Is your baby ready to start solid foods? You can feed them right from your plate using the baby led weaning technique. Learn what that means, how to do it, the best baby led weaning foods to start with, and our favorite baby feeding supplies for success (and easy clean up!).
Next up in my Transitions series? Starting solid foods! With Big M, when she had her 6 month check-up, the pediatrician told me I should start her on solid foods. As a first time mom, I asked him what to do and followed his directions exactly: started with cereal, and added pureed fruits and veggies one at a time to test for allergies. By about 8 months, Big M was increasingly interested in feeding herself, and since I always included her at the table for mealtimes, I just began to feed her ‘real’ food from my own plate, quickly abandoning baby food all together. By the time Lil’ M came along, I had discovered a name for this methodology: Baby Led Weaning.
What is Baby Led Weaning?
Baby led weaning, simply defined, means letting your baby feed themselves solid food from the time they begin eating it, around 6 months of age. No mush, no purees. Weaning, in this usage, is meant in the British sense where it is used to convey the addition of complementary foods, not the American definition, which we often use to convey giving up breastfeeding.
But my baby doesn’t even have teeth yet?! They don’t know how to chew! They will choke! By presenting food to your baby in appropriate-sized pieces, teeth or not, they will learn how to manipulate food in their mouth, chew and swallow, without choking. See below for my favorite baby led weaning foods.
When first foods are presented as cereal, spooned mush and purees, babies learn to swallow and don’t learn to chew until later. When they do first encounter lumps, they try to swallow them whole, leading to choking. With Baby Led Weaning (“BLW”), babies learn to chew first. At first, they might chew and spit most of it out as they grow accustomed to textures and moving food in their mouth with their tongues. Don’t worry about how much they are eating; think of each meal as a sensory experience to expose them to new foods, textures, all while teaching them how to eat: chew, swallow, handle food, and feed themselves.
Why Baby Led Weaning?
The single biggest reason I used baby led weaning foods with Lil’ M was the ease and convenience it brought to starting solids with a baby, especially while already feeding a toddler.
With Big M, I had to bring baby food and baby spoons to restaurants and whenever we traveled. I was making separate meals or preparing batches of baby food 1-2x a week. As Lil’ M approached the 6 month mark, the thought of making three separate meals a night – a grown up dinner, a toddler dinner and a baby dinner – struck me as totally ridiculous and exhausting.
With Big M, we always fed her at the table with us while we were eating, she observed us eating and quickly was far more interested in our food and feeding herself. Lil’ M was even more aggressive on this front, since from day 1, she was always trying to keep up with her big sister. Baby led weaning just made common sense. By my third baby, it wasn’t even a question – he never had or wanted purees, because like most babies of the family, he wanted to do exactly what everyone else was doing.
In my experience, baby led weaning also offers a few added child development bonuses… I found my kids developed strong fine motor skills earlier than many of their peers, just from feeding themselves. I also discovered they had a much greater willingness to try different foods. My son, especially, always wants to try whatever we are eating – from spicy chicken wings to sushi. And of course there is the added benefit for parents of no ‘separate’ meals, leading to less clean up, less space taken up in the freezer and pantry, and less money spent on baby food!
How to get started with baby led weaning?
This is the best part – to start, all you have to do is cut food to appropriate-sized pieces, place it on the tray of their highchair, and let them try it. Baby led weaning foods can really be almost anything. The key is to provide foods that are the appropriate texture (not too hard) and appropriate size.
Baby Led Weaning Foods Should Be Appropriately Sized
The best way to offer foods to start is in ‘fistable’ chunks or strips. The texture should be soft enough to squish between your thumb and finger under pressure, but firm enough that it doesn’t disintegrate when they try to pick it up. Good first foods might include sliced, ripe pears, sliced avocado, half a banana, sliced melon, ripe peaches, or steamed or roasted carrots.
Pincer Grasp Development
As they become more adept at feeding themselves, they will quickly develop their pincer grasp – the ability to pick up and grasp food between their thumb and fingers. Most babies develop a crude pincer grasp by 7 or 8 months, and refine it to be able to pick up individual pieces of food, like Cheerios, by 9 to 11 months.
With baby led weaning, Lil’ M had a pretty decent pincer grasp by 7 months. She was able to pick up cubed pieces of baby led weaning foods and feed herself with relative ease and consistency. Once they master this, you can begin offering them food in smaller pieces – ideally the size of your pinky nail. Here’s Lil’ M chowing down on cubes of roasted chicken breast at 7 months.
Good First Baby Led Weaning Foods
Anything cut to the appropriate sizes and textures (as indicated above) can be a great first baby led weaning food. You can feed them directly from your plate, whatever meal you are having. Just try to avoid adding additional salt or sugar to first foods. Other spices and herbs are more than fine, and a great way to expand palettes, though be careful early on when you are still testing for allergies.
- Fruits: melon, berries (halved or quartered), peaches, bananas, ripe pears, grapes (quartered), kiwis
- Vegetables: steamed carrots, roasted squash, roasted sweet potato, cucumber, avocado, asparagus, tomatoes, green beans, peas, broccoli, cauliflower, steamed beets, mushrooms
- Proteins: beans, chickpeas (remove skins), hard boiled or scrambled egg yolks, ground beef or turkey, roasted chicken, beef, or pork
- Dairy: cheese, frozen yogurt dots
- Grains: whole grain toast, waffles, pancakes, grilled cheese, whole grain pasta, wild rice, quinoa, barley
More Baby Led Weaning Foods & Recipe Ideas
Looking for more baby led weaing recipe ideas? Two of my kids favorite recipes even still today are Green Mac & Cheese and these Roasted Veggies. Check out these baby led weaning breakfast ideas, and you can find more great lists for 40 foods babies can eat before teeth and the top 10 starter foods for baby led weaning to help you get started. And for some added inspiration, here is Lil’ M at various ages with different foods!
Pasta, chicken & veggies,
atermelon & Waffles,
Chicken, Tomatoes & Stuffing,
Roasted Butternut Squash,
Waffles & Berries,
Beef stroganoff ,
Quinoa burrito bowl,
Green mac & cheese,
Pasta & turkey meatballs,
Pasta and peas,
FAQ, Rules and Tips for Baby Led Weaning
What size should you cut food?
As a rule of thumb, if food is mashable, you can offer it in fistable strips they can bite and gnaw on. If food is firmer, you should offer it in smaller pieces, cut to the size of your pinky nail.
Do you still offer foods one at a time?
I did, to start. I introduced new foods roughly once every 3 days to check for allergies. I started with fruits, then veggies, then grains and meat.
Never leave baby unattended while eating.
While the baby is eating, never leave them unattended. Early on, you can make chewing motions as they eat to encourage them to chew their food. You should always watch them for any sign of choking. I have only ever had to physically remove food from Lil’ M’s mouth once. They may make gagging sounds early on as they learn to move food around in their mouth with their tongue, chew and swallow. Actual choking is very rare, but you still need to monitor closely while eating.
Never place food in baby’s mouth.
The entire concept behind baby led weaning is to allow babies to feed themselves. Believe it or not, when they control the food entering their mouth, they are far less likely to choke than when we put it in for them. They will control portions and eat until they are no longer hungry.
Don’t worry about how much they eat.
Food before 12 months is about the experience and learning to eat. Babies will still get most of their nutrition from breastmilk or formula, so be sure solid feedings to not replace breastmilk, but instead, are in addition to them. I always sat Lil’ M at the table and offered her food for breakfast, lunch and dinner when the rest of us ate, in addition to her nursing sessions every 3 hours or so.
What are the best Baby Led Weaning accessories?
You really don’t need anything other than the food you are eating yourself. But there are things you can invest in for ease of clean-up. I would recommend a highchair with a removable tray that is easy to clean. We used the Graco 4-in-1 Seating System. It will grow with your child, and the seat portion can be removed and strapped to a chair. We also found removing all the upholstered seating made clean-up much easier too. The entire tray does come off, but better still, the top layer snaps off and is dishwasher safe. While on the go, we used this Fisher Price Portable Booster seat, also with a removable, dishwasher safe tray. You can serve them directly on the tray, as dishes and utensils at this stage are just invitations to throw!
When Lil’ M would still tolerate a bib, I was a big fan of the BABYBJORN Soft Bib – it has a great pocket to catch pieces they drop and can be washed in the sink as well. And when they do finally graduate to dishes and cutlery, we are big fans of the Boon Catch Bowl with Spill Catcher and EZPZ mats. They suction to the highchair tray or table top, strongly enough Lil’ M couldn’t pull it off. The extended lip on the Boon dishes is great too to catch drips as they learn to use a spoon with soups, yogurt or small grains, like rice, quinoa or small pasta. Use code SILLYBIB to get a free bib with any EZPZ mat or bowl purchase while supplies last!
Ready to skip baby food with your baby and go straight to the real thing? At what age did you start solids with your baby? What was their favorite first food? Check out our BLW Pinterest Board for great lists of foods, more tips and recipes!
We started the traditional route, feeding our LO cereal and purées as recommended by her pediatrician. She wasn’t making much progress in eating and her GI referred her to a speech pathologist to make sure she had no swallowing issues. It was the speech pathologist that recommend giving her soft solids she could feed herself; she said some babies just don’t like purées. She did much better with soft solids and within a month or so was so interested in what we were eating that we have unknowingly been following the baby led weaning method! lol She has done great and likes a big variety of foods and always wants to try new things. I’m hoping this keeps us from having a picky eater!
Isn’t it so interesting? My son is by far my least picky eater, and he never had baby food. A lot of it is just personality though I think. The best you can do is just expose them and offer up opportunities to try new things, and don’t give up on something just because they reject it once.
BLW is not for me. I was considering it, but I ended up with the traditional way.
I had an excellent guide by Susan Urban How to introduce solid foods to your baby. Before I was confused and this guide showed me how to begin, when, everything about quantities, food consistency, storing foods, allergies, etc. Best guide about introducing solids out there!
Every family is different, and I’m glad you found something that worked for yours.
[…] foods vs. spoon-feeding them purees and cereal. To learn more about BLW, check out our post on what it is, why you should do it and how to start. This won’t come into play until your baby is 6 months old, but I promise it will make your […]
[…] Here is the link to the article I read if you are interested in more information: Solid Foods & Baby Led Weaning […]
[…] promised in last week’s Transition series post on Baby Led Weaning, this week I am sharing two of my kids favorite, BLW-friendly, recipes. And the best part… […]
[…] promised in last week’s Transition series post on Baby Led Weaning, this week I am sharing two of my kids favorite, BLW-friendly, recipes. And the best part… I […]
YES! I did the purees with my 1st, but did this method with my 2nd and 3rd kids. I love the flexibility it gives during mealtimes, I just feed them whatever we’re eating.I still get strange looks and comments from other moms and grandparents, but I swear by it. I know not everyone will choose this method, but I’m thankful that it works for us.
I love the video and the examples of your daughter eating. So sweet. Thanks for sharing!
Thanks, Nicole! She’s such a ball of energy, I feel like the only non-blurry photos I have of her from 6 months to now are when she’s eating! And I agree, I love it – it was so much easier, and makes meals feel like family meals from the start!
I love the whole BLW concept! We attempted it with Baby M, but he has several developmental delays as well as severe sensory processing disorder. We are using purees now, but we hope to transition to “real” solids as soon as he’s able. One of the biggest reasons I love BLW is that the baby is able to learn their own feeding cues easier. They stop eating when they’re full. With spoon feeding, we often feed past when the baby is actually done because they can’t communicate to stop. Thank you for such an informative post!
Thank you! It definitely makes life easier in a lot of ways. For me as a Type A control freak, especially with my oldest, the hardest part is not controlling what and how much they are eating. As soon as I realized that how much they eat before 1 really doesn’t matter, it made the whole process so much easier and relaxed – food is no longer a battle with anyone in our house, everyone eats the same thing for meals, everyone can eat off the menu when we go out. Good luck with your little one – he will get there! Keep him at the table with you for meals, whatever he’s eating, and it will peak his interest over time.
Your comment made me think of a friend of mine from high school… she is sharing her journey with her oldest son’s SPD diagnosis on her blog, documenting his therapy process with the STAR Center in Denver. I thought you might enjoy reading her story… http://growingupgish.com/2014/06/22/sensory-processing-disorder/