I love introducing solids to my babies. The looks on their faces as they taste their first “real” foods are priceless. With each of my kids I have loosely followed a baby-led weaning philosophy. My third baby, Zoey, is almost six months. She sits up pretty well, and is very interested in food. So it’s time to introduce her to the world of “real” food.
The other day, my husband asked, “When does Zoey get her first drumstick?” It’s a little unconventional for a first food, but eating a chicken drumstick is a rite of passage in our home.
What is baby-led weaning?
Baby-led weaning requires no purees. Instead of being spoon fed, babies sit at the table and feed themselves soft foods which are initially cut into thick strips. Babies are generally ready to start solids when they can sit up, are interested in food, and have the ability to grab something with their fist and bring their fist to their mouth, usually around 4-6 months. As baby’s fine motor skills develop and he is able to pick up small things with the pincer grasp the preparation of food can become more flexible.
In a baby-led weaning context, “weaning” means introducing solids and moving away from a milk-only diet. Breast milk/formula will continue to be a vital source of nutrition for at least the first year.
Why I Love Baby-Led Weaning
Honestly, baby-led weaning is easier for me. I don’t enjoy the thought of making purees. Since I’m already using whole foods for the meals I’m making, it’s easy to modify certain parts of the meal to accommodate my budding foodie. And besides, many of the initial foods don’t require much prep.
I also love baby-led weaning because it facilitates family meal times. I don’t have to focus on spooning food into baby’s mouth. I’m often up and down a lot during meals, but I like that at least in theory all five of us could be eating at the same time.
Baby-led weaning is also great because it exposes the baby to lots of different tastes and textures– each meal becomes a “sensory experience.” Yes it can get messy, but I have to let my baby eat, so why not make it a fun learning experience?
One additional bonus is that baby-led weaning supports and encourage fine motor skill development and hand-eye coordination. There’s nothing quite as motivating as a plate of yummy food in front of your face!
Favorite Baby-Led Weaning Foods
Three of my favorite first foods are avocados, bananas, and chicken drumsticks.
Avocados are packed with nutrients, they’re smooth and creamy, and easy to prep. I found that it’s best to select avocados that aren’t over-ripe and then cut them into thick slices (think maybe six-eight slices of avocado). If they’re too ripe or cut too thinly they just kind of mush when baby tries to pick it up. When the avocados are prepped this way baby can grab them with his fist, but he’ll still have some avocado sticking out of the ends to eat. Avocados are a great “to-go” food since I can throw the whole avocado in my bag and prep when it’s time to eat.
Bananas are another great “to-go” food. It’s also important to select bananas that aren’t too ripe and squishy. One cool thing about bananas is that they can be easily divided into thirds lengthwise. This creates a banana spear that’s much easier for little hands to grasp.
Chicken drumsticks are a great shape for little hands. Drumsticks are a good nutritional choice since the dark meat is high in protein and iron. Iron is one nutrient that breast-fed babies start particularly needing around 6 months. Although baby probably won’t get much actual meat off of the drumstick, he will be sucking and gnawing on it and will be get some nutrients from all the juices. Be careful which spices you use—exposure to spices is good, but not added salt or sugar.
Some good resources:
Ellyn Slatter Institute: How to Feed Children
Science of Mom: Ten Tips for Starting Your Baby on Solid Foods