baby food - a beginner's guide to baby led weaning, recipes and tips for feeding your little ones

This blog post has been a long time coming as I've been wanting to share with you all some of my favourite recipes and our experience with baby led weaning.

In Australia, the guidelines given to us by our local child health nurses are that babies should start solids anywhere between four and six months. Even though I attended all of the talks and did so much research on baby food, I was still so unsure about when to start feeding Harper solids and what to feed her. Somewhere between four and five months we experimented with purees - occasionally feeding Harper a tiny serving of homemade pumpkin or sweet potato puree. It took her a few weeks to warm to purees so I was only giving them to her every second day or so and I wasn't forcing her to eat them. Sometimes she'd finish an ice cube size and sometimes she'd barely touch the tip of a spoon.  I completely left this up to her. The first month I was making all the purees myself and stuck to the basics - apple, pear, pumpkin, sweet potato and zucchini.

Sometimes days would go by and Harper would push away every single puree I tried to feed her. I started worrying that she wasn't eating enough so I bought a heap of different purees from the supermarket (mainly the Rafferty's Garden ones as they contained nothing but veggies, fruit and spices) to have at home as backups for when she wouldn't eat my homemade ones. She seemed to love these so much more than the ones I made (strange because I literally used the exact same ingredients?!?!?) so I stocked up on these and fed her half of a fruit packet and half of a veggie packet most days.

I had heard about baby led weaning from friends and knew that I wanted to start introducing more whole foods to Harper around the six month mark but didn't really know where to start. This was when I stumbled upon the Baby Led Weaning Ideas Instagram account. I also joined their Facebook group (more information on their blog) and started doing some research into baby led weaning. The concept behind baby led weaning is that from six months old, you can feed your baby a range of whole foods that are not pureed, but are still soft enough for your baby to eat and big enough for your baby to grasp and feed themselves. A lot of people start with baby led weaning and never feed their baby purees - I personally disagree with this as I think it is good to slowly introduce food to your baby in a safe and controlled environment so your baby can learn about tastes and textures and start to enjoy food before they feed themselves, but each to their own!

When to start baby led weaning:

  • As long as your baby is sitting up (supported in a Bumbo / highchair is fine), around the six month mark and shows some interest in food it is safe to start baby led weaning
  • You should also wait until your baby can grasp objects and put them inside their mouth as baby led weaning is all about letting your baby eat what they want to eat and not force feeding them with a spoon

Some ideas of first foods to start with:

  • Steamed carrots, broccoli, sweet potato and potato cut into finger sized pieces
  • Steamed apple and pear cut into finger sized pieces
  • Banana and avocado slices (you can roll this in coconut/oats/breadcrumbs so it is easier for your baby to grasp), watermelon, banana, blueberries, strawberries, mandarin, orange
  • Toast fingers with butter and vegemite (salt reduced version), peanut butter or avocado
  • Any type of well cooked meat (meatballs, roast chicken, lamb chops are good things to start with), fish or eggs in bite sized pieces
  • Cheese and yoghurt (full fat)
  • Rice balls
  • Ravioli 
  • Baby safe banana bread or muffins

Some ideas of foods to fed older babies and toddlers (what my eleven month old currently loves):

  • Pasta bolognese with meatballs - I load up my sauce with veggies (lots of tomato, carrot and mushrooms), use penne pasta which is easy for babies to grasp and cut up the meatballs into quarters. Sometimes I will even freeze my meatballs in little zip lock bags which is an easy addition to some cut up veggies for lunch. 
  • Broccoli mac & cheese - cook your pasta, drain and add back to the pot with milk and cheese. Mix until sauce has melted. Steam broccoli in microwave and cut into tiny pieces. Mix into cheesy pasta and serve!
  • Vegetable ravioli - I buy this in packets from the supermarket, cook it at the beginning of the week and portion it up into three servings (then I get to eat the leftovers haha!). I usually serve this plain and sprinkle some cheese on top. 
  • Platter lunches - most days Harper picks on a platter for lunch. In my platters I include some sort of veggies (cucumber, steamed carrot, cherry tomatoes, steamed broccoli), some fruit (blueberries, mango, strawberries are favourites), a treat (rice cracker topped with yoghurt, plain biscuit or some yoghurt buttons), a cheese stick and some protein/carbs (toast with vegemite, fried egg cut into strips, roast chicken
  • Mini pizzas made with english muffins - just cut the muffin in half, spread with tomato paste, add veggies, ham and sprinkle with cheese. Cook in sandwich press for a few minutes and its done!
  • Mini quiches - I use store brought pastry in a muffin tin, add in veggies, ham and cheese and then pour my beaten egg mixture (eggs and milk) straight on top. Cook in the oven for 15 minutes or until egg is set.
  • Veggie tots - just like the potato gems you can buy at the store but so much healthier and better for bub and honestly doesn't take too long to make (especially if you have a thermomix to chop your veggies for you!). I just omitted the salt and added parmesan. 
  • Banana bread - I make a loaf of this, cut it up into slices and freeze it for those days I don't have anything left in the fridge. Take a slice out of the freezer, pop it in the toaster and you are good to go.
  • Pancakes - such an easy food for babies to feed themselves and another dish you can prepare and store in the fridge for a few days. 
  • Chicken soup - a healthy and easy dinner for bubs & parents! There is nothing as comforting as chicken soup. 
  • Annabel Karmel baby meals available at Coles & Woolworths in frozen section - I don't recommend feeding your baby frozen meals every day but on those odd nights where we are having takeaway or heading out and I need a quick and easy meal to feed Harper, these are my go to! There is a good broccoli mac and cheese, and some other yummy pasta dishes which are all loaded with veggies and the ingredients list is pretty good. 
  • Breakfast is usually yogurt / porridge / cereal with fruit puree and we feed this to Harper to keep the mess down!

Products I recommend:

  • Ikea highchair - so easy to wipe clean or even hose down outside. Plus most cafes and restaurants use these so your baby will feel comfortable in them. If you have a smaller baby buy the cushion - we are still using this for Harper at eleven months. 
  • Smock bibs - cheap and saves your bub's outfit from getting dirty after each meal! I couldn't find the ones I use online but check out your local Target store - they should be hanging near the bibs in the baby section. I love these ones as they can be thrown in the wash and have lasted me so long. 
  • EzPz mini mat - perfect for a lunch platter and sticks on to the highchair so it won't be thrown overboard with the food ;)
  • Stuck On You bento box and cooler bag - I use this whenever I am going to be out for the day and fill it with lots of little platter foods. The cooler bag keeps everything fresh and if I need to heat anything up I just pop into the Mother's Room and use the microwave. A cute Christmas or birthday gift too as it can be personalised!

Tips and why it worked for us:

  • The premise of baby led weaning is that as long as the food is not too strongly flavoured and doesn't have a high salt content, you can feed the same things you are eating to your baby. This makes life SO much easier for me - most days Harper eats the same as us for dinner (just in a deconstructed version) and she is the least fussy baby I know. 
  • Listen to your baby when you are trying to work out how much food to give them and start slow. Offer them food once or twice a day to start with and then work your way up to three meals a day plus a few snacks by the time they are one. 
  • Do a first aid course before you start baby led weaning. This is so important as you need to know the difference between gagging and choking. Your baby will gag when starting out with baby led weaning and it is OK. You can't scare your baby by freaking out every time they gag or this will put them off eating. Learn the difference and know what to do if your baby is choking. It will make the whole experience a lot more relaxed. 
  • If Harper goes off a certain food, I usually keep trying to feed it to her until she will take it again. For example, she recently stopped eating egg so I tried cooking it for her in heaps of different ways (scrambled, fried, boiled) and just kept putting it on her plate. For a month or so she wouldn't touch it but then one day she picked it up and loved it and now she eats it again!
  • When we are out I usually just share my food with Harper and this makes going to a cafe a hundred times easier. Harper loves a savoury muffin for breakfast and for dinner she will usually pick on some bread and then Matt and I will put bits of our dinner on her highchair tray for her to eat. I always bring along some blueberries and rice rusks. 
  • We never force Harper to eat - some days it will feel like she is eating me out of the house and other days she will only pick at her food and most of it will end up on the floor. I usually leave her plate in front of her for 15 minutes and if she still hasn't eaten it then I will clear it away.
  • Remember that food before one is just for fun and milk should still be their main source of nutrition. In saying this, I am trying to wean Harper from breastfeeding so lately I have been cutting back her milk feeds and she is only having milk in the morning when she wakes up and at night before she goes to bed. During the day I make sure she has plenty of dairy through cheese and yoghurt and also lots of water (especially in this heat!)
  • I'm not strict when it comes to Harper feeding herself foods that are hard to manage! If she is having any foods where cutlery is required like soup, yoghurt, cereal or rice then I feed it to her myself and just make sure I am really listening to her and watching her visual cues so I know when to stop feeding her. Be practical and if you can't stand the mess then use a spoon and feed your baby every now and then! 
  • The mess is a killer and at the start it really stressed me out but I have learnt to let go a bit. The best thing I read was that you can't clean up around your baby while they are still eating or it will put themselves off eating. So I usually just sit down next to Harper while she eats and relax and then when she is finished I clean her up and clean up the highchair and floor. I don't use a mat underneath the highchair as I feel this would just be an extra thing to clean so I just use disinfecting wipes on the highchair, a flannel to clean Harper and then do a quick vacuum and mop after every meal (this literally takes me five minutes)
  • Just go with the flow and don't stress too much if you have days where everything you feed your baby ends up on the floor! Some days I don't feel like eating much so I try and remember this when Harper doesn't want to eat. 
  • Baby led weaning is really fun and I have honestly found it to be a great experience for us. Harper developed a pincer grip really early on and was able to grab blueberries and tiny pieces of food from such a young age. Baby led weaning helps with this and is a great developmental tool. 
  • Your family and friends will probably think you are crazy for feeding your six month old pieces of "real solid food" but just don't let that worry you. Slowly BLW is becoming more and more common and when your family sees how great you have taught your baby to eat they will be so proud!
  • For more information check out the Baby Led Weaning Ideas blog - there are so many great recipes and details on foods to avoid, allergies etc. 

I hope that helped somewhat and you deserve a medal if you made it to the end of this post!! If you have any other questions feel free to email me and I will be more than happy to help.

xx G

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