relate them to the eating experience. With multiples, this was really important as spoon feeding 2 is super time consuming and leads to frustrations if you cant keep up with both's demands.
We avoided praising eating in general as there are links between overzealous praising of eating and dietary problems in later life. A common example is someone who is compelled to clear their plate, even if they were full up ages ago. Not great for the waistline! This type fo thing can originate with being praised for finishing a plate as a child, rather than being allowed to stop eating when full (or even force fed!). We left it up to the twins to decide independently when to start eating and when they had finished, and trusted that they knew when they were full. When we did praise we focussed on the effort and skills involved, and generally narrating the entire experience to make it fun and engaging (e.g. “you really like strawberries”, “you are using your spoon to put food in your mouth”, "you are taking really big bites!").
As part of our Montessori inspired philosophy, from very early on we used clear glass bowls and open top drinking glasses, along with metal spoons and eventually forks (about 14 months). This was to get the children used to the feel of proper dinnerware, and to help them realise that if you tip things up when they have something in them, then they spill (and if thrown, can break! 😖)! We hoped this would get them ready for eating and drinking without making a load of mess sooner and also has been handy from time to time when out and about, as they can drink from a normal cup or glass.
We haven't really had any major dramas with mealtimes in terms of getting the kids to sit and participate, although there have been times when they were not overly keen to get into their high chairs. We found most of the time that talking to them calmly about what we were doing, giving them options (do you need help, or can you sit on your own? Would you like to sit here, or go to the playroom?), and some time worked. Once we started showing them how to do up the buckle, they got really into helping us with them which helped!
We tried to keep the whole experience relaxed so that the children never felt any anxiety about mealtimes. It’s tough when you have prepared a really nice meal for them and they don’t want to eat or even worse start throwing it around the room. We remained patient as they ate (TB could take a bit of time to get going), respected them if they didn't want to eat (thankfully rarely) and just hoped their milk feeds would make up the difference (which they have so far).
Throwing food in some cases was a symptom of them being in a Trajectory schema (i.e. they are interested in movement, and throw things as part of their development and learning process).There isn’t a great deal you can do about this, we did our best to remain calm, try and notice when the behaviour was schema driven (i.e. have they been throwing things all day?) and worst case scenario take away any breakables and eventually remove any leftovers as soon as the offender seemed finished. We would say calmly and only a few times “we don’t throw food” but didn’t want to overreact in case it turned into an attention grabbing behaviour.
We are lucky that both TB and TG eat well, and rarely do we have any quantity concerns, but certainly when they are sick, teething or in some other way already a bit out of sorts, appetites tend to be smaller too. If they had for any reason stopped eating sooner than we would have liked, we would trust that they knew they were done, and other than checking with them just in case, we wouldn't try to feed them further, and certainly wouldn't put pressure on them to finish.
I had no idea about the initial risk of choking to a young baby as they learn to eat - I was shocked when I found out! (as if we don't have enough possible ways for a fatalities as it is 😧). With twins it meant for the first few weeks we made sure we were both around for feeds just in case both twins started chocking at once 😟 We both watched a ton of videos on what to do if the twins choked, so it was drilled into our brains should anything ever happen. Thankfully nothing ever did, but on the odd occasion there was even a little bit of choking and retching it was pretty scary!
What went well?
The role modelling and getting the kids involved in meal times before they started eating made the entire experience of them getting into food so much easier and more enjoyable. They already knew what we were doing, what was expected, and were super keen to get involved the first day we tried.
The bibs and floor sheet!!! This made clearing up a pretty straight forward exercise, especially with multiples where we had 2x the mess, we could just relax and know that damage (for the most part!) will be contained!
To date at least, the kids eat well, and eat everything. For sure, some days they are a little more picky, or eat less overall, but we have yet to find anything they won’t eat. There is a bit of a health warning on this - we have heard from several sources that once children reach the age of 2 -3, regardless of how well they ate as babies, they get pretty picky - we’ll see!
The batch cooking and freezing was massively helpful as it meant that we always had something in the freezer in an emergency, especially on one of “those” days…
What would we have done differently?
Whilst I am still a fan of the glass tableware as it definitely has helped the children get used to eating and drinking from “normal” utensils, I am not 100% sure that it has taught them that things spill and that they shouldn't tip them over. They still regularly tip and even throw these around, and with them being glass (albeit toughened), we do have the odd casualty. As they have gotten older they sometimes take great pleasure in showing us how they can tip their contents out of them (and pile food up in their half-drunk glasses). It’s super cute, and the throwing tends to coincide with them being in a “trajectory” schema, so I don’t think there is any inherent naughtiness here, just exploration, but is not quite the orderly eating experience I was hoping for a year on! We do have some bamboo and silicone plates that we use when we feel like throwing is in the air and we just cant cope with the possibility of a breakage!
We have been super relaxed about mess and spillages etc especially with the sheet and bibs in play, as they save us from a lot of collateral damage. I definitely think this is the only way to not have a massively stressful experience of eating for everyone, but I am wondering how we are going to “neaten things up” before we remove the bibs and sheet. I suspect it will sort itself out with time, but I need to do some digging on how we might assist them with this in a child-led way. Case in point, TB loves cleaning so much he has recently started throwing food and asking for "shoom shoom" (the hoover) to clean it up🤦♂️