Baby-Led Weaning: Starting Kids on Whole Foods

Baby-Led Weaning. It's a method for introducing your infant to foods other than breastmilk that is based on the premise that babies know how to feed themselves, when they are ready. We took this approach with both of our children, and it was the beginning of a great relationship with food for both of them. 

Eating with your baby - at the same time, at the same table, an sharing the same food - is at the heart of baby-led weaning. There is no need for ‘baby food,’ purees, or spoon-feeding. Your baby simply feeds herself, exploring and enjoying healthy family meals, from her very first taste of solid food.
— Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett, The Baby-Led Weaning Cookbook
Pork chops ahoy!

Pork chops ahoy!

Babies have a built-in gag reflex only halfway up the tongue (shallower than adults), which prevents them from choking on non-pureed foods. (Spoon-feeding typically bypasses babies' gag reflex). And even babies without teeth can get nutrition from gumming foods, like pieces of roasted meat and vegetables, bread, and pastas. 

But beyond the biology and the logistics, I was attracted to Baby-Led Weaning for the social, developmental, and emotional benefits. Baby-Led Weaning aligned with everything I wanted for my kids when it came to food (some of which I talked about in my post about Family Dinner):

 

Families eat meals together.
Everyone eats the same meal.
Texture, colour, and shape are all there for babies to see and distinguish.
Autonomy: babies choose what they want to try.
and of course,
Meals made from scratch, with whole ingredients.

If you are a family who regularly cooks and eats meals made from scratch, I venture to say that taking the BLW approach, in addition to being wonderful for all the reasons mentioned above, does also make your life easier. It means that no one has to spend the meal feeding the baby, and no one has to prepare special baby food in addition to the family dinner.

And when it comes to including children in food preparation, BLW is a great beginning, since babies see you making food from scratch, serving it with the rest of the family's meal, and eating the same food at the same time. 

The baby who sits in a highchair watching you washing and steaming some carrots, or peeling a banana...is learning that the true story of lunch begins with raw ingredients, rather than with the opening of a jar.
— Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Fizz Carr, The River Cottage Family Cookbook
breading fish

breading fish

mixing meatballs

mixing meatballs

 Of course, parents and caregivers can start bringing children into the kitchen to help with cooking at any stage, and BLW is not a pre-requisite. But the autonomy of BLW leads beautifully into the autonomy of, say, mixing meatballs, breading fish, or tossing a salad, all happening by around 12 - 18 months of age. (see photos.)

...or tossing a salad.

...or tossing a salad.

Our kids tried an enormously wide variety of food as infants - everything from beets to beef to broccoli and pork chops (see above). They ate what we ate. Cash's first food was roasted squash cubes, and Polly's was a yellow string bean. [Full disclosure: I was planning to make my own pureed baby food, and in fact had my Baby Bullet all washed and ready to go, when a friend introduced me to the method a week before Cash turned 6 months old. At first I thought she was talking about weaning off breastmilk, and I had no intention of doing that for years, but once I understood - that it's just the beginning of the eventual process of weaning off breastmilk -  I ran out and bought the book, and the rest is whole foods history!]

Do please hop on over to babyledweaning.com, where you'll find much more detail about the method, which was conceived by Gill Rapley. Her first book, Baby-Led Weaning, was published in 2008. I'll leave you with this charming video of Cash enjoying lunch, when he was 7 months old. He still loves many of these foods today, at age 4.5.