Baby-led weaning is a popular method of introducing solids 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 avocado, banana and meatballs!
‘Baby-led Weaning’ is starting your baby on solids with finger foods. You skip the spoon-feeding purees and baby feeds him or herself from the start!
One benefit of baby-led weaning is that it will help to improve 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 self-feeding is that your baby is able to listen to his 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.
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!).
2) Your baby should have enough physical strength to self-feed. Your baby needs 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 any length of time, 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.
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.
There are two important considerations when choosing foods for your baby-led weaner. Nutrient-density (especially iron) and preventing choking.
A common practice I've seen is to feed 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.
Read this for more information on how to get enough iron when using 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.
Avocado is a great starter food for BLW, as it’s soft and high in healthy fats.
However, it can be slippery! 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!
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, you can cut them in 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!
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.
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.
When you’re baby is starting out, they will need larger pieces 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 onto 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!
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.
Ground meat is an easy way to offer your baby heme iron (the iron in meat is the best-absorbed source, and 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!
To help promote tolerance and prevent allergies, it's now recommended to introduce peanuts to your baby around 6 months of age. I wouldn't offer it 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.
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 grate to grate a full, raw apple
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 to make a healthy pancake recipe and swap half of the flour for fortified infant cereal.
The dark chicken meat in thighs or legs is easier to absorb than from 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 knaw on!
Fish contains the omega 3 fat DHA, 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!
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.
3) High-calorie food (if one of the above foods is not high in calories): nut butter, cheese, butter, avocado, full-fat yogurt.
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.
* 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.
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:
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 Babyled 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