The following was written for The Fatherly Forum, a community of parents and influencers with insights about work, family, and life. If you’d like to join the Forum, drop us a line at TheForum@Fatherly.com.
Shortly after learning how to say “mama,” my son learned his second favorite word: “taco.” You may laugh, but it’s true. He not only says “taco,” but he also pumps his fist in the air like he’s cheering on his team making a last minute scoring drive during the Super Bowl. “Ta-cos! Ta-cos! Ta-cos!” He was about 14 months old when he started doing this — not sure if that’s a normal milestone.
I credit my son’s love of tacos to our intentional avoidance of baby food.
Baby food is a $6.5 billion per year industry. In the process of introducing solids to their newborns, parents stockpile bottles of mushy purees of processed gook. They then spend the majority of their meals impersonating various motorized vehicles – “here comes the airplane… wooosh” – in a frustrating attempt to feed their children this inedible gunk.
My wife and I discovered a weaning technique that helped us avoid this entire fiasco — and it worked beautifully. It allowed us to feed our child without making extraordinary accommodations, like preparing an entirely different meal for our little one. It also taught our child how to feed himself, first with his hands and then later with utensils.
As a result, our meals were not stressful. Our child eats what we eat. He dines at roughly the same pace as we do. He explores new tastes and textures fearlessly — sometimes even experimenting with new mixtures. Dunking everything in apple sauce is apparently all the rage for my kiddo.
We started with soft foods, like steamed carrots and avocados.
This technique is popularly referred to as “Baby-Led Weaning.” For parents who want to avoid the added hassle and expense of baby food, this is a must.
But there is a methodology to BLW, and – for it work – it needs to be respected.
There Is A Method To This Madness
Your journey should really start with the Baby Led Weaning book by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett. Rapley and Murkett lay out the best practices of BLW in a concise manner. The book also provides testimonials from other practitioners. Early on, you will learn quickly whether or not this methodology is for you. There is also the Baby Led Weaning Cookbook, which not only offers a condensed version of the best practices but also plenty of easy recipes. Simply put, do your homework.
Is Your Kid Ready?
Preparedness is key to starting BLW. First and foremost, your child needs to be able to sit up for this to work. If she is flopping around in the high chair, she isn’t ready.
Also, how is your kid’s pincher grasp? Can he pick up little items with ease? Generally, most kids are physically able to test out solids around 6 months, give or take a week.
Finally, is your kid showing that they are curious about your food? Our kid was practically chomping at the bit to get his hands on whatever we were eating at the time. Fortunately, weaning also coincides with the “I wanna stick everything in my mouth” phase, so picking up and inserting items placed in front of him was a natural progression.
Where To Start
“So … do you just, like, just start feeding them the same meal as you?”
Kind of. Some people have different theories about this. Some take a more cautious approach by testing individual foods for a certain period of time (usually a few days) to test for allergies.
However, more research is indicating that early exposure to typically allergenic foods, like peanuts, actually reduces the risk of developing allergies.
For parents who want to avoid the added hassle and expense of baby food, this is a must.
This is why my wife and I just dove in. We started with soft foods, like steamed carrots and avocados. Later, we introduced meat, such as steak cut into large strips — big enough for the kiddo to grasp and just suck on. Like a meat lollipop. With no teeth, that’s about all babies can do at that time.
We didn’t really alter our cooking habits, other than we cut out of sodium to the best of our ability. Babies only need a very small amount of salt in their diet, and they pretty much get their daily intake from breastmilk or formula. Low sodium bacon is shockingly delicious.
Fight The Urge To Intervene
BLW is your kiddo’s opportunity to explore and experiment. They are learning about food texture, consistencies, and flavors. They are not only discovering how to feed themselves, but they are also developing fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and the jaw strength to eventually chew their food completely.
In other words, let them figure stuff out on their own. Be there to help them, encourage them, and keep them from choking.
The choking hazard is a common concern. Though it may seem counterintuitive, the bigger the chunks of food, the better. It may seem like a choking hazard, but the bigger hunks of food are easier to handle and actually develop your kiddo’s gag reflex. Plus, your child will learn how much is too much on their own.
Your child does not need to “open wide for the choo-choo” train. They got this, mom and dad.
Of Course, It’s Messy
The general rule of thumb is “food before one is just for fun,” and your kiddo will demonstrate this quickly during your first attempts. Most of your child’s sustenance will still come from the boob or the bottle in those first few months.
Meanwhile, the rest of said sustenance will either be cleaned off the floor or your kid’s face. (As a side note, consider buying some Baby Björn bibs that catch the food your baby drops. These were lifesavers for us.)
Dunking everything in apple sauce is apparently all the rage for my kiddo.
If you’re remotely squeamish about food on the fancy rug in your dining room, BLW is not for you. Or, perhaps, you can start investing in drop clothes. For our family, 2 dogs – who ravenously circled our table after each meal, dining on the spoils of our child’s messiness – sufficed as a stopgap measure for cleaning. Man’s best Roomba.
The Research Is Scant, But Positive
There isn’t a robust body of scientific research on BLW at the moment. Though what existed is mostly positive.
A study conducted by the University of Nottingham found that BLW babies were less likely to become obese later in life. The results of the study “suggest that infants weaned through the baby-led approach learn to regulate their food intake” more effectively than their cohorts.
Other research also suggests that BLW babies are less fussy about their food later in life.
The ability to explore foods on their own allows them to be less fearful of trying something new.
BLW Is Not For Everybody
It almost goes without saying this, but all kids are different. Also, you might be a bit of a neat freak. Or the whole idea of your kid gnawing on a piece of meat freaks you out.
Suffice to say, BLW might not be your thing — and that’s okay.
However, just remember this: the human race managed to successfully proliferate despite the lack of purees during the caveman days. Gerber Baby Foods were not prominent during the Pleistocene Epoch.
Also, ask yourself this: if somebody put that odd-colored gunk in front of you, would you want to eat it? If not, then Baby-Led Weaning might be up your alley.
Jay Stooksberry is a freelance writer whose work has been published in Newsweek Magazine, Foundation for Economic Education, Independent Voter Network, and many other publications. He writes about his with passions for liberty, skepticism, humor, and parenting. When he’s not writing, he splits his time between marketing consultation, staying active in his community, and spending time with his wife and son. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.