I suppose in the era of the Food Network and gourmand Instagram bloggers, everyone fancies himself or herself a “foodie.” Mark us down in that category – love to cook and eat; crave new eating experiences and exotic foods; seek out Houston’s best underrated restaurants and binge-watch Chef’s Table. So naturally, we had all kinds of hopes and dreams that Baby K would grow up to appreciate brussels sprouts and boeuf bourguignon.
I learned about baby-led weaning from another parent. The concept is simple: allow your baby to feed him or herself. (This is a departure from spoon-feeding purees, which has been the dominant parenting method for many years.) The touted benefits are myriad: dexterity and fine motor skills; introduction to a wide range of foods early on; appetite control; and, of course, more enjoyable mealtimes – the parents can enjoy their food while the baby explores avocado (read: smears it in his hair until you can’t help but rush him to the bathtub).
The BLW advocates recommend beginning at 6 months, when babies can sit up unassisted and have outgrown the tongue thrust reflex. To pass the time while I enviously watched moms in my group start their babies on purees, I read the Baby-Led Weaning guide cover to cover. (I highly recommend reading the book before starting this approach.) We also pulled him onto our laps at mealtime so he could watch us eat. (He frequently grabbed our food – it was clear he wanted to join in.) We assembled his new highchair so he could make himself comfortable.
The day Baby K turned 6 months old, we offered him a sliced heirloom tomato and a fresh nectarine. Surprising no one, he bit right into them and beamed. My fears and anxiety about starting solid foods subsided. From that point forward, he began eating whatever we ate – from roasted root vegetable salads to quinoa enchilada bakes to spicy curries and smoky stews. When we traveled to Japan, he lost.his.mind. over the soba noodles and sushi rolls. In the early weeks of BLW, I would cut his meat and vegetables into matchsticks, in accordance with the BLW recommendations, but his dexterity quickly improved, and soon he was grasping mango pits and picking up small raisins like a champ.
ZERO-WASTE BABY-LED WEANING
BLW is inherently zero-waste. The philosophy is that your little one will share a portion of your meals. If you’re eating healthy, fresh snacks and cooking nutritious meals, your baby will be well-nourished. “Baby food” involves a lot of packaging – from glass jars to plastic puree pouches to canisters of puffs. It’s not cheap, either. You can avoid the landfill waste and expenses by sharing your own food with your babe. Compost the leftovers he/she doesn’t eat or drops on the floor. There are many resources out there on the benefits of BLW and how to get started – discuss with your pediatrician, and feel free to send me a note or comment below if you want to chat.
In my view, the BLW approach involves much less gear and clutter than starting with purees. No need for pouches, blenders, or bulky baby-food stations. Here are our tried-and-true BLW essentials:
- Highchair – We L-O-V-E the Ikea Antilop. The price was right (<$20), it has a relatively small footprint, and – most importantly – the entire thing can be sprayed off with a garden hose. Need I go on? We keep a Mountain Buggy Pod clip-on high chair in the diaper bag for feeding on-the-go; it’s the most lightweight, compact high chair on the market. If you don’t have space for a regular high chair, clip one onto your table or kitchen island.
- Bib – A key part of learning to eat is grasping food. You must come to terms with the fact that there will, inevitably, be a mess. The OXO Tot bibs have a pocket for dropped food, and babies quickly learn to retrieve those bits. So clever! We scrub it and hang it to try on our kitchen faucet after each meal.
- Plate – Perhaps the most ingenious solution for parents tired of cleaning food off the floor and walls, the EZPZ Mat sticks to the high chair tray. The mini-mat fits perfectly on the tray of our Antilop high chair.
- Straw Cup – Once your kid starts eating solids, it’s time to introduce water, which prevents constipation. A perennial favorite among our BLW compadres, the Pura Kiki stainless steel straw bottle was easy for Baby K to master, doesn’t leak when dropped, and is plastic-free (hooray!).
- Spoon – A friend gifted us an Oogaa spoon and it does the trick. It usually takes awhile for babies to develop the coordination to spoon-feed themselves; while Baby K was figuring it out, we’d spoon-feed him oatmeal and soups with this shallow spoon.
8 MONTHS LATER
Baby K is now 14 months (SOB). He’s been a solid-food enthusiast for 8 months. I’m grateful we chose the BLW approach. Until he turned 6 months, I’d spend an hour (or more) cooking dinner after a long day at work, only to be stuck breast-feeding him afterwards while my plate cooled to room temperature. BLW enabled us to spend our meals together as a family, and I finally resumed eating hot meals. In the first few weeks of BLW, he tried swallowing large bites and gagged, which terrified us, but we followed the BLW protocol (swipe quickly with a finger to remove) and he began to carefully regulate the size of food he’d eat. His palate has expanded, and he happily gobbles up many foods we didn’t try until adulthood. (Kimchi – “MMMmmMM.”) Every baby is different, but I’d love to give BLW a go with any future kiddos we may have.