Baby-led weaning (BLW), also known as baby-led feeding, is a term first coined by former midwife and health visitor, Gill Rapley in 2008, when she published her first book on the subject with Tracey Murkett. A relatively novel concept at the time, BLW has become an increasingly popular choice for parents. Begun in the UK, the method is now commonplace across the globe and there are many great apps with recipes suitable for the whole family, infants included – Shikha Gill of @my.little.food.critic and Natalie Peall of Baby Led Weaning Cookbook are among the most popular.
At its heart, BLW removes the need for purées and encourages babies to be self-regulating with their appetite. It also builds upon key motor skills as babies pick up and move the food to their lips themselves. Fans of this practise praise the variety babies consume in this diet, the social element of joining in with family meals and the independence it encourages in each child – not to mention how great corn on the cob is for teething babies. Jaz from @minimonkeysworld shares her insight into the practice, as well as two of her favourite recipes.
I started my Instagram page in 2020 when I was weaning my son, Leo, to share easy weaning ideas and tips with other parents during lockdown as I found this was something some of my mum friends had been struggling with. Soon my page grew and became more than just food – I now share everything around motherhood, including play ideas, however food remains my main focus. I released my first e-cookbook, MINI MONKEY MEALS VOL 1, a few months ago. This is full of easy, family friendly recipes that are mostly suitable from weaning age and up, which means you can all enjoy a tasty meal together without the hassle of having to cook multiple meals. Quick and easy recipes are what I’m all about because I know from experience that, as parents, we don’t have time to be in the kitchen all day.
In this blog I’ll be going over some of the many benefits of baby-led weaning. I will also show you how to go about starting this journey (as I know this is something many parents worry about), talk about my own experience with it, and lastly, I’ll share with you two of my favourite recipes for baby-led weaning which are perfect for your freezer stash – you can make them in advance and reach for them as and when you need to.
What is BLW and why do it?
Baby-led weaning is a way of introducing solid food to babies that starts with offering finger foods instead of purées and spoon-feeding. This has lots of benefits and relies on a baby’s natural instinct to bring food to their mouth. Babies are trusted to take the lead with this approach and they love the independence it affords them. I’m going to list some of the benefits below.
1. It’s easy! Baby can be offered food the whole family is eating.
Forget spending hours in the kitchen making up purées and then having to spoon-feed them to your baby. When you do BLW, your baby will simply eat parts of what you eat – as long as you omit salt, sugar and prep the food in the right way, there’s no reason they can’t enjoy parts of your meal. When we started weaning we offered Leo green/bitter vegetables for the first two weeks, so with each meal that I prepared, I picked a vegetable to go alongside it that I wanted Leo to try. I made sure Leo’s were cooked until soft and he then enjoyed it with us while we ate. It was really handy that I had my hands free to enjoy my meal while he enjoyed his.
2. It promotes independence and helps develop a healthy relationship with food.
Most six-month-old babies love to bring food to their mouth, taste and chew on it. By choosing BLW, you are giving them a chance to do this and they’ll be able to explore a wide range of tastes and textures while getting used to foods you eat as a family. The method of BLW also helps to set them up to enjoy a wide variety of foods down the line when the more fussy phases set in. Baby is in control of how much they bring to their mouth and begins to learn how much they can handle in their mouth at one time.
3. You can still involve spoons!
A big misconception of BLW is that no cutlery is allowed, leaving many parents to worry that their little ones won’t learn how to use it. This isn’t the case at all. While the priority is finger food that your baby can pick up with ease, there is no reason you can’t also serve different textures and preload the spoon for your baby to bring to their own mouth. The key difference between traditional spoon-feeding and BLW is that, with the latter, you will pass the spoon to your baby and they will choose if they bring it to their mouth or not. This way they are still leading the way and, as time goes on, they will learn to scoop and do it themselves – although I can almost guarantee they will use their hands for a while as it’s much faster for them!
How do you introduce BLW?
It’s important when introducing BLW that food is served correctly to your baby so that is safe and easy for them to eat. I recommend looking up the most common choking hazards and learning how to safely serve them. Generally anything small, hard and round needs to be modified to make it safe and certain foods need to be avoided altogether.
At the beginning you want to serve food that is soft and able to be squished between two fingers but that still holds its shape well enough for your baby to pick it up and bring to their mouth. You can steam or boil vegetables, such as broccoli, to get the right texture but foods like avocado are fine to serve as they are, as long as they are ripe and soft enough. Serving foods that are cut into roughly the size of two of your fingers (where possible) is a good guide, as this makes it easy for your baby to pick it up. You can also serve foods that are resistive, meaning that your baby can’t actually break it off into chunks, like a strip of steak or a lamb cutlet. It sounds crazy but it’s great for their oral motor skills and they get nutrients just from sucking the juices.
As time goes on and they get older (generally around nine months), their pincer grasp will develop and you can go down to smaller pieces or shredding things like meat so they can practice this new skill. It is still important to modify certain foods however and avoid choking hazards.
Remember to enjoy the process – although it may seem stressful at first, it’s a really fun time where your baby gets to explore a whole new variety of tastes, textures and smells. Along the way you will definitely get some funny faces but don’t worry, this doesn’t mean your baby doesn’t like the food, it’s all just a very new experience. It can take several tries before little ones love certain foods. Also, don’t expect them to be clearing plates and eating huge quantities at the beginning, it’s all about them having little tastes and exploring.
Our favourite BLW recipes
Now that we’ve talked about what baby-led weaning is and how to go about starting, here are two of my favourite recipes. Please note that these involve common allergens which need to be introduced on their own first to establish if there is an allergy or not before serving in a recipe such as these. You can find these easy recipes and many more like it in my e-cookbook.
Sweet potato and chickpea traybake
1 x 400g can of chickpeas (rinsed)
1 sweet potato
Curry spices - 1 tsp of each: turmeric, garam masala, ginger, ground cumin, ground coriander
Small squeeze of garlic purée or garlic granules
Small handful of spinach (optional)
1 tbsp flour (GF if needed)
1. Preheat oven to 180C/350F.
2. Use a fork to mash your chickpeas thoroughly so that no chickpeas remain whole.
3. Add in your eggs, spices, garlic, grated sweet potato, chopped spinach and mix.
4. Pour into a lined oven dish tray.
5. Pop in the oven for 20-25 minutes. Once fully cooked, remove from the oven.
6. Enjoy! Serve with a food high in vitamin C to help the body absorb the iron.
Butternut squash and broccoli frittata
70g butternut squash
3 big florets of broccoli
90g cheddar cheese (for under 12m, use a low salt cheese like mozzarella, or leave out)
50ml milk (dairy-free alternative if needed)
1 spring onion
Garlic purée or 1 garlic clove very finely chopped
1/2 tsp dried sage
1. Preheat oven to 180C/350F.
2. Prep your ingredients – grate your butternut squash and cheese, chop your broccoli very fine (you don’t want any big lumps), finely chop your spring onion and garlic clove if using.
3. Break your eggs into a mixing bowl and whisk together, adding in milk.
4. Add in the rest of the ingredients and mix well.
5. In a lined oven dish (roughly 30 x 20cm), pour your mix in and spread evenly.
6. Pop in the oven for 20 minutes or until fully cooked.
7. Enjoy! Serve for young babies as I’ve shown and, for older babies developing their pincer grasp, you can go to bite size pieces!
All images by @minimonkeysworld
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