As I made lunch for my two-year-old yesterday, I was reminded yet again of how thankful I am that we pursued baby-led weaning with both her and her five-year-old sister. Our firstborn, who is now seven, was fed, with love and great care, purees. And while there is absolutely nothing wrong with going the puree route, I’ve found that the younger two are much less picky eaters, enjoy trying new foods even if they end up not liking them, and overall eat more foods than my seven-year-old. I’m a firm believer in doing whatever is best for your family, but I do want to pitch baby-led weaning to those who are considering it!
Of course, there are plenty of times that I throw a plate together for my kiddos that looks nothing like mine. They love cheese and crackers and frozen pizza and Chic-Fil-A. I often choose dinners around things I know everyone will be mostly happy with because I want dinnertime to go peacefully, who doesn’t? But yesterday, as I plated quinoa, crispy chickpeas, olives, cucumber, feta, and avocado for my two-year-old, I was so thankful for her expansive palate. It made making lunch easy as I was combining the same ingredients for myself on top of kale and with dressing for a salad. She’s not quite to the salad level yet, but my five-year-old loves and frequently requests salad. Maybe it’s personality, but I’ve heard from enough other moms who’ve followed baby-led weaning with their younger children, that the difference really does seem to be in this feeding method.
With our firstborn, purees were all I was aware of. Mashed avocados and bananas and carrots etc… And again, this is totally fine! The point is to get those nutrients in somehow. But with our younger two, I heard about baby-led weaning and was intrigued. The overall concept is to feed your child what you are eating and to plate it in a way that is safe. You’re serving baby bits of what you are eating as a family, instead of making a separate meal. This allows the baby to experience a much more diverse set of foods as well as to be part of the social interaction of the family. Babies soak up so much by observation. So, slices of avocado, cooked whole pieces of carrot, scrambled eggs, and the like. Adding various spices to these items as you’re eating them as well. Instead of spoon-feeding the baby, you are, as the name lets us know, following the baby’s lead. You’re jumping right into finger foods, allowing the baby to explore and feed herself. Letting the baby do this also helps develop motor skills as she picks food up and brings it to her mouth.
Many parents’ first concern about baby-led weaning is choking. This is completely understandable! Choking freaks me out. So, first, watch a good you-tube video or attend a class on choking, honestly, this is wise for all parents. Make sure your baby is able to sit independently before beginning. And always feed him in a highchair. I didn’t know this before learning about baby-led weaning, but gagging is actually an important part of learning to eat. It can be alarming, but it strengthens the child’s muscles and helps them learn how to prevent choking. Obviously, come to their aid if they’re struggling, but also recognize that gagging is part of the process. And of course, avoid foods that could be easily choked on like popcorn, grapes, blueberries, and dried fruit.
For me, the best part of following this approach is how adventurous my little two are in their eating! I love that our five-year-old will put spicy sauces on her tacos and will try pretty much any food. And, with my seven-year-old, I haven’t given up! I continually put new foods on her plate, I keep offering them even if she says she doesn’t like them. Her new favorite vegetable is asparagus and I’m thrilled with that! I find that if we keep things low-key and just continue to put it on their plates, eventually they’ll try it and maybe like it.
All this to say, if you have a baby and are considering baby-led weaning, go for it! There are tons of resources to explore as you learn the process. I loved following Made Leigh, a lifestyle blogger, on Instagram as she walked through this process with her babies. I think you’ll be happy to see your baby try different foods and spices, and hey, it may expand your palate as well!