Ok so I’m going to begin with a self inflicted disclaimer. I’m not a nutritionist, I’m not a baby professional, I’m certainly not a chef, and my certificate in basic food hygiene (that is required for my job) is the nearest qualification I have to anything marginally food related. If you are concerned your baby isn’t eating correctly then it’s your call about speaking to a health visitor. I am simply a mum, who is now 3 months deep in this baby led weaning business, and is sharing her experiences so far and any tips and tricks she has picked up on the way.
So to begin, I’m going to recommend the book that kick started our own solids journey, Baby Led Weaning by Gill Rapley. It is basically like the BLW bible, a short book, easy to read with no waffle and a really great place to begin.
BLW is a way of teaching your baby to eat solids, allowing them to feed themselves from the very beginning with whole finger foods. Whilst the method of spoon feeding with puréed and mashed foods works well for some families, BLW is simply an alternative route available. My intention here is not to dismiss spoon feeding, and I know many people who prefer this way of feeding or quite successfully combine the two and do a bit of both, and as any mother knows, what works for some may not work for others. However as this blog is bout BLW I would like to explain some of the facts and benefits of weaning this way.
Firstly, BLW should only begin at 6 months old. Although many baby food jars begin as early as 4 months, there is much evidence to say that a baby’s gut is not matured enough and this can lead to increased risk of allergies. Both the government and World Health Organisation recommendations weaning from 6 months. By waiting until around this time there is also no need to spoon feed with baby rice, which offers no nutritional value to your baby’s diet and may actually only serve to replace a healthy breast or formula feed. Often people think their baby is ready for food because they watch their parents eat, but babies watch a lot of what their parents do, so it’s not always a reliable marker.
BLW is all about self feeding, and it not only improves hand-eye-coordination and speech and language skills, but it also teaches babies to recognise for themselves when they are full and therefore reduces risk of obesity later in life. BLW is about baby making choices to try new flavours and textures, they are in control of what is going into their mouth, and in this way it has also been shown to reduce aversion and fussiness with food in later years.
With Ray the first food we introduced was soft boiled broccoli and carrot stick. She tasted a tiny bit but mostly it was played with and thrown on the floor. Over the following weeks we offered various fruit and veg finger foods, sometimes with nibbles and sucking and sometimes with nothing. But each time it was a success, because each time was an opportunity for Raven to see new foods and become familiar with the concept of little meals. I soon realised this would be an up and down experience. To begin with I only offered finger foods at lunchtime, I stepped back and let do her thing. She started out very enthusiastic to explore these new objects, but ultimately her interest fluctuated greatly. I introduced breakfast around 7 months, and tea around 8 months. I’m not aware of a ‘rule’ per se for this, it was simply when it felt right to begin naturally expanding our horizons. We are still breastfeeding on demand and there are times when Ray seems more keen on sticking just to the liquid love of boobie rather than trying anything else, and other times she’s very keen, each day brings a new attitude so we roll with it.
Ok, so the book has all the real nitty gritty info, but here my list of things to consider when you are taking the BLW approach to feeding, from my personal experience.
Don’t expect a cleared plate.
First rule! I think I had this vision of a baby beginning with small bites and moving quite quickly onto heartier meals, but my experience hasn’t been that way at all. Whilst I post videos and pictures of Raven ‘eating’, the reality is there is always lots of food leftover and the pieces she munches on are often discarded after a few nibbles. She inspects the food, she holds it, squeezes it, passes it from hand to hand, sucks it and tastes it. Sometimes a blueberry will get a lick and then be thrown off the mat, and maybe it will be revisited later or maybe not. It can feel like a lot of waste, particularly when I was ensuring I had extra on hand in case it was all thrown on the floor when she wasn’t ready for the experience to end. But at 9 months Raven is now eating so well (still small amounts, but enthusiastically and with increased skill) that I look back on the beginning and realise it was not wasted at all. What I have realised is we have this inner desperation for our baby to eat and I know I was sometimes panicking when I felt as though not enough food had gone in. But over time I have witnessed a real evolution in Rays approach to eating, and as up and down as it can be, she has come such a long way. Would she manage to eat the equivalent of a whole jar of baby food? Not a chance. But she is still receiving all her nutrient needs from breastmilk and gaining weight appropriately. The motto ‘food before one is just for fun’ has reminded me many times than any food going in is a bonus, and my patience has really paid off. And oftentimes when I had thought she had eaten nothing, a nappy change quickly proved me wrong. These days she is closer to clearing a plate, but only a small plate, and whilst there is more and more going in her mouth, there is still a lot that ends up on the floor. *EDIT Last night her whole dinner went on the floor, today she wasn’t too interested in lunch and is instead a total boobie monster… teething? A bit of a cold? Who knows, we will ride it out. But I know that she can eat if she wants to, so I’m not stressed over here.
Try different approaches, and find what works for you.
If you really do start to feel like your baby isn’t eating enough, just try some different approaches. This was me as Raven hit 8 months and I saw other babies eating more than her. I suddenly faced some self doubt so I decided to up my game a bit. I made more effort to actively ‘teach’ eating without spoon feeding. I started to eat on the floor (on a mat) with Ray sat in my lap, and we physically shared a meal. Sometimes I had eaten beforehand and so I just chopped up some extra bits for me to nibble on and encourage Ray to copy. It wasn’t a huge pressured situation, just relaxed, me and my baby sat snacking together. This really worked for us, Ray wanted to take things out my hand as I was about to eat it and she smiled as she did it. Sure, some raspberries got squashed under wriggling feet and it got messy at times with crumbled muffin, but Ray really responded to it and it felt like a shared experience. After a while we reverted back to high chair again – aside from breakfast which is typically chopped fruit and a banana rice cake on my lap in front of In The Night Garden, as I found otherwise she wasn’t very interested in breakfast at all. I think it’s just what works individually.
It was pretty obvious from the outset that Raven always wanted to eat what I had. I have to say that I found it fairly easy to incorporate her foods into my meals. I would have stir fry when she was having peppers and beans, I would make an omelette and share with her or have steamed broccoli and pasta and let her eat the same. But if I didn’t want to eat what she was having, I would eat separately (discreetly) then sit and eat ‘with’ her, nibbling on whatever she had prepared. Just as my baby copied me to learn how to blow a raspberry or wave, she watched me and copied my eating. I also noticed pretty quickly which foods Ray liked best, and tried to include one of them in each ‘meal’. She likes food that has flavour and is easy to eat (I imagine most babies follow this pattern?) so liquidy fruits such as oranges, raspberries, blueberries, grapes etc, easy to eat veggies such as tomato, soft broccoli and baked beetroot. She also likes things that are easy to pick up and chew, such as twisted pasta, thin crumpets and any of the Organix baby crisps. All winners and so I mixed and matched these with new foods to give her a little eating boost.
Keep it simple.
So much information, it can seem a bit daunting to say the least. But it isn’t. You are simply offering food to your baby, they will play with it, they will throw it, and if your lucky they will take a bite or a suck. That is it.
Whilst I follow many really informative and inspiring BLW accounts on Instagram for meal ideas, it has at times left me feeling as though I’m not really offering enough variety or making enough effort. But these accounts are focused on building followers around BLW, and just as there are interior accounts that make us feel like our house is too messy, the BLW accounts are bound to be extra fancy. As lovely as they are, look past the posh plate and remember you don’t need to conjure up a completely different wholesome dinner at every meal. You don’t need to arrange your fruit into a dinosaur or spend hours cooking various meals, just take ideas from the accounts. Oftentimes you will discover that the food is quite simple but presented in a way that it looks exceptionally fancy.
Allow lots of time.
Raven can take half an hour or more to complete the process of discovering and eating her food. I know I know, how do you squeeze it all into the day? Well this was my first thought at least. But then I realised that teaching your child the art of eating and enjoying food is so incredibly important and absolutely one of the most virtuous tasks we undertake in our lives, and so it deserves great attention. A healthy attitude to food is priceless, and here we are raising children to enjoy a wide ranging palette, the ability to understand when they are full and teaching them that eating is a sociable activity. If we can find the time then it’s time well spent. I’ve been thinking of it as an activity rather than a chore. Especially on those days where we have free time and wonder how to entertain the baby, this ticks off a sensory learning activity for the day, and it is precious one on one face time that means you can feel less guilty bout leaving them to play on the floor for a bit whilst you hoover / empty the dishwasher / fold up the washing..
Have quick meals ready to go.
Eugh, the phrase ‘batch cooking’ hurts my face. I imagine myself with an apron covered in food, several giant pots steaming away on the stove and a sea of Tupperware ready to be filled. But it’s not at all that awful. Once you begin to move on from a few finger foods, there are literally hundreds of recipes on Pinterest and Instagram BLW accounts that require only a few ingredients, take minutes to prepare and cook, and can be easily thrown in the fridge or freezer for quick meals. I’ve included some links at the end of this blog. I am not a keen chef, these days I live off toast and weetabix, trust me when I say these are fast and simple. And if they make too much and can’t be frozen you can share it with your other children or eat the extra with your baby, there’s no age limit on them. I have another friend who is BLW with a baby a similar age, and any spare batch cooked bits we pass to each other, so we get double the recipes! It’s a great way of increasing meal options. Of course not every meal needs to be batch cooked, it can all be mixed up with other offerings.
Get your basics in the weekly shop, roughly map out meals in your mind.
Ok, it took me a while to get my head around this, and it may not be right for you, but I’ve included my basic food shop and loose meal plan.
So I found that small separate fruits were easier to have on hand as a staple rather than large ones, if that makes sense? So grapes, blueberries, strawberries, satsumas, raspberries etc, as apposed to ‘bigger’ full fruits like apples, pears, pineapple, melon etc – although I would include one or two of these each week for variation and bananas are handy for some batch cooking and easy spreads. They tend to keep longer than the date in the crispy bit of the fridge so I can make them stretch the week and do a fruit salad for me and Dean if their time’s up (he’s a lucky man).
Then I get in some veg too, half a cucumber, avocado (or is that a fruit who knows) broccoli, cherry tomatoes and I’m a big fan of pre chopped frozen veg too like beetroot, peppers, parsnip etc that is easy to put in the oven.
Talking of frozen, I pick up some veggie burgers and falafels and some small potato waffles too. I check salt and sugar content aren’t high, and I don’t offer at every meal, just good for sharing days.
Then I raid the Ella’s Kitchen / Organix / Kiddylicious ranges. Get in some of the rice cakes and crisps, and I also get the pouches to use as sauce on pasta or quorn.
I also pick up thin crumpets and a small brown bread for options such as hummus / cream cheese / avocado on toast.
Then I feel pretty prepared! Lots in to use in lots of ways and quick to offer. I don’t plan each meal precisely but when it comes to dinners I use up whats needed first (sorry I’m being so obvious) and I have plenty of choice to hand to build a mini meal. Obviously it can differ, sometimes I’ll fancy trying Ray with kiwi fruit, or offering sweet corn or an idea I found online, or we’re having another go with self feeding yogurt, (uki.be have great little rubber spoons for self feeding) but the above are my staple have ins that keep me ticking over. We recently picked up chia seeds and flax seeds too, I can mix them into a spread or a sauce, or mashed up potato etc. Sounds super fancy pants but it’s literally just a sprinkle here and there and a bag lasts forever.
So this is how I mentally organise the food;
I try to go for one bit of ‘stodge’ – so pasta, quorn, waffle, veggie burger, smashed up potato, beetroot, mashed butternut (oven cooked from frozen)na batch cook option or bread with spread.
Then I can add an option of either some cooked from frozen veg or fresh steamed veg, either some chopped tomatoes, cucumber, carrots or pepper etc. Or I will offer a fruit option, whichever goes best with the meal or needs to be used up first.
Ray goes mad for any of the Organix / Kiddylicious crisps so I include some of those, one or two is enough.
Then I finish with a drink. So water (guilty of adding a tiny tiny bit of squash…) quartered grapes and smashed blueberries or maybe 4 or 5 raspberries, satsuma pieces etc etc you get the idea.
Again, it’s not always set out like this, but I just find this approach had made it simple for us to grab bits and create lots of mix and match meals easily.
And finally… Enjoy it!
The fun is in the watching. You are witnessing your baby learn a very important skill, not just to ‘eat’ but to ‘enjoy eating’. Relax, remove the pressure, let them explore, smile with them, encourage without any force, make it a positive experience for them. When I look back over the last 3 months I can see that Raven has been on a remarkable little journey with her eating, and it is only now, at almost 9 months that she has really begun to ‘eat eat eat’. And what she is eating is healthy, her own choice and at her own pace. We don’t have food tantrums or crying (yet!), if she’s clearly beginning to get fed up then we just stop and the next meal is a fresh opportunity. It should be an enjoyable experience for you both, building up positive food associations and spending quality time together. So don’t stress about the mess, don’t panic about the quantity, just enjoy the moment and in time you will watch your baby learn to feed themselves happily.
Some links below for simple batch meals…