I was so excited about my little guy starting solids and thought I knew exactly how I wanted to do it: the traditional real foods way. Then a friend gave me a copy of Baby-Led Weaning, the influential book by Gill Rapley, and said that it had worked great for their daughter and that I must absolutely read it. So I did, and became very confused. Let me explain.
The premise of Baby-Led Weaning is beguilingly simple: forget about taking out that Babycook from its packaging, let your baby take charge of her own feeding and watch the birth of a little gourmet. In other words: all finger foods all the time. The thinking goes, it’s never appropriate to spoon-feed baby, for a host of reasons ranging from the author’s assertion that it actually makes choking more likely (by bypassing their easily-tickled gag reflex) to that it paves the way for difficult eaters by not letting them take charge from the get-go and that it’s much easier to overfeed them when they’re not the ones doing the feeding. And to allay parents’ fears that the little munchkin is not actually getting that much into his tummy, the proponents of BLW contend that baby does not really need the nutrients from solid food until about age one or so, and that all is well in the world as long as he’s happily playing with his food and having a blast in the process.
Well there’s a part of me that does love this approach and find that it’s sound advice. It was just so much fun watching my little guy attack his lamb chop or chicken leg, or spreading his avocado all around his high chair and his own legs in so many Kodak moments. But at some point I decided that I just can’t go with this all-or-nothing approach. First, I do believe that baby does increasingly need nutrients from solids way before his first birthday and second, there is sometimes no practical way to make that happen unless spoon-feeding. Foods like liver, egg yolk and fermented dairy are essential for well-rounded nutrition starting in those early days, and finger foods they are not. Also it is perhaps my pigheaded child but I would be hard-pressed to overfeed him with a spoon — once that mouth is closed, there are no pliers in the world that can open them!
Another one of the book’s good ideas, that of including baby in family meals, posed a problem as well. Since the little one also needed a sleep routine and to be in bed by 7 or 8pm at the latest, that was way too early for us for the most part.
So how did we end up doing it? By trying to find the middle ground. We spoon-fed him a bunch, and gave him finger foods whenever it was reasonable. If possible, all during the same meal. So for example, at 9 months a typical menu looked like this: we started off with a few pieces of semi-hard cheese (from raw milk if possible, also pieces need to be long and thin for them to be able to grab properly). This never failed to get him excited and occupied – a great distraction while we were busy preparing the rest of the meal! This may then be followed by some puréed meat with a soft egg yolk mixed in (since my guy decided early on that egg yolk was the one food he refused but he was easily “duped” when it was mixed in with other foods) and puréed sweet potatoes with some butter or crème fraîche mixed in. He may then polish it off with some slices of avocado or banana. He’s also always loved his kefir and became a pro with his sippy cup right around this time. If we have no time to clean up (BLW can be very very messy), we may then skip the mushy finger food and just do spoon.
As with most parenting decisions, we found our own way with time and decided not to stress about the admonitions of any strict way of doing things. For me the nutritional quality and variety of the foods he was eating took first priority. I also knew that I could trust my kid to eat as long as he was hungry and stop when he wasn’t. I also didn’t think his development was being stymied because of not serving himself all of his food. And while he was still not able to eat everything that we ate, preparing batches of food for him in order to freeze and reheat later was much more practical for me. Once his culinary horizons expanded (12 and 18 months were other big milestones), we started incorporating him to our meals more and more.