See some of our favorite foods to use as the first foods with baby-led weaning. You can make these BLW first foods for the whole family. Just modify them to be safe for your baby who is just getting started with baby-led weaning.
This post was written by Heather Liddell, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Co-Founder of The Doctor and the Dietitian.
Introducing solids for the first time is such a fun milestone for new parents.
We saw so many benefits of baby-led weaning when we did it with our daughter. It was really fun to see her learn and explore foods.
One of the reasons we chose this method of feeding is because I had heard baby-led weaning helps prevent picky eaters. She’s a fairly adventurous eater to this day and I credit a lot of that to BLW!
Baby-led weaning is an an infant feeding method pioneered by Gill Rapley and and a way to introduce solid foods to your baby through self-feeding.
With baby-led weaning (BLW), there’s no purees, no spoon feeding your baby, and no baby food jars! Your baby learns to eat by exploring and gnawing on foods that they can hold in their fist.
You can learn more about baby led weaning vs purees and see which one is right for your family!
What Foods Should I Start with Baby Led Weaning?
There are actually a lot of first foods that you can offer your baby with BLW. One of the benefits of baby-led weaning is that baby eats what you eat.
Even a baby who doesn’t have any teeth will be able to gnaw away at soft foods and enjoy them with you at the dinner table.
When an infant starts solid foods, the nutrients they need start to shift. Many of these nutrients will be found in formula or breast milk.
There are a few things that do not naturally occur in breastmilk, including iron and vitamin D. If your child is breastfed, supplementing with vitamin D is usually necessary.
Once you start solid foods enough iron could be consumed through foods. But it is important to know which foods contain iron and be sure to offer these foods a few times each day.
Talk with your pediatrician or health care team to see what you should be supplementing for your baby.
Here are 10 of our favorite first foods for baby-led feeding due to their nutrient profile and ease of eating.
1. Sweet Potato
Sweet potatoes are a classic BLW food and for good reason. They are a great source of fiber, vitamin A, C, and potassium and are usually liked by infants.
To serve, cut the sweet potato into finger-length strips and roast in the oven or steam on the stovetop. You can season with herbs but omit the salt.
Bananas are easy to hold and smash and so easy to serve. There’s hardly any prep work required! Give the banana to your baby with the peel partly on so they can grasp it while they suck off the fruit part.
You can also remove the peel and slice it lengthwise. You may need to roll it in some plain bread crumbs or unsweetened coconut flakes to help your baby keep grip of it.
These little trees are one of the best first foods because they contain vitamin C, which helps all that iron get absorbed into the body more efficiently. Broccoli also comes with a natural handle on the stalk.
Steam and allow your baby to eat off the top of the broccoli florets.
When they get to the stalk, if you can squish the stalk between your fingers, it should be soft enough to let your baby eat. If the stalk is not squish-able, it’s best to not allow your baby to eat as it may be too hard to smash.
Beef is iron-rich and full of other important minerals. Cook medium or medium-well for plenty of juice for baby,
Your baby most likely won’t be taking bites of the meat, but sucking it and taking the juices in, which is still great for iron, zinc, and many other nutrients. Offer small pieces (fry-like shaped) that baby can grab with their whole fist to gnaw and suck on when serving meat.
Cut the fruit into long strips with the rind on so your baby can easily grasp it. They’ll naturally pull the meat away from the rind. You can also peel the rind off and roll the cantaloupe into unsweetened coconut flakes for a better grip.
This is a great option as it is a strong but soft food item that can be easy for babies to grasp. Cook it in the oven with a little bit of avocado oil on top and your little one will get a food full of healthy fats, iron, and protein!
7. Smashed Beans
Soft and squish-able, beans are a great option in your baby’s diet. They are full of iron as well. You could preload a spoon, spread on a slice of bread, or allow your baby to rake at the beans.
See my favorite baby led weaning supplies, including spoons.
Smashed beans also help babies to develop the pincer grasp as they grow and develop.
New guidelines recommend introducing top allergenic foods to babies earlier than previously recommended. As soon as babies start to eat, eggs can be given.
Scramble them or serve hard-boiled and sliced in long strips. The yolks could also be smashed and spread on toast. Speaking of toast…
Toast is a great versatile food to use as a vehicle for eating other foods!
Toast the bread slightly to give it a little more firmness and use a spread to add different textures and flavors.
Things like smashed beans, cooked lentils, smashed avocado, smashed eggs, creamy peanut butter, yogurt, or smashed fruit like raspberries are a few options.
Bread is usually fortified with iron and many other important nutrients, but look for options that contain low sodium and little-to-no added sugar.
Also avoid breads with seeds and nut chunks in them.
We can’t have a list of our favorite BLW foods without mentioning avocado! This food is another one that is great because it is so easy to prep and is so versatile.
Avocado contains healthy fats, fiber, folate, potassium and Vitamin C, among other nutrients.
To serve, smash and spread onto toast, or cut into thick slices leaving the peel half on or off.
You can also roll avocado slices in plain bread crumbs or unsweetened coconut flakes to make it easier to grasp. You can also preload it onto an infant utensil.
There really are so many fruits and vegetables that you can serve to your baby with baby-led weaning!. Explore new foods and enjoy watching your baby try their first foods.
Baby-led Weaning Foods to Avoid
There are a few food items that we want to avoid with our infants to keep them safe and healthy.
Salt and Sugar: Salt and sugar are not recommended to be given to babies before the age of one.
Check the packages of any food item that you are serving to your baby to ensure that there is little sodium (look for around 100mg or less per serving) and no added sugar in the food item.
Honey: Honey is avoided for infants less than one because there is a rare bacteria called Clostridium botulinum present in some honey. This bacteria can cause botulism, a rare but potentially fatal illness that causes toxins to attack the nerves in the body.
Choking Hazards: The last items in the foods to avoid list are all considered choking hazards. These foods may easily get lodged in the airway and cause choking. Avoid giving your baby these choking hazards:
- Hard candy
- Hard chunks of cheese
- Uncooked apple
- Raw vegetables (okay if given steamed or roasted)
- Whole nuts and seeds
- Whole Grapes
- Spoonful of peanut butter
- Gooey, sticky foods
What About Gagging/Choking?
Many parents are concerned about baby led weaning and choking.
Often, babies who are fed with the BLW method will gag. There is a difference between gagging and choking.
We want our babies to be able to gag as they are learning to move food around and swallow or get it out appropriately.
Their gag reflex will kick in as needed!
Gagging can be off putting for parents, so take time to learn about the differences between gagging and choking.
A recent study by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that babies following a modified version of BLW did not choke more than babies following traditional feeding methods.
Being present while your infant is eating and being aware of foods that are a choking hazard is helpful to decrease the risk of choking.
How Do I Start Baby-Led Weaning?
Once your baby is at least 6 months of age and can sit up unassisted, they are generally ready to start eating solids with baby led weaning (BLW).
See the signs of readiness for baby led weaning and check with your child’s pediatrician that it’s the best time for you to start.
Serve Soft-ish Foods
When feeding baby led weaning style, aim for whole foods that are soft enough to be squished between two fingers (your index finger and thumb). But not too slippery to frustrate your baby as he tries to hold it.
When giving pieces of food, measure them to be the size of a finger. This is a good size for a baby to grab onto and suck, mash, and chew.
When you’re first getting started, start with one or two pieces of food. This whole experience is new and too much food might overwhelm baby.
As they grow and develop their fine motor skills, you can work on giving them smaller pieces of food. For now start with finger-shaped sizes so baby can grab and bring food to her mouth on her own.
Be sure to sit with your baby while he is eating. Family mealtime helps your baby see eating modeled and allows you to watch your baby in case he takes in too big of a bite or chokes.
Baby led weaning is a great way for everyone to enjoy family meals together!
Use a High Chair
It’s also important to have your baby sitting in a safe and secure infant highchair, with adjusted straps and a footrest. These are the best high chairs for baby-led weaning.
Have fun starting solids with your baby and serving these baby led weaning first foods!