Baby food! and Baby-led weaning

Erik and I love to eat, obviously. Our goal is to grow a baby who loves to eat, too.

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A couple years ago, I read the book Baby-led Weaning for work.

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I recently re-read the book in preparation for Bea and her food. I loved that the focus was on helping baby develop a fun and healthy relationship with food, allowing freedom for baby to explore new foods at his/her own pace, and complementing rather than replacing a breastmilk-based diet.

Oh. I also loved that baby-led weaning promised to be a heck of a lot less work than pureeing a bunch of stuff (which I never got around to anyway, as explained here) and then trying to spoon-feed it to a resistant and annoyed baby.

My plan was to start introducing solid foods at around six months. I knew I wanted to bypass baby cereals completely — even the pediatricians at work had stopped recommending cereals as the only way to begin — and head straight for the veggies.

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Bea has always been a chewy/chompy (who knew gums could cause so much pain?!) alligator baby, so when carrot season at the farm arrived, I knew just what to do.

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She was about four months old then, so I started handing her raw carrots to gnaw on when she needed the novelty of a new toy. Despite my best intentions, we have quite the supply of plastic toys with questionable origins, so I was thrilled to have an organic daddy-grown entertainment option around.

To be clear, she could not actually eat any carrot since it was too hard for her toothless grin to penetrate. I just wanted her to get familiar with the look, feel, and smell of a real, live vegetable.

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I also piqued her interest with this just-out-of-reach army of squash.

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Where’s the Bea?

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Over the course of Thanksgiving weekend, when Bea was about 5.5 months old, we encountered a number of crudites platters. In the name of experimentation, I let Bea run wild with more raw carrot …

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… bell pepper, broccoli, and even celery:

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I was sure she was not ingesting any of the food but, lo and behold, that broccoli made a surprise appearance in her diaper the next day! Once I recovered from my initial panic that the diaper mold had returned (story for another day), I was pretty impressed. I will spare you a photo.

The next week, I broke into our 50-pound supply of farm sweet potatoes so I could bake some “fries” for lunch.

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I had been sitting Bea in her highchair during my meals for a couple months so she could get curious about eating and experience the excitement of an upright position. Since she was there and interested, I put a few fries (just sweet potato strips tossed in olive oil and roasted) on her tray to see what would happen.

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They went right to her mouth (what doesn’t, really?), and she loved them.

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I was not entirely sure whether she was swallowing any sweet potato or whether she was just mashing it into pieces with her fingers and exploring it with her tongue before spitting it out. The beauty of baby-led weaning is that whether she eats the food is irrelevant. She’s still getting all the calories she needs from breastmilk, so any food she takes in is just bonus. The goal is to expose her to a new sensory experience and let her discover the relationship between hunger and food in her own time.

Anyway, once again, the next day’s diaper left no doubt as to what had transpired.

With the sweet potato success under my belt, we moved on to roasted butternut squash strips:

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And steamed broccoli spears:

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By the way, I cannot say enough about this bib. It catches everything.

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Whenever Bea’s tray is empty, I reach into the bib, scoop everything out, and deposit it back onto her tray. Her eyes light up like she has won the lottery.

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Watching her manipulate the veggies provides endless entertainment.

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As recommended in the BLW book, I have been giving her mostly finger-length pieces of food. The longer strips allow her to grab the food with her whole hand and still have some extra sticking out above her fist that she can get to her mouth. Especially at first, she would get more frustrated with small pieces because they tended disappear in her hand as soon as she picked them up.

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With all the little pieces of steamed broccoli floret breaking off into Bea’s mouth, I was hyper-vigilant about choking, but I tried to sit on my hands unless a real emergency arose. It did not! The BLW book makes the point that gagging is a sign that a baby’s choking defenses are active rather than a signal for assistance. Plus, by panicking and swiping food out of her mouth, I could inadvertently panic her and cause her to choke for real. Bea has gagged a few times (but no more than when she gets a mouthful of too much milk) and gotten her tongue completely coated in broccoli bits, but she has consistently been able to resolve it on her own.

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Other times, she has gotten extra long strips of sweet potato skin or squash skin stuck in her throat but, again, she has worked it out on her own!

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I have really only tried very soft foods so far, so we’ll see how it goes when we move on to harder foods like apples.

Of course, I’m not offering her pennies or anything. If she were eating pennies, I would be panicking appropriately and swiping her mouth and whacking her back and doing infant CPR and calling 911.

Developmental perk of baby-led weaning: early pincer grasp practice!

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Convenience perk: she can eat off my plate.

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When we spent Christmas in MN, I did not have to worry about buying or preparing special food. Again, breastmilk covers the bulk of her caloric needs anyway, but when the opportunities arose, I was able to give her pieces of my broccoli, acorn squash, green beans, sweet potato, and more.

I’m also not following any rules about keeping to one new food per week, etc. I formerly recommended this limit to parents at work for allergy identification (due to the pediatricians’ preferences), but I realized that the chances of Bea developing a food allergy with no family history were pretty slim. If she does show any reaction to a new food, I guess that’s when I’ll go back to trying just one food at a time to isolate the troublemaker.

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For now, everything is fair game.

Cucumber with grammy:

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Kitty cat ear:

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Teacups:

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Pieces of smushed black bean from my shepherd’s pie:

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Farm potato:

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Steamed collard greens and kale stems:

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A note about the greens: Bea mostly sucks the juice and flesh out out of the stems because she can’t do much damage on the fibrous outside yet. She seems to enjoy them, though she already shows a clear preference for the sweeter orange foods. Lucky for her, we have 16 butternut squashes and 40 lbs of sweet potatoes waiting in the wings. I am a little worried we might be creating a squash monster … but I won’t complain if it turns her hair red :-).

So that we do not have to do extra kitchen work, we make sure to cut some of whatever we’re making into Bea-sized strips. And whenever chef Erik throws together a kitchen masterpiece, I fill a couple of these glass storage containers for the freezer so they will be waiting when we’re ready to move Bea on to more complex meat- and grain-filled meals in a month or two.

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Cute foodie baby.

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I hope food stays just as fun as it is right now.

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