Adventures In Solid Food Feeding
I have to say thank you first, I love reading your take on all issues parental and have really appreciated your advice and your stories. I read all your breastfeeding advice when I was having all my own latching/is this tongue tie?/why the hell can’t I do this right issues, and found it helpful and reassuring in turns. Now, I have questions on the next step of feeding, and so I come to you….
I really want to be a big fan of baby-led weaning, and I think you’re a proponent of it. I’m a big fan of it in theory – it could all be so easy! Let him learn to feed himself early on! He’ll be more willing to try new foods! – but I’ve had trouble with it in practice. I jump a mile when my son (a week younger than your Ike) coughs, I feel like I can’t figure out which foods to try next, and I have trouble being as adventurous with it as the theory recommends because I don’t personally know anyone else who’s succeeded with it. My compromise right now has been that his morning oatmeal is spoon-fed, but I let him guide the spoon to his mouth himself. And if we try real solids a la BLW, it’s always at lunch, as we seemed to have more coughing if it’s at dinner. Sometimes we do purees at dinner in the same style as breakfast.
So, I ask: what advice would you have for someone trying the baby-led thing? (Also, if I made all of that up about your experience with baby-led feeding, please accept my apology for any time-wasting that may have occurred, and know that I am a fan.)
Okay, so first I suppose I do need to clear the air with a “confession” of sorts…somewhere along the way I seem to have been labeled as a hardcore baby-led-weaning person. I am not. I DO absolutely encourage my babies to experiment with “real” table foods and always try to offer them something from my plate at meal times…but I also have a freezer full of homemade purees that I offer as well. I’m not hardcore anything except I am very much in favor of FEEDING YOUR BABY.
I guess it’s my third-time baby stripes showing, but I just can’t get worked up over another freaking THING, you know? Why does it have to be all-or-nothing? Purees vs. BLW instead of a little from column A and a little from column B? Why do we have to demonize one thing or decry it as “bad” or “inferior” (much like the breast vs. bottle wars) in order to make ourselves feel better about the way we’re choosing to feed our children?
It’s all kind of eye-rolly to me. Hand your baby some fresh avocado slices or mash it up with a fork. It’s still an avocado, and I promise you that I have two perfectly healthy non-obese children who ate some food off a spoon and some with their hands and one grew up picky and one didn’t, but they were pretty much wired that way from birth. The picky one turned up his nose at table food (and most purees, too) at eight months old, the non-picky one was grabbing food off our plates himself before it was even offered. But hey, just this morning the picky one finally agreed to let me pour milk in his bowl of Cheerios and admitted that he actually really liked it. He still wouldn’t eat any of the blueberries that his little brothers were both chowing down on though. Let’s not get crazy, or anything.
Point is, you will never really be able to control what kind of eater you end up with, no matter what method you try. So relax! Go with whatever works and makes you and your baby happy. Feeding your baby solids should be FUN! For both of you. If one of you is super stressed out about it, or you’re worrying that you’re doing something “wrong”, I feel like that’s missing the point. Up until 12 months, solid food is all a bonus, nutritionally speaking. So unless you’re putting soda in the baby bottle and feeding him Doritos for breakfast, I am pretty sure you are not Failing at Solid Food Introduction 101.
(Most of that had absolutely NOTHING to do with your letter. I’m sorry. Just had to get that out of the way after reading Other Judgy Things On The Internet. I’ll get off my soapbox and get back on topic now.)
Ike sprouted a bunch of teeth at four months old, and by six months, when we were ready to really start kicking off the food thing, he had SEVEN teeth. Seven teeth that he did not have the FAINTEST idea what to do with. So if I offered him large pieces of food to gum on, or really any “real” food at all, he would accidentally take bites and start choking. Fail. And I’m actually REALLY calm about the choking vs. coughing/gagging thing. They’re not the same thing, and some coughing is usually inevitable and stops with practice. But I also know better than to take stupid risks with food — I had to perform the Heimlich on Noah when he was a toddler and it is no joke. Real choking — no coughing, no air sounds, other than a horrible gurgling — is indeed terrifying, and nothing to be overly cavalier about. So I guess it was kind of ironic — Ike’s teeth were actually a big hurdle for us when it came to food, because they tend to turn even “safe” foods into choking hazards.
So Ike gets purees AND table food. He’s now eating chunkier/thicker purees that are as close to real meals as I can dream up — split pea stew with carrots, farro with butternut squash and spinach, lentils with lamb and prunes, etc. Since making him thicker, stew-like baby food, I’ve noticed a lot less coughing/gagging on table foods, so perhaps try offering your son some more substantial purees as practice in the meantime? A little cooked meat and steamed fruit pulsed lightly in the food processor works. I also toss brown lentils, homemade veggie stock (sweet potato, leeks, asparagus, carrots, etc.) and grated apple in a slow cooker, then hit it with an immersion blender so it’s a combination of chunky and smooth. (Also DELICIOUS. I’ll eat that stuff myself, man.)
In the “real food” realm, he eats side dishes I make for family meals like whipped cauliflower, polenta, mashed sweet potatoes (the rest of us add salt at the table to keep it baby-friendly). He always gets some kind of finger food to practice with — soft fruits and veggies, pasta, tofu, scrambled egg yolks, etc. And then, depending on what we’re eating, I offer him stuff that might be a bit more challenging and then watch him (AND THOSE TEETH) carefully. Sometimes it’s just the crust off our pizza, a pickle wedge, some pulled chicken, whatever. But if he gets frustrated with those offerings, I have the purees/stews to fall back on.
Ezra was a grabby, enthusiastic eater and so I have a ton of great photos of him gnawing on barbecue ribs and corn on the cob. The kid would eat an entire head of broccoli in a week. (NOTE: Not anymore, dammit. The vegetable snobbery started in toddlerhood despite our best efforts. But he still loves peas and guacamole? At least?) He just seemed to figure out the chewing/gumming/biting thing really early on so I felt comfortable being super-adventurous with him, because he was a super-adventurous eater.
Ike is a bit more skeptical and seems to be going at a slightly slower pace, when it comes to the “real” food. And that’s okay. That’s the point of it all, right? To let the baby take the lead? If Ike doesn’t like something I offer him on a spoon, he turns his head away and keeps his mouth shut. So back in the freezer it goes for another time. Sometimes the assortment of cubed sweet potato and Cheerio-dusted avocado slices are met with enthusiasm, sometimes he’s just. Too. Hungry. to be bothered with his imprecise pincher grasp and wants me to spoon-feed him five straight ounces of zucchini and brown rice cereal. Sometimes the perfectly ripe, freshly-peeled whole apple I give him hits the floor (and gets promptly licked by the dog) after he’s barely managed to get one bite of it. Sometimes he just wants to bang the spoon on his tray for awhile. Eh.
It all balances out in the end. I’m having a blast feeding him a variety of organic, healthy, homemade foods — whole, pureed, and everything in between –and it seems like he’s enjoying himself too, and is chunking up nicely and getting more adventurous by the day. There may not be a handy/trendy label for the way I feed him, but it works for us.
So there. That’s my radical, earth-shattering advice: HAVE FUN. FEED YOUR BABY. WHATEVER WORKS IS PROBABLY WORKING.
Photo credit: ThinkstockPublished February 13, 2012. Last updated October 29, 2017.