When it comes to starting solids, the buzz phrase these days is “baby-led weaning“, whereas “spoon-feeding” and “purees” have become old-school. Most of you will have heard about baby-led weaning by now, and perhaps you have used this technique to introduce your baby to solid foods.
The benefits of baby-led weaning:
Essentially, baby-led weaning means that you skip purees and spoon-feeding all together, and instead offer your baby soft finger foods right from the get-go. The benefits are many–baby learns to feed himself independantly from an earlier age, and it can help develop fine-motor skills earlier. It also let’s baby be 100% in charge of what and how much he eats at any given meal or snack. It allows him to explore food independently and introduces him to a variety of tastes and textures right from six months of age.
Baby-led weaning can also be easier and more cost effective. If baby is eating what the rest of the family is eating for the most part (modified to be softer or less seasoned in some cases), it can cut down on the time a parent would be spending making homemade pureed baby food, and can also cut down on grocery costs because there is no need to buy store-bought baby food.
What about spoon-feeding though?
Some parents, however, feel that they are missing out on on the spoon-feeding experience. As much as I love the baby-led weaning philosophy and approach, I also love the experience of spoon feeding my baby. I love that it allows me to be fully engaged in the feeding experience and that I can exchange smiles and sweet little interactions with him during mealtime. With three kids, I find that those bonding moments are few and far between.
Also, there are certain nutritious foods that are much easier to feed by spoon, such as oatmeal, yogurt, cottage cheese and soup. As much as I’ve learned to embrace messes during the introducing solids, there are some messes that I’d rather avoid (such as yogurt all over my baby and my kitchen).
Some nutrition experts (and parents) also worry about adequate iron intake with baby-led weaning. Iron, coming from foods such as red meat, fish and seafood, legumes, eggs and certain vegetables is an important nutrient for babies over six months of age, as their in-utero iron stores have depleted. Research shows that babies who are fed using the baby-led weaning method often fall short in iron, which puts them at risk for iron-deficiency anemia. It’s more challenging to make sure that baby receives enough of this nutrient when they are exclusively self-feeding.
Young babies don’t haven’t yet developed the motor skills necessary to self-feed with utensils. That being said, between nine and 12 months, you can start letting your baby practice self-feeding with a spoon, and by 24 months he or she should be using utensils independently. But until then, occasional spoon-feeding helps baby to have a nice variety of flavours and textures. And if done mindfully and responsively, spoon-feeding can be “baby-led” as well.
For these reasons (and a few others) I recommend using a combination of baby-led weaning and spoon-feeding when introducing solids–a “blended” approach to starting solids.
Here are 3 Tips for success, using the “blended” method:
1) Spoon-feed in a baby-led way:
One of the benefits of baby-led weaning is the fact that it helps baby learn self-regulation in terms of how much and how fast he or she eats. Baby is able to eat at his or her own pace and stop when he or she is full. What many parents don’t realize though is that spoon-feeding can also be baby-led, as long as it’s done with awareness.
It’s important to make sure that there are minimal distractions at mealtime, and that you’re sitting directly across from baby while feeding. Watch for baby’s cues, such as opening his mouth, before bringing the spoon to his mouth and be careful not to put too much food on the spoon at once, or pressure your baby to eat too fast by holding a full spoon too close to his mouth, or chasing his mouth with the spoon. Your baby should set the pace at which he eats and you feed, so really pay attention to his physical cues when it comes to bringing food to his mouth, and pausing between bites (or ending a meal). Babies will typically turn their heads, stop opening their mouths or start playing/throwing their food when they are done eating.
2) Use both methods for the same meal:
Once your baby has been exposed to a variety of new foods, you can start feeding him balanced meals (with the rest of the family) and eventually snacks in between, depending on age and timing. Each meal should include at least three different foods and textures. I recommend including an iron-rich food that also contains protein (meat, fish, poultry, egg, beans, lentils, nut butter etc.) in combination with at least one vegetable and/or fruit and a whole grain food.
Depending on the types of foods, you can offer 100% finger foods, 100% spoon-feeding foods, or a combination of both! An example of a meal that I serve my now nine-month-old baby from time to time is a homemade oatmeal muffin paired with plain full-fat greek yogurt mixed with mashed banana and some grated carrot on the side. This is a simple example of how you can combine spoon-feeding and self-feeding in one meal.
3) Keep it simple:
There’s no need to spend hours cooking and blending homemade baby food. Honestly, a lot of it will probably go to waste, especially if you make too much. Spoon feed foods that naturally require a spoon–things like yogurt, cottage cheese, porridge, soups, apple sauce–and offer other nutritious foods as finger foods. Naturally soft foods such as fish, bananas, and scrambled eggs make perfect finger foods, as well as ground or minced foods such as cooked ground meat or poultry. Softer berries, cut up hard cheeses, cooked beans, whole grain toast strips, cooked bite sized pasta, and o-shaped whole grain cereals also work really well as finger foods.
When it comes to family meals, you can make small modifications to your meal to suit the baby, instead of making him a special meal. Simple things like not seasoning part of the salmon filet that you’re cooking, rinsing excess sauce off of of a portion of spaghetti meat sauce, or removing some of the ground meat that you’ve cooked for tacos prior to adding the taco seasoning, will help to cut down on meal prep time, and ensure that your baby eats nutritious foods along with the rest of the family.
If you’re looking for more finger food ideas and recipes for baby, check out these 20 baby-friendly finger foods
Sarah Remmer is a registered dietitian and mom of three. She writes all about kids nutrition over on her blog Nutrition From Stork to Fork. For free daily advice on nutrition for your little ones, follow Sarah on Facebook.