Starting to wean your baby is one of the most exciting adventures full of new tastes and smells, one that relies on mama to spoon feed jarred purees of interesting flavor combinations for months (aka, the end of hot meals for all mamas). However, moms all across the UK and into the US are taking back meal time with baby led weaning. By giving BB the choice of what to eat and how much (hence the baby-led part), us mamas are free to enjoy mealtime ourselves. One where we never, EVER have to say the phrase, “Here comes the airplane!” We promise!
What is baby-led feeding?
Baby cookbook author (among many other things!) Jenna Helwig, shares her twist on baby led weaning that she calls baby led feeding in her book, Baby-Led Feeding: A Natural Way to Raise Happy, Independent Eaters. This is a method of starting solids that skips spoon-feeding and introduces finger foods right from the beginning, exposing baby to a variety of shapes and textures right away. Helwig notes, “I hadn’t heard of baby-led weaning when my baby was starting solids, but we did start finger foods on the early side, at around 7-8 months, so when I did learn about BLW it felt natural to me.”
Benefits to baby led weaning are impressive, such as developing eye-hand coordination and encouraging BB’s independence while listening to their own hunger cues. We love that it brings baby to the table early on, making meal time a thing for the whole family! Helwig says, “What I love most about it is that baby-led feeding can help babies develop a strong, happy relationship with food. BLW encourages babies to explore, play, and discover the world through food, and it often helps them become more adventurous eaters over the long term.” Don’t we all want the kid who eats everything without complaint? Yes please! (BLW doesn’t mean your toddler won’t go through a choosy phase, but it does mean they will be life long lovers of food).
But wait won’t they choke?!
The research says not anymore than with traditional puree feeding. Ever have BB chomp down on your finger while teething? Yowzers that hurts! Babies are powerful chewers even before they have any actual chompers, which is a major reason why baby-led weaning is so successful. Helwig shares these helpful tips for preventing potentially dangerous situations, “Everything needs to be soft enough to mash with gentle pressure between your thumb and forefinger and either cut into small pieces or pinky-finger sized sticks. No raw carrots or apples, no big gobs of nut butter. Always stay with your baby when they’re eating, and know how to handle the situation if your baby does choke. So be vigilant, but remember that babies are successfully learning to eat this way all the time!”
The best part of baby led feeding is that chances are your kitchen is already ready to go without the need for tons of extra stuff. However, we’ve compiled our list of the top must have items to make the transition to BLW a little easier on everyone (including reluctant Grandma) and even fun! Helwig says, “Just do what works for you and your baby, and you’ll be fine. There are very few hard and fast rules here…other than no honey for baby before age 1.” So embrace the mess (it will get messy — think drop cloth messy) and get the camera ready to capture all of the funny faces as BB navigates this strange new world of food!
Must Have Gear For Baby Led Weaning Mamas
Jenna Helwig’s book is full of baby-led weaning recipes that are perfect for the whole family (Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese — yes please!), but the reason we love it so much is because of all the additional helpful information for mamas. Helwig has filled her pages with nutrition tips, tips for cutting foods, suggestions for the best baby led weaning foods at various ages, and even portion guidelines. Helwig also offers great advice on gagging and choking. Think of this more as Mama’s how-to handbook, rather than just a cookbook full of delicious recipes.
When asked about her favorite recipe in the book, Helwig said, “Ooh, that’s a tough question! It’s hard to play favorites, but one of my most-loved tricks in the book is three ways to coat avocado slices so they’re easier to grip: with panko, unsweetened coconut, and ground flaxseeds.” Adding texture to slippery foods makes it easier for BB but also reduces the chance of it ending up on the floor. Helwig even jokes that all families doing BLW should invest in a dog to help with the mess!
If you haven’t joined the Instant-Pot craze, tackling baby led feeding is the perfect excuse. It does it all, from being a slow cooker to a rice cooker to a yogurt maker (aka, everything you will be feeding BB and the rest of the family) made quick and easy at home. Homemade means less salt and sugar, which are harder for babies to process. Feeding baby should not become an extra chore for already busy mamas. The Instant Pot will certainly make feeding baby and the rest of the family a snap!
In Helwig’s new cookbook, The Multi-Cooker Baby Food Cookbook, she shares recipes for purees, finger foods, and baby-appropriate family meals made in the Instant Pot or other electric pressure cooker. “Writing the book convinced me even more that an Instant Pot can really be a game-changer for making any sort of family meal!” With over 92,000 Amazon reviews, we dare say this has become a way of life!
Another must- have kitchen item to start baby led weaning is a food processor. No need for the fancy baby ones marketed to mamas, just a standard Cuisinart Food Processor will do the trick. It’s ideal for making pestos, hummus, and dips that BB will devour, but also versatile for whatever other needs mama has (think pie crust during the holidays) without adding to the kitchen clutter. Food processors are perfect for pureeing frozen fruits and veggies if BB needs a break from finger foods.
Helwig shares, “My take on baby led-feeding is also a little more flexible than traditional baby-led weaning. It’s perfectly fine to offer a baby both purees and finger foods. If you feed your baby applesauce at a restaurant because you want to avoid the mess of finger foods, it’s okay! You haven’t failed and you don’t have to ‘start over’ as some baby-led weaning advocates claim.“
Utilizing a mini muffin tin like this Wilton Perfect Results Non-Stick Mini Cupcake Pan for food preparation is great for babies and kids of all ages. The cup size makes the portion more appropriate for BB, but it is also super versatile (think mini egg dishes like fritta). Helwig’s book offers a variety of recipes that utilize mini muffin pans to create baby sized portions that can be stored in the freezer as an added convenience for later. Trust us we won’t judge when you and your partner end up eating half the tray!
One reviewer shared, “Great mini muffin pan. I usually grease things anyway because I’m always scared non-stick won’t work but I tried going without it and just pouring the batter straight in, and it works great. They still pop out super easily even without muffin cups or grease. Truly non-stick, easy to clean. I’ve made about 10 batches of mini muffins with this pan and it’s been fantastic so far!”
One of the best ways to support BLW is to offer pieces of food that BB can actually grab onto. Rather than having to also mash sweet potatoes, try using this HIC Wavy Crinkle Cutting Tool to create ridges that BB can grab onto and roast potato spears. As our kids get older, it will still be super fun to have homemade crinkle cut fries or salad toppings, which will make eating them hard to resist! (We bet our grownup friends will love them too!)
One reviewer shared, “Love!!!!!! Once you figure out how to use, it is wonderful. Veggies seem crispier! I keep carrots cut up in water in the fridge and my 2.5 year old grandson grabs them all day. So pretty! Works on fruit too.” When starting out with BLW everything needs to be soft enough to mash with gentle pressure between your thumb and forefinger (so no raw carrots or apples). For smaller babies, pinky-finger sized sticks are perfect!
Must Have Baby Gear For Baby Led Weaning
When it comes to Baby doing the eating, this is one of Helwig’s top picks. The Nuby Garden Fresh Fruitsicle Frozen Pop Tray makes food fun but also easy for baby to feed themselves. The easy design makes setup for mama a breeze (yogurt pops, frozen purees, etc.) but we love the little handle on the bottom sized right for small fingers. The goal of baby led feeding is for babies to feed themselves, and what better way than giving them something they can actually grab onto while still being able to suck on it like they would a bottle?
One mama reviewer shared, “Each little compartment holds about 1/2 an ounce, which I think is the perfect amount! Having it be such a little amount means it freezes fast and if it starts to melt while your baby is chewing on it you’re not going to have a huge mess! The handle is also good sized and my 4 month old has no problem holding onto it.”
No matter what is being offered to BB, a mess is going to happen when introducing solid food. We think the Ez Pz Mini Mat Silicone Suction Plate goes a long way in helping to stop that mess! The stay put design works with all highchair models (even the space saving ones) and works as a catchall for spilled and stray food. We love the cute little face design for helping to keep food separate, giving BB more choice in what they want to eat. This mat is also super light weight and moldable, which also makes it perfect for travel and dining out.
If the Mini Mat alone doesn’t cut it, Helwig notes, “Practice makes perfect, and before you know it, your baby will be eating with ease. To make the in-between months easier, you can spread a sheet or trash bags under the high chair, invest in a small hand-held vacuum, and get that aforementioned dog.”
GRABEASE is a brand designed specifically with baby led weaning in mind. When getting our LO to feed themselves, part of the struggle is often the length of the handle, making it too hard for small hands to manipulate into the mouth. GRABEASE’s First Training Self Feed Baby Utensils are perfect for infants ages 6 months and up who are trying to tackle self feeding. The smaller handles make hand to mouth coordination easier, while the cloud shaped design works as an anti choking feature, preventing accidental ingestion of the whole utensil.
One mama reviewer wrote, “My six month old figured these out very quickly. I am following baby led feeding and they work really well with foods that aren’t puréed. He can feed himself without the utensils choking him. Great idea, and they are definitely like training wheels for regular utensils!”
We also love that this brand has a social conscience. For every set of utensils or starter kit purchased (which includes a suction bowl and two sets of utensils), GRABEASE will donate a meal to a child in need through Project Elli & Nooli.
OXO Tot Waterproof Silicone Roll Up Bib with Comfort-Fit Fabric Neck are the epitome of a baby bib catchall, a must have for baby led weaning. As BB navigates these strange tastes and textures it’s only natural that some things will miss the mark and others will be full on rejected. (Side note, it takes sometimes up to 12 tries before baby will accept certain foods!) A bib with the ability to catch the mess saves our sanity (and our floors!). We love the soft neck style of this bib so it won’t irritate our LO, but it’s durable and malleable (it folds into the pocket), making it perfect to toss in the diaper bag for meals out as well.
One mama reviewer shared, “These bibs are amazing for us mommas who want an easier clean up. It almost catches everything and for my fellow moms who do BLW these bibs are a lifesaver. I just hand wash mine and the food comes off both types of material with ease. It’s not too heavy on my little one’s neck either. I keep one at home and one in the diaper bag for eating out/travel.”
Looking for more great ideas for BB? Check off everything on your list from our mom approved must have baby gear.