For some families, starting their babies on solid foods can be a piece of cake. For others, it’s an ongoing headache to try to get baby even interested in anything other than puree.
This post, naturally, is for the latter.
If you’ve found yourself with tons of questions, no idea where to start and just plain confused about how to manage this transition, you’re in the right place.
The information I have gathered here is based upon my own experience and further reading from ‘Weaning’ by Annabel Karmel.
Today we’ll go over:
- What baby-led weaning is and how to apply it
- What nutrients baby needs and what to serve her as a result
- How to kick baby’s chewing reflex into gear
- What foods a baby without teeth can eat
- How to make food appealing for baby
So, without further ado, we’ve go a lot to cover! End the confusion with this simple guide and watch baby’s apetite for solid foods rocket!
What is baby-led leading?
Baby lead weaning, or commonly abbreviated as BLW, is letting your baby eat from scratch from day one, on her own.
This means no parents offering her food from a spoon, no purees – only food that your baby can grab and put in her mouth.
BLW is not an entirely new concept but has been used more in recent years as many believe that learning this skill adds to the development of a baby.
As opposed to traditional weaning, baby learns how to chew their own food and avoid the gag reflex (which will still happen for up to 12 months) and practice the famous pincer grasp.
It works well for a flexible family, where perhaps the parents don’t want to or can’t feed baby themselves at every meal. Families with more kids for example would benefit from it as baby feeds herself independently.
Of course, BLW comes with it’s disadvantages too moreover:
What if I don’t like the sound of BLW?
Not to worry – there is always traditional weaning, which consists of feeding your baby yourself with a spoon or fork.
You may prefer to choose this way to go as you can better control the proportions that you give your baby and what you include in it.
I personally mix the two depending on what we’re eating. For example, I’ll give her cheese or cucumber sticks or some soft bread but I watch carefully to make sure some is actually getting in her mouth.
Otherwise, for pasta, rice, quinoa, salad and everything else that is not so ‘solid’ I serve it to her – we are gently moving over to her holding the spoon. Though for the moment, she prefers to bash it around!
I’ve noticed that my baby needs a certain amount of vegetables and what we would call ‘non solid’ food, otherwise she can become constipated easily. But we’ll cross that bridge…
What nutrients baby needs
I had no clue as to what to give my baby other than vegetables until I went to an LLL meeting for some guidance and moral support.
They told me that a typical breastfed baby once he hits the 6 month mark, will not be getting enough iron intake. That’s why it’s important that as soon as baby has tried vegetables, to introduce her to iron rich food straightaway.
You can also find iron fortified cereals for your baby – cheerios are great for this.
For those that include meat in their diet this will be meat and cheese, if not a very wide range of grains and pulses.
Iron is not the only important ingredient your baby needs now, though.
Please note, if you would like to raise your child vegetarian or vegan, consult your doctor for specific dietary advice.
The three pillars of a good start
Up there in the most important nutrients for baby comes fats too.
Shocker, right? Adults are used to shaming fat, but did you know that high-fat foods are actually essential for baby’s brain development?
At this stage, getting the right amount of fat in your baby’s diet can be tricky as she may not be eating a lot yet.
That’s why it’s important to make energy-dense foods whenever you can, for example including whole fat dairy to her diet or using oil when you cook.
I almost always cook with olive oil and I like to dress my food with linseed oil which is high in omega fats.
Protein obviously plays an important part in your baby’s diet too. According to Annabel Karmel, protein is the main nutrient for growth though it can’t be used efficiently by the body unless your baby has enough energy.
As we know, protein supports muscle growth so though you probably won’t see the effect straighaway, baby will need the strength as she begins to lift herself up and crawl/walk around.
Another basic essential is carbohydrates – which you should introduce in the form of rice, bread, pasta, quinoa, bulghur…(the list goes on!)
So, onto the vitamins!
Notably, all of the iron-rich foods that you’re giving baby will also be high in zinc, which boosts your baby’s immunity.
The other important vitamins are Vitamin D, (which most adults struggle to get their intake of on a daily basis) important for bone growth and immune system.
Of course, Vitamin principally comes from the sunlight, as I live in Middle west of France, there is quite enough sunlight throughout during the day, though in other places there is much less so you want to check that.
Some food sources that contain Vitamin D are oily fish, egg yolk, and fortified foods – it can be difficult to get enough in baby’s diet. This depends on your pediatrician’s opinion on egg allergy.
Finally, Vitamin C is essential for iron absorption above all. That’s why it’s very important that your baby gets enough of it. It also promotes healing and healthy skin and bones.
You can get it from most fruit and vegetables but particularly berries, mango, citrus fruit, kiwi, broccoli, cauliflower and sweet peppers.
How to kick baby’s chewing reflex into gear
Some babies have a natural chewing reflex to soothe the pain in their gums if they’re teething – but you might not be in that position.
The best thing you can do is gently make your purees more lumpy once baby has got used to purees. Try introducing little lumps of soft potato or carrot and go from there.
If you find that your baby is refusing the lumpy purees, what you can do is revert back to the normal puree and make sure that baby is using his very first tongue side-to-side reflex.
The transverse tongue reflex is something baby’s naturally develop before they even start purees – you can guide her by placing the spoon gently towards the roof of the mouth, that way baby has to displace it.
You can read more about tongue laterilization here.
A good way to increase the chewing reflex in your baby is to invest in some teething toys as baby will naturally pick them up and put them in her mouth.
There are a variety of teething toys you can find on the market and you want to choose one according to your baby’s needs.
For example, I have a soft one that I can freeze for when my little one’s teeth are coming through, but also wooden ones to bite harder on.
Just check for a no BPA sign before you buy your toys and of course, you may want to invest in all natural wooden toothers, that’s fine too.
First real bites
Once you feel that baby is getting used to the chewing reflex, you may start her out on some soft, chewy foods. Below you will find a list of perfect first food bites to try.
Steamed vegetables cut up in small pieces is a great starter for your baby but you shouldn’t only really on vegetables, as I mentioned in the nutrients section of this post.
- Potato wedges with courgette/carrot/favourite vegetable
- Mini quesadillas
- Cheese sticks
- Steamed and chopped medium chunks of veg
- Soft chicken strips
What foods can baby eat without teeth?
If you thought that you had to be limited to purees while baby’s teeth make a move, you’re in luck today.
There are actually quite a few foods that you can give your baby already – I really love this post of 101 Finger Foods That Baby Can Eat With No Teeth by Jo Anne from Weaningful.
How to make food appealing for baby
Some babies, no matter how hard you try, will not sway away from their sacred puree. This is especially the case if you have not diversified the food you’re giving baby from day one.
Not to worry we can fix that. Now, if there’s one thing that I’ve noticed over time in young children, it’s that they love to see the food on their plate.
Quite the contrary to adults who mix everything together into a spectacular dish – the more you spread the food out on a plate before baby, the more choice he has in self discovering the tastes.
For example, a good idea would be to have your protein, carbohydrates and vegetables on a plate but separately.
Chop your vegetables in small pieces and steam them until they’re soft enough for your baby to eat, put a little bread in triangle pieces, and a soft falafel burger or potato wedge.
Watch how baby picks and chooses and gets to know the different foods on her own.
A few tips to get you going
Below I’ve also listed some of my top tips to help you out on your new feeding journey.
I know that for me, as well as being exciting, it was also a little sad in it’s own way – I was watching my baaby grow up and no longer be dependant on me.
Soon with that feeling came relief, though and I was able to let go and really enjoy the process.
Whatever stage you’re at, I hope you learn to enjoy it too – don’t stress too much about getting it right all the time. What’s important is that baby is fed and happy!
So now your baby has mastered bite size foods on her own and she’ll likely be feeling proud of herself.
Don’t limit yourself to only these types of foods though. One thing that I learned on a trip back home, was to start giving her what I was eating.
Bear in mind, I eat no salt in my meals and use very little spice.
This simple yet revolutionary idea came when we were out for brunch with baby and her grandparents. I’d especially taken along her carrot puree and had it warmed up.
Then baby got a glimpse of what I’d ordered and refused the puree, diving straight in to my dish.
I decided there and then that I would not go to the extraordinary effort of making her special meals as she would only continue to be interested in what I’m eating!
I have to say, it’s worked really well so far and I highly recommend it, providing you follow a healthy regime.
Another trick of the trade I’ve learnt as I went along is the use of non-spill items to make life a whole lot easier and less messy.
My number one item that I constantly use is a silicone bib I bought for my duaghter when I’d had enough washing and re-washing bibs til their last death.
The best part about them is they catch the food in the bottom so if it’s still in good condition – back in baby’s mouth it goes!
I also decided to buy a plate that doesn’t move around about the same time – my baby always wanted to pick at her own food and even play with it.
I’m not that strict with her bite size food, as I think she needs to learn on her own terms! That’s why this plate was great for me as it stopped huge accidents happening and let her feed herself at the same time.
Lastly, I put a plastic cover underneath her highchair – it really saves me sweeping up the mess afterwards!