When our son was around 5 months old, he grabbed a chunk of avocado off of my salad and shoved it in his mouth. He had been exclusively breastfed up until that point, and after eyeing our plates for a few weeks, he decided to take matters into his own hands…literally.
Early on, my husband and I had discussed our interest in Baby-Led Weaning—letting your child feed themselves and skipping purees. You just hand them an manageable sized/shaped piece of food, and let them go at it. There were several reasons why we wanted to try this (and when I say “try,” I mean that if it didn’t work, we were fully prepared to explore other options). A few of those reasons were:
To Save Money. Baby food can be expensive—especially natural/organic, which is how we general try to eat.
To Save Time. I knew I didn’t want to make my own baby food… The thought had crossed my mind for a hot minute, but honestly? I knew I would be lazy. More power to you mamas who do it!
But here’s the main reason: I think purees are gross. Aside from mashed potatoes, I have a really really hard time with pureed food. I think it’s a mental thing, but things like fruit-in-the-cup yogurt? Forget it. I can’t even swallow it. So, the thought of buying pureed chicken, beef, and pasta, and/or making them and feeding them to my kid didn’t sit well with my stomach.
We did our research, and once our pediatrician gave us the go-ahead for solids, we dug in. We mixed baby oatmeal with breast milk and sweet potatoes for his first dinner, which we spoon fed him. (Yes, I know this is technically a puree, but we wanted to see how he would react to ANY food first, and yes, it kinda grossed me out!) But Holden loved it. After that, we moved on to avocado. Another win. It’s still one of his favorites. This is where the Baby-Led part came in. We cut the avocado into chunks, put them on his tray, and let him go to town.
I’d say about 40% got into his mouth, and the rest was everywhere else. Now, one of the things people worry about when thinking about skipping purees is the gag reflex. Lots of parents panic that their child will gag and/or choke. Choking is always something to look out for, but there is a difference between gagging and choking. Gagging—as opposed to choking—is a safety response to reposition food that is too far back in the mouth. When my son gags, he is actually handling the problem, and Andrew and I always take a beat before we do a finger swipe to clear it out. From avocado, we moved on to sweet potatoes, green beans, pears, and oatmeal bars. We cut the sweet potatoes into rounds, baked them, and let him pull the skin off on his own. The beans were steamed, and the pears were cold and cut into chunks. Basically, anything that can be a finger food becomes one! The different textures and temperatures intrigued him and (I think) kept him interested in his meals.
We continued introducing different foods—fruits and vegetables—until we got the okay from our doctor to move onto grains and meats and finally dairy and fish. (Side note: Each pediatrician has their own system of what should be introduced and when. Ours said to wait on fish, but our friends said salmon should be a first food).
Now, at almost 10 months old, Holden is an awesome eater. I’d say about 85% of the food actually makes it into his mouth now, and we’re working on using a spoon. He’ll mow down everything we put in front of him. He’ll crush a whole scrambled egg with veggies or sausage for breakfast, veggie straws and zucchini fritters for lunch, and taco meat with tomatoes and avocado for dinner.
Along with the fact that it’s easier to feed him what we’re eating rather than making something separate, there’s a huge added bonus: I’m becoming more organized with our meal planning. I’ll admit it. I hate meal prep. I’m not one of those people who can make a giant batch of whatever every Sunday, but—because I want to make sure my kiddo has a balanced diet—our eating habits have changed as well. I plan on a protein, veggie, and usually a grain with each meal. Although one of us adults (ahem, my husband) is a little picky, feeding the things he doesn’t like to Holden forces him to try them as well. We do sub some foods sometimes. If our meal is overly spicy or something too hard for a babe with only 2 teeth to eat, frozen meatballs, hot dogs, or steamed veggies are our go to replacements.
So, that’s been our experience with Baby-Led Weaning. It works for us, but I totally understand that it may not work for everyone! Fingers crossed that the babe continues to be a killer eater and we don’t hit a picky stage… This decidedly UN-picky mama won’t know how to handle that!