One of my greatest pleasures as a mom and a cook is feeding my baby. Now that Nathaniel is 9 months old and is a champion eater, I thought it was high time to share our experience with all of you, especially for those of you who have little ones of your own.
I have to start out by saying that every baby is so different; I am simply sharing our experience. Your baby may be completely different. You might have a totally different approach to feeding your baby. As long as our babies are healthy and getting needed nutrients, that’s what’s most important, right?
We are very blessed with a good eater; Nathaniel is not picky at all. In fact, I can’t think of anything that he didn’t like that we’ve offered him so far. My heart goes out to all you Mamas who have picky eaters. I had a very brief encounter dealing with a picky eater when I was a foster mom to a 5 year old boy who was as picky as they come, and I know that it’s very discouraging and tiring trying to get anything nutritious into a little body that refuses to eat anything healthy. I pray that Nathaniel continues to be a good eater as he gets older too. For now, I am really thankful to enjoy my little foodie and don’t take it for granted.
I read a lot on the subject of baby food, transitioning to solids and baby led weaning and we decided to go with a slightly modified version of baby led weaning. Baby led weaning is where you give the baby finger food and let them feed themselves, instead of the more traditional route of spoon feeding the baby pureed food. The key with baby led weaning is to cut the baby’s food into sticks or baby fist sized pieces, so that they can easily grasp it with their hands and be able to feed themselves. Later on when they have a better pincer grasp, they will be able to pick up pieces of food better and you can cut it into smaller pieces. The food needs to be soft enough that they will be able to “bite” off pieces but still firm enough that they can grasp it with their fingers. Start out with something that’s simple and easy to digest, like banana, sweet potato and avocado.
To this day, I haven’t pureed food for Nathaniel, unless I was doing it for our own dinner too, such as the Creamy Potato, Leek and Celery Soup. We do spoon feed Nathaniel if we’re feeding him soup, oatmeal, yogurt, etc. He wouldn’t be able to grasp that kind of food, of course. Otherwise, we mostly give him pieces of food and he eats it himself. Both Sergi and I love this method and most importantly, Nathaniel loves it too.
I don’t usually make special food just for Nathaniel. Once in a while, I’ll roast a sweet potato, butternut squash, etc. and keep it in the refrigerator for Nathaniel. For the most part, he eats whatever Sergi and I are eating.
There are so many resources online: articles, blog posts, videos, books. You can find a ton of free stuff, but if you’re looking for a book, I highly recommend The Baby Led Weaning Cookbook. You’ll get all the information you need about baby led weaning, plus a ton of recipes.
“Eating with your baby— at the same time, at the same table, and sharing the same food— is at the heart of baby-led weaning. There is no need for “baby food,” purées, or spoon-feeding. Your baby simply feeds herself, exploring and enjoying healthy family meals, from her very first taste of solid food. Baby-led weaning (BLW) makes introducing solids easier and more enjoyable for the whole family and encourages your baby to become confident and happy at mealtimes and to enjoy good, nutritious food as she grows up.” Baby Led Weaning Cookbook
For the baby’s first year, breast milk or formula will be their main source of nutrition. There is a saying that “food before one is just for fun”. So, don’t worry too much about how much your baby is eating, whether they are getting enough nutrients, etc. because they will still get most of their calories from breastmilk/formula. Usually, most babies are ready for solids around 6 months. There are certain things to look for that will help you determine if your baby is ready to start eating solids. (Here’s a great article about what signs to look for.)
This is what we saw in Nathaniel that gave us the thumbs up that he was ready:
- He was able to hold his head and neck up by himself and was able to sit up when supported.
- He showed interest in food. Whenever he saw food, he would watch us intently, he would make chewing motions and swallow, and tried to grab our food.
- When we started giving him food, he was able to swallow and chew. If your baby isn’t ready for solids, he will push food out of his mouth with his tongue.
Because it was getting impossible to eat in peace around him, and he showed all the signs that he was ready for food, we actually introduced him to solids a little bit younger than 6 months. One of the first foods that he ate was a little bit of avocado and then a banana. We would also give give a cucumber, a celery stick or an apple slice to hold and suck on. Of course, in the beginning, he was mostly playing with the food and didn’t swallow a lot of it. He didn’t actually start to eat a significant amount of solids until he was 6 months and older.
Here are some things that Nathaniel eats:
- Soups – if it’s a creamy soup, he will eat it that way. If the soup has chunks of meat and vegetables, I don’t mash or puree it. Even when he had only 2 bottom teeth, it’s amazing how well he was able to chew. He just recently got his 2 upper teeth (4 total) this past week. (Here’s a cute video I posted on FB/Instagram of Nathaniel eating soup.)
- Yogurt, ricotta, homemade tvorog (farmer’s cheese), cottage cheese
- Mashed potatoes
- Roasted or steamed vegetables: sweet potatoes, regular potatoes, butternut squash, root vegetables, zucchini, bell peppers, carrots, tomatoes
- Fresh vegetables and fruit: Avocado, bananas, apples, pears, melon, watermelon, peaches, blueberries
- Slices of apple and cucumber, celery and carrot sticks: He will gnaw on the apple and cucumber and can eat most of it this way, but he mostly just chews on the celery and carrot sticks, he doesn’t actually swallow them. These are wonderful for teething babies. They are cold and crunchy on their sore, itchy and inflamed gums. (Another cute video.)
- Cooked meat and fish
- I also like to add all kinds of herbs (fresh/dry) and spices to food so that he gets used to different flavors, plus there are so many health benefits too. Of course, nothing spicy, but things like cinnamon, dill, parsley, turmeric, sage, etc.
There are certain things to avoid for babies under 1, such as honey, fish high in mercury, spicy food, mold-ripened soft cheeses, and any other foods that your family is allergic to. We don’t have any food allergies in our family, but if someone in your family is allergic to berries, for example, introduce them very carefully to your child, and preferably after the age of 1. I minimize salt and sugar in everything I cook also. We don’t ban sugar completely, but it’s very rare that he will have anything with sugar, and then only a tiny bite. We also don’t give him any juice.
Constipation: Unfortunately, that is a reality for most babies when they start eating solids. We’ve been giving Nathaniel water in a bottle and now in a sippy cup since we introduced him to solids. We always use cooled boiled water that was filtered in the first place. (That’s what our doctor recommended. That’s also the kind of water I use for his formula.)
We don’t want the baby to get dehydrated, so we only gave him water while he was eating. He is still getting a lot of formula the rest of the time. When he needs a little extra help, I give him watered down prune juice (look for the one that doesn’t have any sugar added) or pureed prunes. Thankfully, we’ve never had too big of a problem with that. Right now, he is very “regular”:).
A Few General Tips:
- Never leave the baby alone with food. If I’m not right there next to Nathaniel, I take the food away from him. Choking happens too fast to take the risk. (It’s also a really great idea to become CPR certified. I think this is a good idea for everyone, not just people who have children.)
- Feeding a baby is messy! Sometimes, I just strip him down to his diaper, because it’s a lot easier to give him a quick rinse than have to change clothes every time he eats. These bibs are great, but the problem is that sometimes they can be a huge distraction and Nathaniel ends up pulling on the bib and playing with it and gets just as messy as if he was without it. Sometimes, he leaves it alone and in that case, it catches all the food that escapes his baby fingers. Keep the high chair off the carpet or place something under the high chair, like a plastic mat or newspapers. If we are eating out or are guests in someone’s home, I will feed him myself. We keep the mess at home:).
- Eat as a family whenever possible. Not only is this starting a really good habit for the future, but it’s a way to combine a social family activity with feeding. It also ties in with the next tip.
- Keep it simple and fun. I usually don’t give Nathaniel too many things during one meal. If we are having soup and then an entree, I’ll only give him one or the other. I don’t force him to eat if he doesn’t want to. I don’t know what I would do if he was picky and didn’t want to eat, but in our case, if he’s done, I don’t push it. I also try not to overthink things. I figure that as long as we are trying to eat a balanced and healthy diet, he will too, since he’s eating whatever we are eating anyway.
We love eating with our baby and it’s so much fun watching him grow, develop new skills and reach new milestones. Nathaniel loves to eat; he is very healthy and strong. Just as soon as we give him food, he starts to babble happily, bounce and dance around and wave his arms. If Sergi comes home later than usual and I feed Nathaniel earlier, he will still want to eat with us later and will crawl from one to the other and pull himself up to us, reaching for our food. If I happen to be eating a snack, he will speed crawl to me right away and beg like a little puppy the whole time I’m eating. I just love this cutie.
I know I’ve already written a TON on this subject, and there is so much more to say, that I’m sure I missed something. If you have any questions, feel free to ask and check out all the resources I linked to. I would love to hear YOUR experience with feeding your babies. How did you introduce your little ones to solid food? What kind of food do your babies love?
A Few Other Resources:
Disclaimer: Even though I am a Registered Nurse, I am not a doctor and do not claim to be an expert in this subject. I’m just sharing our personal family experience. Every child is very unique and has different development rates. Consult your physician before implementing anything with your child.