Baby led weaning in a nutshell means letting your child feed themselves from the start. But it is our job as parents to ensure we’re serving age-appropriate foods that are the right size and texture. I hope this post encourages and motivates you to offer a wide variety of foods in a safe and fun way!
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The Importance of Exposure
I talk a lot about the importance of introducing a wide variety of flavors AND textures from early on, and that’s because research shows babies are much more willing and open to trying new foods than children between ages 2-8 as food neophobia has been shown to set in during this time (1).
Familiarity is a BIG part of taste and acceptance, and the earlier the exposure to all the different flavors and textures, the greater their acceptance.
If your baby stays on pureed textures for too long, it may be much more difficult to get them to accept different textures later. In other words, early exposure has a significant impact in shaping food preferences and eating habits that are tracked into childhood and beyond (2).
In this blog post, I want to walk you through how to serve age-appropriate foods with respect to size and texture when taking the baby led weaning approach.
If you’re feeling anxious about offering textured foods from the get-go and want to take the traditional weaning route where babies are spoon-fed purees or the combination approach (you do you!), here’s more guidance, here’s how to safely move forward from purees to textured foods. Check out my good friend Charlotte’s blog post as well!
Whatever method you choose, the end goal is to introduce a wide variety of flavors and textures before the age of 1.
While you might think babies can’t eat foods that aren’t pureed until they have teeth, the reality is they don’t need teeth to enjoy table/finger foods.
I’m not sure if you’re aware of this but we actually chew with our molars, not the front teeth. And if you wait until the molars come in (normally around 12-18 months) to move on to table foods, you would totally miss that critical “window of opportunity” for developing food preferences.
Not to mention, failure to move from purees to textured foods by 9 months may lead to increased risk for feeding difficulties later in life (3).
So how are they able to handle table foods without the molars? With their strong gums! I was totally blown away when I saw them in action! And it is our responsibility as parents to make sure that the foods are appropriately cooked and served, and that’s what I want to share with you!
Do keep in mind, I’m sharing general timelines & guidelines here. What’s most important is to follow your baby’s lead as every child is so different and they develop at their own pace.
Food shape: About adult fingers widthwise or larger. Contrary to what you might think, serving big pieces of food will actually minimize choking risk and make it easier for your baby to grab with her fist. Initially, everything will likely get demolished, but with practice, your baby will learn to have better control of hand force.
Food prep advice: foods should be firm enough to grasp but soft enough to easily smoosh between two fingers or mash with the tongue on the roof of the mouth.
Roll slippery food in ground nuts, seeds, flour, etc to make it easier for your bay to pick up. Crinkle cutters can also be very helpful (this tool is a must have!).
Shape oatmeals/porridges into balls or finger shapes.
What to serve:
- cooked veggies – easily mashed with the tongue or finger
- soft fruits (e.g. kiwi, banana, pear)
- Here’s an answer to one of the most common questions I receive – should you introduce fruits or veggies first? Short answer. It depends.
- iron-rich foods: fish, moist meat (offered as strips, meatballs/fingers). Your baby will most likely just suck on them which is still great! There’s iron in the juices), mashed lentils & beans eggs, tofu
- high-energy foods: Greek yogurt, nut butters, ground nuts & seeds
- start introducing the top allergens (you can find more info + 30 recipes in my first e-cookbook)
By this age, babies are learning to move food side to side within their mouths as well as forward and backward. They are also starting to learn the concept of biting (hopefully anyways).
Shape: mastering pincer grasp – able to pick up smaller pieces of food between the thumb and index fingers. Therefore, can offer smaller bite-sized pieces.
I had to do this not only from a developmental standpoint but because my baby just LOVED To shove shove shove. He’d somehow manage to stuff a large piece of food into his mouth and have a gag fest.
Thus, as you can see in the image, I was religiously cutting up his food into small pieces at this age.
But this doesn’t mean you can or should ONLY serve small pieces of food. Changing up the shapes invites variety and that’s so important during the early years. I highly recommend investing in these food cutters! Totally worth it!
Food prep advice: can serve slightly firmer foods. For instance, you can shorten the cooking time for veggies, roast more often rather than just steaming, etc. Depending on the number of teeth baby has, chewing ability, and your comfort level, you can start offering finely grated raw fruits and veggies.
If your baby constantly turns into a competitive food eater (like mine did), here are some things you can do to help slow her down:
- help set pace by placing small amounts of food in front of her at a time either directly on the table/tray or a plate. I personally just took the plate away every time his mouth was full and encouraged him to finish chewing before offering his plate again. It was tedious but worked well for us.
- offer utensils offer utensils (here are our favorites). Using it requires fine motor skills which will help slow down pace.
Over 12 Months
Shape: try to encourage your child to learn to take bites by not cutting up the food as much. Just like I had to embrace the mess when we first started our journey, I really had to sit on my hands to resist the urge to cut up the food and to give him plenty of opportunities to work through it. As always, role modeling can do wonders in helping them to learn this new skill. I will share some specific tips in the next post.
If your child is continuing to shove food, learn how to teach them to take bites.
Food prep advice: you’ve done the hardwork! At this point your child should be able to handle almost all textures and eating like the family. Can you start offering crunchy vegetables? Yes! Here’s a guide on how to introduce raw vegetables to your little one in a safe and fun way.
I shared my son’s meals since day 1 of our journey on my Instagram feed so scroll down to the very beginning and follow along for meal ideas, tips, and recipes! There are also videos of him eating that you might find helpful.
I also set a goal to introduce 100 new foods before 1, and if you’d like to see the list, check out our Baby Led weaning – the first 3 months.
But What About Choking?
Research actually shows that there’s no greater risk of choking with baby led weaning in comparison to the traditional feeding practices (4).
Most important: avoid the choking hazards
Keep in mind, choking is different from gagging, which is very common and to be expected. Gagging is a safety mechanism to prevent choking and contrary to how it appears, it doesn’t really bother the babies.
Sit on your hands, remain calm, and let them work through it. Do NOT try to fish out the food from their mouth. Here are some additional tips on how to get through the first month of baby led weaning.
Do you want to minimize picky eating and set a solid foundation for a lifetime of healthy eating habits?
Check out this 3 month mastering self-feeding program! It’s the closest thing to me being in your kitchen