The traditional method for starting baby food is to begin with rice cereal, and then move on to other pureed spoon-fed options. But some babies simply don’t like baby food. If dinner time for your baby seems to involve more spitting than swallowing, you might want to try baby-led weaning foods.
What is baby-led weaning?
Simply put, baby-led weaning is letting your baby feed themselves from the very beginning. It’s a method that skips the pureed baby food entirely, and goes to straight to finger foods. It’s a common-sense way to feed your baby. No food processor or ice cube trays, no store-bought baby foods—it’s just feeding your baby the same foods the rest of the family is eating, at their own pace.
When should you start baby-led weaning?
Baby-led weaning can start at age 6 months or older. This is the age at which most babies can sit up by themselves and grab onto objects and bring them to their mouths. Their digestive systems have also developed enough that they can handle solid food.
What foods are best to start baby-led weaning?
Don’t get too hung up on exactly what foods are appropriate for your baby. To make life easy, give your baby a little of whatever you’re eating—as long as it’s soft enough to gum and not one of these choking hazards. If you need some inspiration, here are 10 foods that are usually a slam dunk with babies new to eating:
- Steamed carrots: Baby will do best with carrots that are steamed and soft.
- Cut-up cucumbers: You can cut them into coins or spears. Baby will love gnawing on this cool treat—especially if they’re teething!
- Bananas: They’re naturally the perfect texture for a new eater.
- Avocados. These are a great source of healthy fat that you can give them to baby plain or, later, spread on toast.
- Steamed zucchini: This squash’s mild flavor makes it a great way to introduce veggies.
- Eggs: Hard-boiled egg yolks are a great source of protein for baby and easy to eat.
- Broccoli: Make sure to steam it longer than usual to achieve a soft texture. Baby will love grasping the stalk and exploring the texture of florets.
- Sweet potatoes: Cut up sweet potatoes and steam or sauté until soft.
- Ripe fruit: Baby will love the soft texture and sweet taste of a ripe peach or pear.
- Sliced meatballs: The light, juicy texture here makes it an ideal way to bring a little meat to baby’s palate.
Keep safety in mind and avoid foods that can be choking hazards. This includes nuts, apples with the skin on, cherries and whole grapes.
How to cut foods for baby-led weaning
Remember that baby-led weaning will be messy. Strip baby down to a diaper, or use a quality bib. Don’t worry about a plate or bowl—it will most likely get thrown on the ground. Put baby’s food directly on the high chair tray. The food should be cut into matchsticks about the length of baby’s fist. This is usually a great size for a 6-month-old to grip. Between 8 and 12 months, when their pincer grasp develops, they’ll be able to pick up smaller pieces of food.
What else do I need to know?
As you start the adventure of baby-led weaning, here are a few other things to remember:
- Don’t put food into your baby’s mouth. Let them have control of the process.
- If the baby gags, don’t panic. Remember that gagging is actually a safety response, and will happen less often as baby gets used to solids. Choking is silent and requires immediate attention.
- Don’t get too hung up on three meals a day, and don’t worry if baby doesn’t eat much at first. Baby is still getting all her nutrients from breast milk or formula. This is just a way for them to start experiencing food textures and tastes.
- Don’t put too much on the tray—a couple pieces of food are all they need to start exploring.