Top 12 First Foods for Baby-led Weaning
Baby-led weaning is a popular method of introducing solid food to your baby. A common question I get is “What are the best starter foods for baby-led weaning?”
I’ll answer that for you below by sharing my top 12 baby-led weaning first foods, including a sample Baby-led Weaning meal plan.
Benefits of Baby-led Weaning
Baby-led Weaning’ is starting your baby on solids with finger food. You skip the spoon-feeding pureed food and baby feeds him or herself from the start!
One benefit of baby-led weaning is that it will help to improve the baby’s finger dexterity and strength of mouth muscles.
Exposing your little one to lots of textures and tastes may prevent some picky eating later on too.
Another benefit of your baby’s self-feeding is that she is able to listen to her appetite and learn how to self-regulate. There is no “here comes the airplane” or other pressure from mom or dad to eat more baby food.
When you should start baby-led weaning?
1) Age: around six months of age, most babies are ready to start solids.
These recommendations come from Health Canada, Dietitians of Canada and the World Health Organization.
Some doctors are still saying four to six months, or so I hear. But in general, they’re just not up-to-date on the current guidelines (which yes, include recent allergy recommendations!). And remember breast milk is still their main source of nutrition in the first year.
2) Your baby should have enough physical strength to self-feed.
Your baby needs the motor skill to be strong enough to lean forward, grab food and get it to their mouth without needing arms for support. And lean forward to spit food out if needed, for safety.
Your baby doesn’t need to sit unsupported for a certain number of minutes, as long as they can sit supported in their high chair, that’s ok. For more info on this, check out “When can I start solids with baby-led weaning.“
3) Your baby should also have some interest in eating.
Usually, around five months, they become interested in putting everything in their mouth. Including toys and their hands. That’s actually preparing them to start solids and feed themselves a variety of food.
If your baby’s really eager to eat, but not quite six months yet, you can sit them at the table with you during meals. Give them something to chew on, even if it’s just a plastic spoon. They get to practice moving that around in their mouth and decrease their gag reflex so they are more prepared to eat.
Baby-led weaning starter foods: feeding tips
There are two important considerations when choosing foods for your baby-led weaner. Nutrient-density (especially iron) and preventing choking.
1) High Iron Foods for baby-led weaning
A common practice I’ve seen is feeding baby exclusively fruits and vegetables for days or weeks. And while fruits and veggies do contain vitamins, they are too low in both energy and other crucial nutrients (like iron), to be the sole offering.
Your baby needs lots of iron for mental and physical development. It’s the most important nutrient for them to start getting from food around 6 months of age.
Here are 5 tips to make sure your baby gets enough iron while using Baby-led Weaning:
- Offer a source of iron at each meal (two times per day when starting): scrambled eggs, black beans, tofu, cooked spinach, clams, oysters, liver, fish, beef, bison (higher in iron than beef!), chicken (dark meat is higher in iron than white) or pork.
- Offer fortified powder infant cereal baked into finger foods. You can also sub half of the flour in your pancake recipes for fortified infant cereal.
- Include a source of vitamin C in the meal, to increase absorption. Top fortified pancakes or cereal with fruit compote, serve lentils in stewed tomatoes and add spinach to a fruit smoothie.
- Offer finger-friendly fortified cereals such as Nutrios or Toodle-O’s.
- Use pureed meat as a spread or dip on toast or crackers (sort of like pate!).
Read this for more information on how to get enough iron when using Baby-led Weaning.
2) Safe foods to prevent choking with baby-led weaning
While babies can eat a lot of solid foods without teeth (those gums are strong – teeth or no teeth!), don’t expect them to chew through a steak. Offer soft food like ground meats, eggs & steamed fruits and veggies.
Soft foods are also safer than hard foods. If they do get past your baby’s gag reflex and they happen to choke, soft foods are more likely to be coughed back up easily.
The size of food is also something to consider. Avoid food that is round or could get caught in your baby’s windpipe.
If possible, my favourite shape is large enough for a beginning baby to grasp with their palm but thinner than their windpipe. Think potato chip shape! Mandolins are great tools for this and work for apples, carrots, beets, sweet potatoes (which would you then steam) and more!
Choking is the main thing baby-led weaning parents worry about. While baby-led weaners have not been shown to be more likely to choke, we want to prevent choking no matter how starting solids. And know how to treat it, in the unlikely case your baby does choke.
Choking and Baby-led Weaning: Tips to prevent choking
- Let your baby feed themselves finger foods. Never put a piece of food into your baby’s mouth. If you put food into their mouth, it may immediately fall to the back, without the baby having a chance to control it with their tongue and chew it.
- Always watch baby while they eat. Remember, choking is silent. And sitting down to eat with your baby is one of the benefits of Baby led Weaning anyways!
- Offer safe textures of food. If food does happen to get past the gag reflex and cause your baby to choke, they will be much more likely to cough up a soft food. Steam fruits and veggies and test the foods to make sure you can mash them with your tongue on the roof of your mouth.
- High Chair Belt Safety. Use a proper high chair. I preferred not to buckle the high chair (unless there’s a risk of your baby falling or climbing out). That way you can get them out quickly, if needed.
- Supported seating in the high chair. If they are leaning to one side or too low, roll up towels to support baby. The tray (or table) should come between their nipples and belly button. Their feet should sit on a footrest.
- No distractions during meals. Don’t have toys to play with or the TV on during meals, as a distracted baby is more likely to choke.
- Offer safe sizes of food. Baby’s air tube is about the width of a straw. So avoid round items, which could totally block the air tube. Slice foods thinly, if possible. I like to picture a potato-chip shape, which works well for foods like apple, sweet potato, beet, cucumber or large carrots for example. Later you can offer hard raw vegetables and fruit grated with a cheese grater.
Check this out to read more about the research on baby-led weaning and choking, the difference between gagging and choking and foods to avoid: tips to prevent choking with BLW.
Top 12 first foods for baby-led weaning
Need some baby-led weaning food ideas? Here are my top choices for starter foods for BLW.
Baby-led Weaning Avocado
Ripe avocado slices are a great starter food for BLW, as it’s soft and high in healthy fats.
However, it can be hard to grasp slippery foods! So cut thin slices and roll them in infant cereal, ground flax or wheat germ. Not only does this add extra iron and fibre, but makes it easier to grasp the avocado without sliding out of your baby’s hand!
Baby-led Weaning Banana
Bananas are a popular first food for baby-led weaning. Remember to pair them with an iron-rich food (like meatballs, eggs or the muffins below). To serve bananas to your baby, you can cut them into thin long strips and coat them in infant cereal, like the avocados above.
Another neat way to serve bananas is to slice half of the peel off, leaving part of the edible banana sticking out. The baby can grasp the peel and gum the banana (which is very soft, so not a big choking hazard). Make sure to wash the peel, as your baby may be sucking on it!
Baby-led Weaning Muffins
Muffins are easy to grasp and eat for little ones and are great for on-the-go snacks for toddlers too. These Avocado Blueberry Mini-Muffins have some flour substituted for infant cereal to boost the iron.
Fried Egg Strips for Baby
Eggs are high in protein and some difficult-to-find nutrients like choline. The yolks are also a source of iron. And yes, you can offer the yolks and whites after 6 months!
I like to serve the eggs fried and sliced into long strips for beginner babies. And scrambled once your baby has a pincer grasp and can pick up the pieces.
Slow-cooked or Pressure-cooked Ribs
When you’re baby is starting out, they will need larger strips of food that they can hold in their palm. They will eat the food down to their palm, let go of the portion “caught” in their fist and move on to the next piece.
Ribs are a perfect size and when cooked in a pressure cooker or slow cooker, will be very tender for your baby. Plus, they are high in iron and make a great photo op!
Baby-led Weaning Beans
Beans are a good source of protein, fibre and iron. Until your baby has a pincer grasp and can pick beans up, mash them onto toast.
Or offer them as a dip, like hummus. Your baby can use their hands (if you’re brave!), a “dipper” spoon (like a Num Num Pre-Spoon-GOOtensil, Multi-affiliate link) or food like a breadstick to dip into the mashed beans.
Bison or Beef Meatballs for Baby
Ground meat is an easy way to offer your baby heme iron (the iron in meat is the best-absorbed source, and is called heme iron).
Meatloaf, meat sauce or meatballs are a great way to serve ground bison, beef, chicken or turkey. Press them down a bit before baking and you’ll have baby-burgers!
Bison is super high in iron, check out this post to read why I love it as a starter food and for a meatball recipe.
To help promote tolerance and prevent food allergies, it’s now recommended to introduce peanuts to your baby around 6 months of age. I wouldn’t offer a high-risk allergen as their first food, but within the first month of eating you’re good to go!
How do you serve peanuts to your baby? I would take a slice of soft whole wheat bread, slice the crust off and cut it into strips. Spread a thin layer of natural peanut butter on the toast finger and offer it to your baby.
Apples for Baby-led Weaning
And a survey found that full apples were the #1 things Baby-led Weaners choked on. Instead, peel and slice the apple thinly (use a mandolin if you have one) and steam the apples until tender.
Once your baby is older, you can use a cheese grater to grate a full, raw apple.
Baby-led Weaning Pancakes
There are some fantastic starter pancake recipes out there. One of my faves is to mix mashed banana and egg and bake just like that! You can add a bit of cinnamon, vanilla, butter or experiment as you like.
Another good idea is to make a healthy pancake recipe and swap half of the flour for fortified infant cereal.
Baby-led Weaning Chicken
The dark chicken meat in thighs or legs is easier to absorb than the white breast meat. Cook the meat in a slow cooker or pressure cooker. You can shred the thighs or offer your baby a whole leg (gristle and skin removed) to gnaw on!
Fish Cakes for Baby
Fish contains the omega 3 fat DHA, which is a source of iron too. You can offer canned, no-sodium-added salmon right out of the can! How easy is that?!
You can also make fish cakes, like these Tasty Fish Cakes!
Combining these foods into meals for your baby-led weaner
So do you just offer your baby one of these foods to start? I prefer to offer small amounts of two or three foods per baby’s meal (twice per day at 6 months).
1) A high iron food: fortified muffins or pancakes (with infant cereal added), eggs, meat, fish, beans.
2) Food high in vitamin C: fruit or vegetable like berries, squash or broccoli.
3) High-calorie food (if one of the above foods is not high in calories): nut butter, cheese, butter, avocado, full-fat yogurt on a preloaded spoon.
And yes, you can also offer sips of water with meals. You can also offer them spices, such as oregano, cinnamon, curry and garlic powder! It may even prevent picky eating as I discussed on Global news.
Below is an example week of meal plans for starting solids with your baby. Note that each meal includes a source of iron, vitamin C and fat.
Baby-led Weaning sample meal plan
* Recipes are from my baby-led weaning book “The Parents Guide to Baby-led Weaning”.
And of course one of the benefits of baby-led weaning is being able to eat the same meal as a family. Here are some more tips on how to modify family meals.
Baby-led Weaning Foods to Avoid
While you and your baby will be able to share many different foods and meals, there are a few foods that you will want to avoid for your baby. These include:
- Honey until 12 months, due to botulism risk.
- Highly sweetened foods. We don’t want babe growing up with a taste for super sweet foods. And no matter the type of sugar (including maple syrup, agave nectar etc), it’s low in nutrients.
- Salty foods. Your baby’s kidneys are not ready to process a lot of sodium. If you’re preparing food at home, leave the salt out and add it to the adult portions after you’ve served baby.
- Low-fat foods. Items in this category, such as fat-free yogurt or light cheese, aren’t a good choice for little ones. Babies need lots of fat for brain development and growth.
- Raw fish, meat or raw milk: your baby is more prone to foodborne illness, so best not to risk it.
- Artificial sweeteners and colorings. Sweeteners provide no nutritional value, and colorings have been linked to behavior issues in children.
That was a lot of information to take in! Remember starting solids doesn’t have to be stressful or overwhelming. It should be fun!
If you want more, sign up for my free webinar: How to get started with Baby-led Weaning. I’ll discuss:
>> 3 mistakes moms make when using Baby-led Weaning …..and what to do instead, and
>> 5 reasons why you might want to skip the mush ….and start solids with finger foods!
Jennifer House is a Registered Dietitian, author & mom of 3. From Baby-led weaning to picky eating and meal planning, she helps you to make feeding your family easier
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