Oliver and I are both “foodies” through and through. We love trying new foods and flavors together. When I was pregnant with our son and before I’d really researched baby-led weaning, we thought, “Oh no… what if we have a picky eater??”
While I’m sure our little guy will be picky about at least a few foods at some point in time (looking at you, toddlerhood…), our goal has been to instill in him a good relationship with food from as early as possible.
Enter baby-led weaning.
If you’re not familiar with that term, baby-led weaning essentially means letting the baby take the lead on exploring new foods (typically in a larger form that looks more like what an adult would eat rather than a puree) and skipping the spoon feeding method.
I first heard about baby-led weaning well before I was pregnant, seeing videos on Instagram of babies being handed large pieces of food to figure out on their own, and to be honest, it seriously freaked me out. I had heard that it could help set a great foundation for raising good eaters, but I didn’t look into the idea any further, and I figured we’d start with purees when the time came.
But then my son was born and I started becoming curious about the whole thing again. I read Baby-led Weaning by Gill Rapley, and I was so amazed at what I learned about how babies didn’t need purees if they waited until at least six months of age to start eating solid foods. I did more and more research on the matter, and Oliver and I saw so many benefits to going this route. I talked to our pediatrician about it, and she was very supportive. I gained a ton of confidence in how to safely do baby-led weaning, and we were so excited to try it!
I won’t tell you everything you need to know about baby-led weaning in this post because there are some amazing resources out there already, but I want to share our experience and some things we’ve found helpful along the way.
Safety & Getting Started with Baby-Led Weaning
My number one go-to resource for anything baby-led weaning is Solid Starts. It is INCREDIBLE. They have pediatricians, nutritionists, allergy specialists, occupational therapists, and so many other talented and knowledgeable women (many of whom are mothers) on their team, and I feel so confident in trusting what they have to say.
If you’re at all interested in baby-led weaning, I’d highly recommend you check out their website and read up on how to safely introduce solids. (Your baby should meet certain milestones first!) My favorite feature of their website is the database where you can look up a food and learn all about its nutrition for babies, how to cut & serve it at different ages, and more. Okay, I’m beginning to sound like I’m getting paid to tell you this. I’m not! I’m just a big fan!
It’s also worth looking into choking risks ahead of time and becoming familiar with infant CPR and the Heimlich maneuver for babies. We took an online course on those techniques before starting solids, and it helped me feel much more prepared and at ease.
The Fun Part
Baby-led weaning is FUN!
I have so enjoyed being able to share our love of food with our little one, and it has been so fun to share slightly modified versions of what we’re eating with him. I love watching him react to new flavors, explore new textures, and develop new eating skills.
We set out on a little challenge to introduce 100 foods to him before his first birthday. (This concept is from Katie Ferraro, who is another great resource! She also has a helpful podcast.) I was a total nerd about this and created a spreadsheet and a private Instagram account to track his progress. We introduced our son’s first food, avocado, on August 1st (a few days after he turned six months old), and finished with his 100th food, lucky black-eyed peas, on New Year’s Day! I’m so glad we took this little challenge, not only because early exposure to a wide variety of foods can help with picky eating, but also because it was fun for Oliver & me to try a few things we hadn’t eaten before!
A Few More Things We’ve Learned on Our Baby-Led Weaning Journey
1. The High Chair Matters.
Solid Starts can help you learn what to look for in a high chair because not every option is a safe one. I’ll add that in addition to safety, ease of cleaning is a huge deal. The first high chair we had was super hard to clean around all the cracks and crevices and fabric. And baby-led weaning is messy–you’re handing a baby a plate of food and telling them to give it their best shot. We hated cleaning that high chair three times a day, so it went to live at my parents’ house where it isn’t getting covered in pasta sauce and oatmeal so often.
We ended up buying this IKEA high chair instead, and I wish we’d had it from the beginning. It needs a foot rest to be as safe as possible, so we ordered this one from Joe Knows Wood on Etsy for it as well. We also have this inflatable cushion for it & this inexpensive cover, which has held up so well with washing! (Again, none of the links in this article are affiliate–just sharing what has worked for us!)
2. Fresh, local produce helps you try new foods.
We have been able to introduce so many new foods to our baby because of our CSA boxes (a little more on our first experience with CSA here) that we wouldn’t have been able to find at just any grocery store. We have received quality vegetables from local farms, and we’ve even tried some things that Oliver & I had never had before. Our fall and winter season boxes have included foods like watermelon radishes, kohlrabi, purple top turnips, and several varieties of greens and squashes.
If you don’t want to commit to a CSA subscription, the farmers’ market is also your friend if you’re looking for new produce to try! Buying local veggies is such a wonderful option for getting nutritious food at peak freshness.
3. Introduce your baby to things you love to eat.
We love to eat cuisines from many different countries and food cultures, so we’ve done our best to make those flavors familiar to our son from an early age. If I’m making Vegan Palak Paneer for us, he gets to have it too! (This is actually something we’ve been eating pretty often lately, and I’ve been swapping the spinach for turnip greens, collard greens, kale, or whatever else comes fresh with our farm share.) I wouldn’t want to suddenly put a plate of Indian food in front of him when he’s three or four years old and he be afraid to try it because it’s unfamiliar to him. The picture at the top of this blog post is the Indian tofu biryani with cilantro mint chutney that we ate earlier this week. Our little guy loved it!
If there’s a style of cooking you love or foods that are part of your own culture, don’t be afraid to find ways to introduce them to your little one!
4. Low in sodium doesn’t have to mean low in flavor.
It’s recommended to keep sodium pretty minimal for the first year or so, and at first that was one of my biggest hesitations about starting baby-led weaning. I love salt. Often I’d leave salt out of a dish if I was making it to share with the little guy, and I’d add it for Oliver and myself at the end of cooking after scooping out a portion for my son’s plate. I always made sure to add plenty of spices though to make up for lost flavor!
5. Embrace the mess.
It’s messy. Like, really messy. But that’s what washcloths and bathtubs are for! We save clean up for the end of the meal rather than wiping his face after every bite. We want our son to enjoy eating, and he hates having his face wiped. So we let him make the mess, enjoy our own food in the meantime, and clean him up once his little belly is full.
6. Relax and enjoy it!
Baby-led weaning isn’t for every baby or every parent, but if you think it might be a good fit for you, find out everything you need to know to feel confident with it! I’m someone who is prone to worry about things if I think there’s a risk involved, but if I do thorough research I gain a lot of confidence. That has definitely been the case for me with starting solids with our son. Because I made sure I knew how to do it safely and nutritiously, I’ve been able to relax and enjoy the fun!
I hope this post has been helpful to you as you’re looking into baby-led weaning. If your family is thinking about trying this method out, feel free to drop anything else you’re curious about in the comment section below!