Let me be clear from the start that I LOVE baby-led weaning and would urge anyone to give it a try. It is fantastically satisfying when your child eats with you and loves something you’ve made. It is also easy in many ways. Mostly I’ve been able to eat with Mini Mck and can even catch up on the odd blog while lunch is happening. However it isn’t always as easy as you might think and certainly doesn’t solve all the challenges that you may face when weaning your baby.
That’s what I read on the back of the Baby-Led Weaning book as I excitedly imagined fantastic meals shared with Mini Mck and presented him with some delicious roasted vegetables at around six months.
It is what I kept in mind as I cleaned the floor and walls for the 5734th time. It is the thing that I muttered under my breath as yet another balanced and nutritious meal was rejected in favour of pork pie and biscuits
I have been amazed at the strong opinions Mini Mck has about food at such a young age and part of me admires his strong will and ability to discriminate between different foods. He has never been a fan of vegetables, except peas and the odd bit of spinach hidden in a quiche or an omelette. Fruit has not been high on his agenda either and chicken is a no-no, however I try to cook it.
It is only over the past few weeks, at 13 months that we seem to be making progress in some of these areas. Apples, aubergines with tomato sauce, melon, nectarine and radishes have all been accepted recently, much to my relief.
His capacity for strong or unusual flavours has been a surprise. This is the boy that will reject a tomato or cucumber but will gorge himself on olives, artichokes and chilli con carne.
It can be so disheartening and worrying when he doesn’t eat much at all and we have had days and weeks when this has been the case. It can be frustrating too. For example we went through a stage of having to cut everything into bite size pieces and give them to him gradually. Too fast and it would be dropped straight on the floor, too slow and his familiar “I need more food” noise would be shrieked. Not exactly the relaxing family meal we expected.
We are going through a bit of a slow patch this week and so as much for me as anyone else I give you my top tips to make Baby-Led Weaning work.
1) If at first you don’t succeed… Keep trying things every few weeks. Something that is rejected at nine months may be accepted at twelve. We have found this with aubergine topped in tomato sauce, melon, omelette and strawberries. If it is a food that you’ve had no success with before keep your expectations low but just give them another go. Babies taste buds are changing and they are constantly getting used to new tastes and textures which may mean that they are happy to eat stuff that they’ve previously turned down.
2) Keep things varied but remember your old favourites… When you do find food they love, don’t worry about them eating it too often but do try to keep things varied. We made this mistake with omelettes, which at one point became our saviour, as he would eat little else. I wasn’t too worried as they contained lots of things he needed and I could add cheese and spinach. They were quick to make and easy to take out once cut up. However, we relied on them too much and eventually Mini Mck started to turn his nose up at them. Whilst still a brilliant fall back I try save them for when nothing else is working.
3) Safety in numbers…I have been really lucky that two friends have done Baby-Led Weaning at the same time as me. So, I’ve had people around who understand what we are doing and are happy to share war stories. If you don’t have that there are some great forums around to help and support you whilst you pick up half eaten grapes off the floor. When Mini Mck was going through his awkward bite size phase My Daddy Cooks’ forum was fantastic simply because others were able to reassure me that they had “been there, done that”.
4) Things are going to get messy… Try to relax about the amount of mess there is going to be. You will feel as if you spend a large part of your life sweeping and washing the floor/wall/highchair but take a deep breath and go with it. As Mini Mck approached 12 months and I still felt we weren’t making progress, I gave him a half empty dish of porridge to play with while I cleared away, the next thing I knew he was picking porridge out of it with his fingers and helping himself. It was then I realised I was being far to sterile about the whole thing and that he wasn’t going to learn if I didn’t let him get it wrong and make a mess. I hadn’t given him bowls for fear it would be tipped on the floor and we were making no progress with spoons and forks. I can now give him his food in a bowl and he feeds himself, either with fingers, a spoon or a fork.
5) And breathe… The most important piece of advice I can give anyone trying Baby-Led Weaning is to RELAAAAAAAX. I love how it has made me relax about Mini Mck’s eating and his relationship with food. I can’t tell exactly how much he’s eaten and can’t make him eat what he doesn’t want. I’ve also seen that he is changing his mind about foods all the time so I’m confident he won’t be a fussy eater. There are lots of things that throw them off track; teething, illness, heat, just not being very hungry and some days they won’t eat much but that seems the same for friends who have weaned in the conventional way.
Baby-led weaning isn’t just about how much or what they eat. It’s about having a meal together, giving them choice about what they eat, making meals a social event. I can confidently take Mini Mck out for a meal and he will happily eat and drink while we order and eat our food. MckDaddy and I can have a conversation at dinner time and Mini Mck will be content to listen and get on with his meal. He can make clear to us what he wants and certainly what he doesn’t want. He is becoming increasingly interested in what we are eating and is keen to try new things. All great things for him to be learning.
It seems that, as with most parenting challenges, the best way to approach weaning, baby-led or otherwise, is to celebrate the good days and not pay too much attention to the bad days, because there are bound to be some more good days around the corner.