We love food. Zach and I love to cook, Zach works in food, I write about food, test recipes, style food for photo shoots – and whenever Z and I talk about our dream job – the career we look forward to starting together one day – it always has something to do with cooking or baking for others. So naturally we were pretty stoked for Rad to take his first bite.
I had always pictured it like this – roasting and steaming veggies and fruits, puréeing them up with my new Cuisinart hand blender and spoonfeeding Rad. But, I came across this book – River Cottage Baby and Toddler Cookbook by Nikki Duffy – and started reading about baby-led weaning. Duffy talks about spoonfeeding, yes, but she also enlightened me on baby-led weaning as well as a combination of both. I thought – yeah, I am definitely going to put the ball in Rad’s court. Sort of.
I was sure it should be sweet potatoes that made it into Rad’s mouth first. (Well, he sucked on an apple at about 24 weeks.) But, for his first food at 6 months-ish, I thought a bite of lusciously mushy sweet potatoes would be a candied zing for his palate. They are hands down a favorite of mine. Comforting, packed full of goodness, and when roasted they yield the most delicious and chewy sweetness. Although for Rad it did start as a plain flavored stick of steamed sweet potato. I had thought less overpowering sweet taste would be better, although in hindsight, roasted would have been just fine.
Baby-led weaning suggests putting very well cooked pieces of fruit or veggie (and then legumes, meats, etc.) in front of your baby and letting him or her pick them up and, essentially, explore. The combination of both methods would mean you are also a part of the serving/eating. Looking back on the last six weeks, the combination method is certainly what I/we embraced more than anything. Even that first day with sweet potatoes, I thought – well, I do want to just get some into his mouth, so … So, that first day of eating, while I did offer whole, softly steamed sticks to Rad I also mashed some up, globbed a dab on my finger and Rad sucked it off. And it was everything I was waiting for. He offered that funny little look that babies give, what is this and now what do I do? – while I am sure the little neurons in his brain were rapid firing. And then he leaned in for more.
So, we continued on like that. The softened sticks of sweet potato in front of Rad were played with and squished (he was exploring! That’s a good thing!) and then he continued gobbling up a healthy bit more from my fingers, with Zach all the while taking pictures of a sweet potato tinged face.
Then it was roasted sweet potato. Then banana. Avocado. Oats. Peas. Bananas. Bananas with breast milk. Carrots. Mango. Bananas. Raspberries. Strawberries. Blueberries. Beets. (This is daring.) Bananas. Kale. Spinach. Pears. Salmon. Salmon with bananas. Oh. You caught the banana part in there? (Oh, and you are creeped out by mixing salmon with banana? Don’t be.) I considered that feeding bananas to Rad early on in the discovery process would change the tasting path (like, because now it’s saccharine bananas on everything) but there was a thoughtful reason behind it. Since babies start to lose their stores of iron (breast milk doesn’t provide all of the iron that they need) and since we weren’t at steak yet, I thought getting oats in there would be at least a little helpful. Even though I cooked down his first oats to mush I still thought mixing in bananas would offer an even more approachable consistency. Turns out it did. It has become a morning staple. Made better by the fact that I too have a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast nearly every morning, so now Rad and I tuck in at the dining room table together each a.m. for a delectable breakfast together.
That is essentially the positive outcome of baby-led weaning – your baby shares mealtime with you. Baby-led weaning also helps them understand their hunger and satiety. They will slowly but surely eat more foods and slowly but surely take less milk. But, for now, Rad’s diet is still mainly breast milk (as it, or formula, should be for your baby at this age) and that is where all of his nutrients are still coming from. Which means when 90% of the food ends up on the floor rather than 100% of it feeding their sweet little bellies, you don’t have to worry so much. Although, that never seems to be a problem with Rad. If he had the means to, he’d reach down and grab whatever scrap had fallen on the floor to promptly shove it back into his mouth.
Where are we at now? I am making things mushy more often than not and we have an amusing spoon shaped like an airplane (shower gift) that Rad and I use to feed him. (He picked up on the whole spoon thing pretty quickly and he is pretty excited about it.) You might find that pureeing is necessary at this stage as I did for foods like blueberries and peas that even when mashed still yield a fibrous skin. Rad balked at the texture of peas the first time I offered them to him. He stuck out his tongue at me, colorfully covered in smashed green bits. To the blender I went! And my husband is definitely a masher. Spoonfeeding is how he wants to approach feeding Rad. I suppose it is fun, with the bonus of seeing how much is actually going into your baby’s mouth. Plus, Zach is intent on no mess. Which makes me smile. Maybe we’ll have the one child who can eat pasta and red sauce in a white t-shirt. If you want, try this – I mash up some food to spoonfeed (which Rad helps with the spoon anyway) and then I leave out large chunks too. Rad then works away at figuring out how to pick up the food that he wants to eat but also I am still helping him out. That’s the way that has been working for us.
A few closing thoughts on introducing food? Don’t worry. Just start somewhere and I would venture to say, give baby-led weaning a shot. Your baby loves to pick things up and shove them into his or her mouth and this isn’t any different. You will see over the weeks that she or he picks up chewing more and more (Rad’s mouth is hysterical now. Like a horse chomping on hay.) And, your baby will swallow their food. (Of course, don’t feed them things they can choke on, like grapes. Or, I may have tried giving him a stick of red pepper the other day. Not necessarily a good idea.) That being said, if you feel more comfortable pureeing, mashing and spoonfeeding at first, then do that. There is no sense in creating unnecessary panic for yourself. Just make sure you eventually start to offer more texture and grow from there. Rad grabbed a cucumber off of my plate the other day and ate the inside straight out of it. I didn’t even realize it was happening at first. Your baby will figure out what to do. Just keep an eye on them (I know that goes without saying it) and make sure you are giving them opportunities for all of the good stuff – get those nutrient-packed foods on their trays. It doesn’t benefit them to be offered plain old rice. I like thinking about every food moment (especially because he is only eating such small amounts of food) as a moment to indulge his sweet little body with nourishment. Plus you’ll benefit from their diet too. Your baby isn’t sitting down to a lunch of chocolate and tortilla chips like you might (oh, did I just admit to something?) so you’ll be eating wholesome goodness alongside your little tyke – scoop out some avocado with some walnuts or toss it with a bit of salsa. Chop up some cucumbers and beets – have a veggie party with your baby. Load up on omega 3’s with wild-caught salmon. You’re a tired parent. Be good to yourself.
As a last note I suppose – if your baby doesn’t like something at first, give it a couple more tries. They eventually will. And check on the texture – maybe it just isn’t rocking for him or her. For Rad, once I pureed up those peas, whew – now he attacks them with a fervent fondness usually reserved for things like chocolate cake. Also, not sure when your baby is full or if she or he wants more? They will let you know. Rad yells at us to signal both.
I checked out these two books as well and liked what I read.
The Baby-Led Weaning Cookbook, Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett – straightforward, no-fuss talk on baby-led weaning. Tells you what to start with and how.
201 Organic Baby Purees,Tamika L. Gardner – Note: I saw this at the library and grabbed it because of the words “baby purees.” Simple but good ideas. But, what I do want to mention is that I think pressuring people to buy all organic can induce anxiety. Let’s be real – many families can’t afford it. Just do what you can. If you can buy organic, here is a list of the top offenders for pesticides. And here are the cleanest 15. I mean, buy local when and if you can, from a farmer you can talk to. We live in a small town that is far from farmland but every Friday evening from 4 p.m. – 7 p.m., from June through October three farmers set up shop downtown. They don’t spray and they have a decent selection. Works for me. If you are at the grocery store and you can’t afford organic and there isn’t a local option, conventional fruits and veggies win in my books over packaged foods any day. You are an awesome parent. The fact that you are prepping fresh food for your little pumpkin is totally rad.
I just use a fork and mash most things. Other foods like blueberries and peas I throw into my blender. I am at home with Rad each day though and the kitchen is where I am the most settled and find the most happiness, so that works for me. That may not work for you. You could use a small food processor or an immersion blender to make up large batches and freeze your extras. If you are uncomfortable in the kitchen, any of the three books that I have linked to will talk over prep and storage.
Stock up on these jars and lids. When Rad, Z and I are popping out for the day, it’s so easy to throw some leftovers in one of these jars for a snack or a meal while we are away. And, of course for storing extras in the fridge they work wonders. They will easily transition to canning jars when we are done storing little kid food in them. (Try these jars for something delightfully colorful!)
And, check out this link for adorable baby spoons.
Sophie had a run-in with beets.