Sensory Weaning is a term used to describe an approach to the transition from milk to solid food which engages all of your baby's senses. By helping your baby to use their sight, smell, touch, sound, internal cues and physicality, as well as taste, to explore their food – in a process we call Sensory Weaning – you’re building incredible foundations for food acceptance from the very start of your baby’s
Tidy Tot has worked together with award-winning Children’s Nutritionist & Baby Weaning Expert Sarah Almond Bushell to bring you all need to know about this approach to weaning, and why involving all of your baby’s senses in their weaning journey can serve to develop happy and confident little eaters.
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Your Sensory Weaning Questions Answered
What is Sensory Weaning?
Sensory Weaning is an approach to the transition from milk to solid food which engages all of your baby's senses. By helping your baby to use their sight, smell, touch, sound, internal cues and physicality, as well as taste, to explore their food – in a process we call Sensory Weaning – you’re building incredible foundations for food acceptance from the very start of your baby’s
The idea that using all of a child's senses when engaging with food can be beneficial in tackling fussy easting, food acceptance and childhood obesity is so widely accepted it now forms part of the Department for Education's EYFS curriculum under the topic of Sensory Food Education – a curriculum that encourages children to explore food using all their senses, to help them learn
to love eating vegetables and fruit for life.
What senses are involved in Sensory Weaning?
Learning to eat is the most complex sensory task that your baby has to do in his first year of life. There are eight different senses that he has to integrate and coordinate in the correct way in order to eat and there are 32 sensory steps he must go through before a new food is learned. It’s an intricate process!
The senses we talk about in Sensory Weaning are:
Tactile (touch, textures)
Proprioception (location/orientation of self in space e.g movement)
Vestibular (balance and orientation of self in relation to gravity)
Interoception (the ability to read and interpret internal bodily signal e.g feeling hunger)
How do we start our Sensory Weaning journey?
Using all of our senses to learn about food thankfully now forms part of the Department for Education's EFYS curriculum under the topic of Sensory Food Education.
We believe that using our senses to develop a love of food need not wait until pre-school, and nor should it. By helping your baby use their sight, smell, touch
and sound, as well as taste, to explore their food you’re building incredible foundations for food acceptance from the
very start of your baby’s weaning journey.
It doesn’t really matter which style of weaning you choose, whether it be spoon-feeding or Baby-Led Weaning- it is possible to incorporate the principles of Sensory Weaning into your weaning journey.
Whichever method you go with, your little one needs to be involved, getting their hands stuck in, exploring a wide variety of different textures and understanding how food feels, sounds, smells, moves and tastes. This lies at the heart of Sensory Weaning.
Your baby is usually ready for solids at around 6 months of age, sometimes it’s earlier but they’re not developmentally ready before 17 weeks. If you want to check for signs of developmental readiness you can access a guide here. If your baby was born premature, or you want to start weaning before 6 months, we recommend always checking with a health professional before you start.
Need some help with the mess?
Don’t worry! With our award-winning range of sensory trays and baby weaning bibs, we really do have you covered!
Our Tidy Tot Bib & Tray Kit is an essential for Sensory Weaning with young babies. The large sensory tray gives babies an extended surface on which to confidently explore their food by keeping it comfortably within reach. The tray has a lip around the rim to stop food rolling to the floor and is wide enough to prevent babies from dropping food over the sides.
The kit includes a coverall bib which attaches to the sensory tray to eliminate the gap between baby and highchair, reducing food waste and messy seats!
For active toddlers, our Long Length Coverall Bib provides front-and-back protection from food mess and spills making it perfect for creative play too!
All of our bibs are machine washable and quick dry, and the Bib & Tray Kit sensory tray is 100% food safe and wipe clean.
How can I help & encourage my baby?
You can encourage your baby on his Sensory Weaning journey by:
Offering all sorts of different textures including crunchy (think savoury puffs), wet (think purees or yoghurt), chewy (think a strip of slow-cooked beef or dark chicken meat) and soft solids (pancakes, pasta, bread or cheese). Avoid hard solids until your baby is good at chewing and has teeth (think raw carrot sticks). It's absolutely fine to let your baby eat with their hands - and smearing and squishing encouraged!
If you're introducing a new food, texture or flavour, it can help with food acceptance if this is served separately, albeit alongside, familiar foods. Try our Silicone Suction Plate which has 3 divided sections to help with this.
If you’re using a spoon to feed your baby, it's a great idea to let them have one too and let them dig in.
If they end up with food all over their face and hands, try to leave it there for the duration of the meal. Wiping faces mid meal can be quite uncomfortable and distracting for your baby. Wait until mealtime is over, although it’s ok to wipe little hands if you think they are going to put them in their eyes! We recommend our baby soft Bamboo Wash Mitts for the clean up, which support independent wiping.
Eat some of the food too. Get it on your hands and raise your hands to your mouth – this shows your baby what to do. They learn best from copying you.
How to introduce flavour when Sensory Weaning?
Taking a Sensory Weaning approach to introducing new flavours can be incredibly beneficial. Treat each spice like a new food. Introduce them to your baby slowly and individually, and remember it may take a good number of exposures before your baby gets this new flavour anywhere near their mouth. This is fine, and totally normal. Leave a few days between each one to assess any potential sensitivities (better to be safe).
Herbs and spices have different characteristics. It is important to begin with ‘baby friendly’ aromatic spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, ginger, garlic, turmeric, coriander and cumin. Hotter spices (chilli, black pepper, paprika) which create a sense of heat and trigger pain receptors should be introduced later at around 1 year in small quantities.
We'd also recommend you start with a whole herb or spice infusion. This could be subtle tastes from homemade stocks or whole spices added to food and then removed. Next you can use just a pinch of ground herbs or spices. You’d be surprised how a little goes a long way. Think about the quantity of food vs the amount of herb or spice you add – over seasoning could lead to overwhelming the meal. View Full Blog
But what about the mess?
It’s a very messy business and it really needs to be otherwise your little one won’t get the full exposure and benefit of learning about food.
This is where the Tidy Tot Bib and Tray Kit really helps. It uses a coverall bib with integrated tray to keep your little one’s clothes, highchair and floor pristine; allowing them to get fully emerged in their sensory weaning experience, learning all the way, but without the timely clean-up for you.
Weaning is a Sensory Processes
The different sensory processes happen in different areas of the brain and the more sensory experiences your baby has the more his brain develops. Letting your little one get stuck in means that he is stimulating his brain, forming neural connections from one area to another which leads to learning new skills and behaviours.
It’s natural for babies to actively seek out this type of play but unfortunately, you can’t give a 6-month-old finger paint, a sand pit or play dough to immerse themselves in as they will just eat it, so food is your best option. Furthermore whilst playing with food – that fist covered in carrot puree? It will eventually make its way to your baby’s mouth and he will notice that it has a taste too – this becomes the very first experience of self-feeding.