Now that we have been doing "real solids" (aka baby led weaning or BLW) for a few months there are a lot of things I have learned. And, in my usual Tracy fashion, of course I have to share with you all (some might say I am a chronic over-sharer). Also, I have had a lot of questions from family and friends about baby led weaning, and I hope these thoughts/tips might help someone else some day.
First off I just want to clarify - baby led weaning is really nothing special. I think its a pretty fancy name for just giving babies table foods instead of purees. Most doctors recommend starting table foods with babies around nine months, so we just got a bit of a head start. So for anyone that has a baby who is 9+ months you are probably learning very similar things. Ok, with that out of the way, here we go...
1. Trust your kid - giving Kaitlin mostly solid foods has taught me, in many ways, to trust her. Trust her? She's not even a year old! What is there to trust her about? Well, it turns out quite a bit. My little squirrel puts A LOT of food in her mouth. C'mon, you've seen her cheeks, she can fit a lot in there. At first I was super concerned about how much she was putting in there. I would try and fish some of the food out, which only made matters worse - she would cough and gag and the food would end up being pushed further back in her mouth. Also, babies choke and cough A LOT. Their gag reflex is super far forward in their mouth/throat, especially compared to an adults. It's like that for a reason, so that they don't choke. Every cough does not mean that they are choking. At first every time she coughed I would tense up and hover right over her asking if she was ok. Again, it didn't make things any better. After much practice, I have learned to trust her and the food she puts in her mouth. I realized that she was actually using the excessive amount of food in her mouth to help break it down (she mashes it together with her tongue and cheeks and the next thing I know she's swallowed it). And all that coughing? Sometimes she's coughing to get a reaction out of me - surprise! To a seven month old making a coughing noise is REALLY exciting and fun. What a hoot. I still watch over her like a hawk and don't leave her alone with food just in case something does happen, but I have learned to relax and trust her more when she's eating.
2. Food needs to be really, really soft - Once Kaitlin got the hang of eating solid foods I had a field day. I was giving her everything under the sun. And then I started noticing that she wasn't really eating that much. Sure, she would chew and play with the food, but I found most of it on the floor or in the pocket of her bib. Even tried and true favorites weren't being ingested. At first I thought it was a phase, then I thought it was because she was eating too much formula and wasn't hungry enough. Finally I realized that her food wasn't soft enough. I was so excited that she was eating "adult foods" that I stopped cooking them as long, so they were more firm and harder for her to eat. It wasn't that she didn't want to eat it's just that she couldn't. I was cooking food for my taste rather than hers. Once I started cooking foods to her taste - soft enough for you to mush it between your fingers - her appetite magically returned.
*I know the whole premise of BLW is to feed your babies the same foods that you and your family eat. And that's true, but you have to make sure it is adapted for babies. Making sure foods are soft enough for them to eat also makes sure that they won't choke on anything too firm. And remember - you have a full set of teeth, they don't*
3. Its OK to give them baby food at the same time - Around the same time that Kaitlin stopped eating as much as she usually did (see above) I panicked and started giving her pureed baby food. I wanted to make sure she was still getting some solids in her tummy - not to mention that she is crawling and climbing like a maniac and burning a lot of calories. At first I actually felt like a failure - sounds extreme but it's true. I guess it's like any parenting "goal" - you start off with the best of intentions and when it doesn't work out perfectly you get disappointed. But as I started giving her pureed baby food I actually found that she started eating even more solids than she used to - which was great. I usually keep a few pureed vegetables on hand in case she isn't eating as much or if a new food is a bust (let's just say it took eight tries to actually get her to eat broccoli rather than throw it on the floor). Back when I was only giving her purees I had such a hard time of it because she always wanted to grab and play with the spoon. But since her hands are already occupied with solid food I can easily swoop in there with a bit of puree and she gobbles it up. And I don't limit it to pureed baby food - now that she can have dairy I also do it with yogurt, which she LOVES, and have even done it with hummus.
4. Try spice - One thing that I keep reading over and over again is that you should offer your baby a wide variety of foods with different tastes, textures and smells, so that they don't become picky eaters. Once I know that Kaitlin likes a certain food (say oatmeal or hummus for example) I like to mix it up and add variation by adding some spice. Now I add cinnamon to her oatmeal, paprika to her hummus and pepper to her chicken - just as a few examples. I'm not adding crazy amounts of chili powder or curry sauce but just enough to kick it up a notch and turn an otherwise boring food into something fun!
5. Don't force it - Let's face it, some days are awesome, some days are not so awesome. As frustrating as it is when I fix a meal for Kaitlin and all she does is throw it around the room and mush it into her highchair, I have stopped trying to "force" her to eat. It's not fun for her and it's not fun for me. I don't want to create a negative connotation with eating either. So if she's having an off meal/day and not wanting to eat that much I try not to force it. I think this is a tip I am going to have to pull out as she gets older and busier and less willing to eat. Gotta love those toddle years, right?
6. Keep it interesting, but keep favorites on hand for difficult days - As I mentioned in #4 there is a big emphasis on feeding your baby new and exciting foods. I try to mix things up for Kaitlin as often as I can. I even buy foods that I would never think to eat myself, such as papaya. One thing I have to keep in mind is that it can take up to ten times for a baby/child to start eating a new food. She isn't going to like and eat every new thing that I put on her plate, even if it's as simple as pasta. I like to keep some of her tried and true favorites on hand for days when the new food on the block doesn't make the cut. I always make sure to have ripe bananas at the ready and a big tub of oatmeal in the cupboard.
7. Water can help - Kaitlin LOVES to drink. Long gone are the days (thank you lord) when I had to struggle to get her to finish her bottle. Especially now that she is so active she loves to have little sips of water in between meals. I started giving her water at meal time to help to her swallow and digest the food. Many babies don't need any additional fluids besides their normal feedings of formula/breast milk. But I find that it helps Kaitlin get down that mouth full of hamburger that she has managed to pack in there. A lot of times her cheeks will be exploding with food and I'll offer her some water. The next thing I know she has drank half of her sippy cup and all of the food is gone and she's ready for more. Without the water she would sit there and struggle to get all the food down for another ten minutes.
8. Food doesn't have to be fresh - Frozen foods might just become your best friend. The reason I like frozen foods for babies is because when they defrost they are usually pretty mushy. Frozen broccoli and butternut squash are favorites of mine because I can quickly heat some up for Kaitlin, without having to prep and cook the entire vegetable. Berries not in season where you are? Defrost some strawberries or blueberries and there you go! Often times these foods are frozen during their peak season so vitamins and minerals are locked in. Nowadays you can get almost any fruit or vegetable in the frozen food section and find an organic version as well - bonus! I can't tell you how many times I have had fruit and veggies go bad waiting for Kaitlin to eat them - remember she only eats a couple of TABLESPOONS at a time. I will also prepare a full recipe of hamburgers, meatballs, pancakes, etc and freeze all the extras. That way I can pull out one or two at a time and quickly reheat them for her meal. The more time I can save while still giving my baby wholesome, nutritional and organic foods, the better.
9. It has encouraged me to eat more healthy and whole foods - There are a lot of foods that I want to feed Kaitlin that would be so easy to just pick up at the store and give to her. Since she can't have salt and I am trying to keep as many chemicals out of her food as I can, I have learned to take the hard route to preparing her food - ie making it myself. I have started making sauces and dips at home. I try and cook dinners without added salt so she can have leftovers the next day. I'm making soups and stews more often. I am buying organic red meat and chicken (as often as I can), as well as fruits and vegetables. I know - it sound expensive, right? Especially when you add in all those organic items. But it in the end I haven't found it THAT much more expensive. Turns out, when you cut out all (ok, ok - most) of the other stuff you end up saving a lot of money. I have even started making my own hummus at home. That way I know exactly what is going into her little, growing body and for once I know exactly what's going into mine.
I tried coming up with a final, tenth tip but just couldn't do it. And besides, this post is long enough already don't you think?!
Do you have any tips for feeding your baby/toddler whole foods? I'd love some new recipes and tips for after Kaitlin's first year!