Introducing solids to our babies is one of the most exciting experiences in anybody’s parenting journey. It is also the babies first step towards achieving independence in terms of feeding himself. And whilst for years, spoon feeding and puree foods were the go to options, the tides have changed and now we have a new style of feeding called Baby Led Weaning.
Baby Led Weaning is a method by which babies are expected to play with their food and feed themselves. They are given the freedom to eat whatever they want from the table and decide how much or how little they want to eat. This method is now known for helping children develop a positive association with food and hence, help raise children who are not picky or fussy with food.
I have chosen a rather easy going parenting style with RoRo. I have also never had any children of my own before, so I had a fresh clean parenting slate and I wanted to go with the new style. So RoRo, in my care practiced a lot of baby led weaning and I do give this method a lot of credit for his eating skills from very early on and how fuss free he has been so far. At age two, I can take him to any restaurant and not panic. He will eat what is on the plate and he behaves relatively well for his age. Partly nature, partly nurture!
My husband, on the other hand, has two older children and when they were little, he practiced the bog standard old fashioned method of feeding and well they have turned out good eaters too. So my husband was pretty convinced in his spoon feeding method. Hence, over the weekends or whenever he was home, he would request me to puree his food and insist on spoon feeding him. I grudgingly let it happen, as a lot of bonding took place and to be honest, RoRo didn’t mind. I think he is a bit of a foodie from birth.
So the lesson learnt from his journey is that whilst I vouch for Baby Led Weaning and today, my husband would also agree that it is the way forward, no matter how bloody scary it is to see your baby gagg (only to realise it is a reflex that is important to develop) at times, there is no need to be a purist. I hand fed the older children from age 4 to 7 years, they have perfectly developed cutlery skills, table manners and eating habits.
Baby Led Weaning or BLW has a lot of benefits and it would be a shame to not make the most of it, but traditional methods does help bond if nothing, when done right (i.e no force feeding or feeding in disguise like puree).
Food Before One Is For Fun
I was told this by my friend and it stayed with me forever. And before we as parents even start thinking about introducing solids to our children we must remember that babies do not have to eat big meals or half of what is on offer to fill up their bellies or to get the appropriate nutrition. It is highly recommended that babies get their nutrition and fill themselves up on milk (breastmilk preferrably).
Please try to enjoy the process of introducing new flavours, textures and colours of food to your baby in the first year than worry about how fussy they seem. If you put up with the so called fussyness now, you are likely to get less fussiness when the baby grows up.
Oh, and be prepared for the mess! You might have to wash them three times a day. I would highly recommend getting a dog who can hoover up the floor and lick the food off the legs of the chairs and tables. Just kidding! (not really)
One of the biggest concerns with blw is chokind hazard. So whilst this method is relatively hands off compared to the traditional method. Parents are still suggested to cut the food into tiny pieces or into very large pieces. BLW does not cause any more choking than spoon feeding.
The rule of thumb is to make sure that the food is either smaller or larger than a pound coin but as I always say use your instinct. So foods like grapes or cherry tomatoes will need cutting into halves before offering it to your baby.
Anything small will pass through the airways and come out the other end. I remember being surprised by RoRo eating a cherry with the pip in. He ate the flesh around it and he knew that the pip was not to be swallowed. This was at age one I think. So as time passes with blw you will know your child’s abilities and you will feed him food by judging his skills level.
It is also important to note that blw should be introduced only when the child is ready. The signs include sitting up unassisted, being able to hold the head up without help, being able to reach out and grab things and being able to do the whole hand to mouth thing. All these skills develop around 6 months of age, in some cases it may take longer.
Iron is another thing most parents worry about a lot especially with BLW. Now triple that pressure when feeding your child a vegan diet. There is a myth going around about protein, iron etc or lack of it in vegan diet. Let’s not even go there.
Anyhow, if breastfeeding on demand, you should not worry about iron in your baby at all. And formula’s are fortified so there we go. I am not sure why is there so much of a muchness.
If not breastfeeding, make sure your baby consumes food rich in iron. You would be surprised how easy it is to feed iron rich food to kids.
Food source: brown rice, tomatoes, collard greens, kale, tofu, legumes, lentils, ), quinoa, oatmeal etc.
Just eating food rich in iron will not do. One must consume enough vitamin c daily inorder to absorb iron. Just one orange a day will cover your daily intake of vitamin c. It is that easy! Also, if in doubt, supplement.
Feed Whatever You Are Eating
The benefit of this method is that you do not have to cook or prepare separate meals for the baby. And please do not tell me making purees only takes a minute. Sure! And please also do not tell me how you puree everything you are eating, so basically it is the same as blw. Feeding a child a homogeneous mush does not appeal to me and I am sure it does not appeal to most babies either. They eat it because there is no other option, they don’t know any better or they simply spit it out and end up fussy. Sorry if I sound judgemental. If I can’t eat what I give to my child, I simply won’t give it to my child. I think that is cruel.
Anyhow, in the early days I remember cooking baby friendly meals for the family. So we ate a lot of roasted vegetables cut up lengthwise, thick soups, stews, dal, beans, couscous and rice etc. The food became more and more complicated as he grew older and we became more confident. But I never cooked him a separate meal. Not that I can recollect.
This method also encourages families to eat together. Monkey see monkey do. So the idea is if your babies watched you eat nicely at the table, they are likely to imitate you. So this is a good opportunity to get those table manners, cutlery skills and table talk practiced and polished.
I do not eat with my kids, because my kids eat at 6pm and that is way to early for me. But I always sit down at the table with all my three kids with a cup of tea. Babies learn a lot and a lot quicker from their siblings. But over the weekends, we eat together no matter what time. It not only develops positive association and great bond between family members, it also teaches babies how to share as they watch us pass the food around, eat off each others plates (ofcourse we all do that, no?) etc.
It is recommended that one uses a high chair to make meals times less messy and so the baby can reach the food easily. But a parents lap works equally well. We progressed from a bumbo chair with a tray to highchairs to now just a regular chair.
Babies do learn a lot from watching us. And because blw encourages eating together, babies are likely to pick up on bad eating habits from us. Hence, this blw is a good opportunity to get back on the healthy diet plan and boycotting the naughty junk food culture. Eat a bowl of salad or drink some smoothies instead of a milkshake or a bag of chips. The baby is watching. He may not be ready to share that bowl of salad yet but trust me, he is watching and eagerly waiting to try it when he is ready.
It is recommended that we must introdube one or two food at a time and only introduce new food every 3 to 5 days but I’d say go with your instinct. We like variety and RoRo grew up on that.
. always offer fresh water with your every meal
. do not give babies juice or squash until they are atleast a year old.
. No dairy, honey or whole nuts.
. cook spinach and other leafy veg, remove peels from apples as they can get stuck and cause discomfort.
. don’t shy away from bold and spicy flavours but do not make anything extra hot. If you want a spice loving child, introduce the flavour gradually.
6 months to 8 months
RoRo was always offered a piece of fruit, dates, avocados or roasted veggies, hummus etc as his standard meal. But we always let him have a taste of whatever that we were eating too (if something was too spicy, we would still let him have a lick from our finger). For instance, aloo bhaaji (potato curry), or indian breakfasts like poha, sabudana or aloo parathas etc.
At this age, they are just so pleased to be given this opportunity to eat that they don’t care whether you are eating with them or not and if what you are eating is different from theirs. They are using this opportunity for sensory explosion. They are developing fine motor skills ( picking up green peas), and gross motor skills like reaching the food and bringing it to the mouth or even oral motor skills, chewing and then deciding whether to swallow or to spit.
8 to 10 months
This is an interesting age. At this age, they can almost express happiness at the sight of the food that they are familar with or like. They also start to develop the skills to use a straw or drink from a cup. I gave RoRo straw at around this age. He couldn’t do much initially but they are clever little things, he started using the straw like a pro by the time he was 9 months old. This is when I introduced green smoothies to him.
This is also the age where their spoon to month skills also start to look more purposeful. So go all out with the yogurht pots, bowls of soup or porridge or cereal. It is messy and little to no food may go into the tummy, but a lot of other learning is taking place, so encourage that.
Dal and rice, sushi, steamed veggies, nut butter and toast, cooked or uncooked tofu etc go down very well. We also started offering him a variety of beans and legumes and pulses. He devoured them. Chickpeas being his favourite.
10 to 12 months:
This is the age of cooked food. As vegans, we always have fresh uncooked fruits and veggies on offer and we eat them throughout the day. Up until 10 months, RoRo would be satisfied with just those but now he was interested in cooked food more. We actually started eating good portions of his cooked food be it fried mushrooms for breakfast or scrambled tofu, fried rice or naked burgers for lunch or beans curry and rice for dinner.
1 years and up:
He would eat everthing at this age apart from nuts. We offered nuts in energy balls made with dates. It was around 20 months we realised RoRo could eat whole nuts. And this may be too early for some children so I would watch out and use parental judgement and instincts.
Tips for Spoon Feeding
As mentioned earlier, We aren’t purists and so we have helped RoRo a few times by feeding him. But when I say feeding, we don’t mean we kept shoving spoonfuls in his mouth and depositing food in the top half of his mouth and wiping the excess from around his mouth with the spoon.
We offered a spoonful a few inches away from his mouth whilst asking him gently if he’d like to eat it, we then either waited for a cue from him, i.e, a forward lean of the head or hands reaching out for the spoon and as he grew older, we’d let him grab the spoon and bring it to his mouth all on his own. And we always respected the fact that if he is not opening his mouth, he is not hungry. Period! There was no silly aeroplanes or televisions or birds in the sky to trick him into eating.
Now RoRo is a total foodie. He will eat anything on offer and is open to trying new things. He loves spicy and savoury food items. His favourite flavour happens to be tangy. He will sit and suck on a whole lemon quite merrily.