Our foray into baby-led weaning
If you’re used to spoon-feeding babies, baby-led weaning looks nothing short of total crazytown. Hand a baby a broccoli floret? At six months? And expect them not to choke?
At around 5 1/2 months, Niamh made it really obvious to us that she wanted FOOD. Our food, especially. After we got the go-ahead from our pediatrician to start solids, I (naturally) nerded up on everything there was to do with starting babies on solids. To say I was excited about getting our kid stuck into good food is an understatement.
One thing that kept coming up in all my reading was the term “baby led weaning”. The word “weaning” here means just the introduction of solids into a breastmilk or formula diet, and not about weaning a baby from the bottle or breast. To put it simply, you start off not by feeding a baby cereals and purees, but by jumping straight into table food after six months. I was a pretty skeptical at first. I definitely didn’t trust her not to choke herself by eating whole foods. But baby-led weaning subscribes to the idea that it’s the baby who decides how much to eat, and since I was already breastfeeding on demand, this felt right to me. The theory goes that if a baby starts off with feeding themselves from the get-go, they quickly learn how to handle food in their mouths and not choke or gag. And they’re in charge of how much they to eat. I especially liked that part.
As of right now, the peanut has about 95% of her daily calories from nursing, and the rest comes from solids. Most days I do spoon-feed her oatmeal mixed with some fruit or vegetable puree (which she loves) but the rest of her solid intake comes from the foods she feeds herself.
We started slow, with mashed banana in a silicone feeder. She loved feeding herself banana, and sometimes got so excited she would rub the sticky, banana-smothered feeder all over her face and hair, as if she wanted to bathe in banana. I got used to rubbing banana out of her hair after meals. But it was such a cheap thrill for me to see my baby feeding herself!
We moved onto roasted sweet potato fries, then slices of pear, and then I started getting adventurous. I poached a head of broccoli until it was mushy, handed her a floret, and after studying it for a moment, she took a gummy bite and then another. I like to think that a little eater was born at this very moment:
Now, I lay out a selection of foods on her high chair tray and watch as she throws half of it on the floor, smooshes some of it with the palm of her hand into the tray, and feeds herself the rest. It’s all an exploratory thing, and she’s figuring out what she likes and how food tastes and the textures of it in her mouth. I nurse her about an hour before every meal and sometimes an hour after, if she still seems hungry. We’re only about three weeks into this, so I’m excited to see where it leads to next.
The first time I fed her parsnips she was a little less than impressed. The next time, I coated the parsnip mash in rice flour and fried up these croquettes in a little olive oil. After they’d cooled, she went to town on them, mushing them between her hands and licking her fingers afterwards. It’s helpful to give babies something to “grip” when they feeds themselves, and the fried part of this croquette makes it “grippier” to hold while she’s eating. Make sure the croquette is cooled down all the way through, since these get pretty hot while cooking. I found it took about fifteen to twenty minutes to get to a temperature that wasn’t too hot for her little mouth.
- 1 large parsnip
- 1/4 cup rice flour
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Preheat the oven to 350*F. Wrap the parsnip in aluminum foil, and roast in the oven until completely cooked through. Remove from the oven and let cool completely, then cut into chunks and process through a food mill or potato ricer until very smooth with no lumps.
- Take a small amount of the parsnip mash and roll it between your hands until it is a long "finger" of croquette. They should be about the size of your thumb when finished.
- Heat the olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Toss each croquette in rice flour until coated and fry gently in the olive oil until browned all over. Remove and let any excess oil drain away onto a paper towel.
- Let the croquettes come to room temperature completely before serving to baby. Make a small incision in the center of the croquette with a knife and stick a clean finger inside to test the temp.
- These can be made ahead and eaten within two days if kept tightly covered.