I have done baby led weaning (BLW) with both of my sons over the past few years, so this list of best foods for baby led weaning comes from experience.
When it works for you and your child, I truly believe in the benefits of a BLW approach to feeding. I have heard from parents who have struggled with BLW; either because their child refuses to feed themselves, struggles with excessive gagging or because of parents discomfort and fear of choking. While BLW is not associated with any increased risk of choking it can be difficult to differentiate between choking and gagging in babies – I understand that it’s not for everyone! As with breastfeeding and formula feeding – when it comes to feeding babies, fed is always best.
That being said, if you are interested in baby led weaning, here is a list of my top ten best foods for baby led weaning. These foods made the list for a combination of nutritional benefit, ease of feeding and limited prep required!
What is Baby Led Weaning?
A quick review for those of you who aren’t familiar with baby led weaning. For a more in-depth review and tons of excellent resources, refer to my favourite BLW expert (and fellow RD) New Ways Nutrition!
Essentially, taking a baby-led weaning approach to feeding means skipping pureed foods and starting your baby with solids, going straight to soft pieces of food that are about the size of an adult finger. Rather than feeding your baby by spoon, your baby will feed themselves from the time you introduce solids. I will add that this may be dependant on the baby. With my first son we used a BLW weaning approach and started with solids, however, he preferred to be fed for the first few months of eating rather than feeding himself.
The benefits of baby led weaning include improved motor development skills (such as hand-eye coordination, chewing skills and dexterity) as well a promoting healthy eating habits by offering more opportunity for babies to explore a wide variety of foods, which may help to decrease picky eating in the future.
When to Start Feeding Baby
This is something I am very passionate about, and that there is still a lot of misinformation about. I have large babies with strong neck support and heard countless times from many different people that I should be starting solids from as early as four months. Even my family doctor suggested solids before five months to help with sleep (which is for another post, introducing solids earlier isn’t actually proven to help with sleep).
I get it! It can be so tempting to start your baby with all those fun and exciting new foods as soon as they start to show a little bit of interest. But it is important for their safety, as well as for their social and microbiome development, to wait until they are closer to 6 months of age and showing signs of readiness to ensure safety. Signs of readiness include the ability to sit up unassisted for at least a few seconds on their own and having good head control.
How to Balance Baby’s Meals
As promoted by New Ways Nutrition, I recommend focus on including each of the following three categories at each meal when possible.
3 Categories of BLW foods:
- An iron-rich food
- A high calorie food
- A fruit or a vegetable
Within those recommendations have fun! Exposure is the key to success with feeding babies and children. Expose them (over and over!) to a wide variety of different foods. It may take many, many exposures for them to accept new foods. But babies are much more adventurous in their food choices than toddlers, so by introducing a wide variety of foods to your baby you will be a step ahead down the line.
Foods to Limit
In recent years the recommendations for food allergies have changed. We now know that early exposure to most allergenic foods is beneficial and therefore common food allergens like peanuts, dairy, seafood and tree nuts should be introduced soon after solids are started. The only exception to this is honey, which should be avoided for the first year.
Beyond allergens, it is important to limit sodium and added sugars.
Texture and Size of Foods
Using finger foods is my number one suggestion for success with baby led weaning. Serving finger foods helps babies to eat independently as well as reducing stress at meal times. Babies can eat some of the same foods that the rest of the family is eating, which really helps with food acceptance (modelling eating behaviours is so important for babies and toddlers!).
At the beginning of introducing solids to babies, we want to be providing foods that are soft and can be squished between your thumb and index finger. This ensures that they will be able to squish the food between their tongue and the roof of their mouth. Although it seems counterintuitive, towards the beginning of introducing solids you should be providing food that is around the size of an adult finger. Although smaller foods may seem more intuitive, it can be frustrating for babies to pick up small pieces of food (making them lose interest) and it tends to be safer for babies to gum off pieces of food from a larger strip.
10 Best Foods for Baby Led Weaning
Here are my ten favourite foods (in no particular order) for baby led weaning!
- Sweet potato – peel and slice into strips. Roast with avocado oil or olive oil for healthy fats. Great source of fiber and antioxidants, easy to digest.
- Hummus – good source of iron, protein and fiber. Serve on strips of toast.
- Avocado – cut into strips. Soft, and packed with healthy fats.
- Banana – slice in half. The perfect no prep, soft finger food! High in potassium and soluble fiber.
- Whole Grain Bread – the perfect vehicle for mashed avocado, hummus and peanut butter. Fiber and nutrient-dense. Choose a low sodium whole grain option. I prefer sprouted breads. EzekielLow Sodium is a great option! Toast lightly and cut into strips. Avoid breads with large seeds like sunflower or pumpkin seeds. Lastly, check for honey in the ingredients!
- Eggs – scramble or fry and cut into finger-sized strips. A great source of protein and important nutrients like choline, B vitamins, vitamin D and selenium. Eggs are a common allergen so early exposure is recommended.
- Tofu – high in plant based protein and important nutrients like iron and zinc. Soy is a common allergen so early exposure is recommended. Serve firm tofu raw cut into finger-sized strips.
- Bean pasta – lentil, chickpea or bean pasta are some of my favourite BLW foods! High in protein, fiber and iron and easy to eat.
- Peanut butter – high in protein, healthy fats and iron. Peanuts are a common allergen so early exposure is recommended. Choose no salt added natural peanut butter. Spread a thin layer on strips of toast.
- Beans – plain cooked dry beans or well-rinsed low sedum canned beans. Beans are a great source of iron, fiber and protein. Mash them lightly with a fork before serving to help your baby digest them easier.