Ricotta and Roasted Pepper Tartine
Seville Orange Marmalade

Cooking for Hugo: Baby-Led Weaning


Okay, friends, let's talk about baby-led weaning today. For those of you who don't know what baby-led weaning is, it's basically a philosophy of feeding children that says that children should be the ones who choose what they put in their mouths, not their parents. Instead of making puréed fruits and vegetables and spooning them into your baby's mouth, you put food (cooked until soft and cut into small pieces) in front of your baby and let him feed himself.

At first, most of the food will end up on the floor (or elsewhere), but slowly your child will figure out how to get the food in his mouth. (Since most of his diet will still be coming from milk for the first year, it doesn't matter, nutrition-wise, if it takes a while for him to figure this out). All that baby-led weaning technically "requires" is a washable high chair and a high tolerance for mess. No immersion blenders, no baby spoons, no melamine plates.

(From what I can tell, baby-led weaning is really popular in England and gaining popularity in the US. Here in Germany, it's pretty rare - almost everyone I know gives their babies puréed foods.)

When I was first pregnant, my friend Sylee loaned me her copy of this book and told me that she believed that one of the main reasons why her daughter, now four, was such a good eater was because they did baby-led weaning. Having watched many of my friends engage in power struggles with their small children over food, I was really intrigued by the idea that starting a kid off this way would ensure a love of a wide variety of foods.

And so, last month, after having spent weeks painstakingly cooking and puréeing food for Hugo to try, I plopped him in his chair, boiled some carrot coins until they were soft enough to be squished between my thumb and forefinger and put them on the table in front of him. Then I slowly backed away and watched.

At first, he didn't really know what to do. He'd grab a coin or two and push them over the edge of the table, or bring them to his mouth, but then couldn't figure out how to get them in. It was pretty funny - and hard not to intervene! Once he did get a few in his mouth, he rolled them around for a while. And then he started choking on them. Not turning-blue-choking - he was always able to get them back out of his throat into his mouth - but still, it was a little stressful to watch!

The next time, I decided to give him steamed broccoli florets. These were much easier for him to get into his mouth in the first place (the stems are the perfect baby-handle) and the soft broccoli tips went down pretty easily.

Since then I've given him rice crackers and Zwieback to chew, a piece of orange to suck on, the soft, sticky interior of a date, some soup from my plate and other odds and ends. But ultimately, I decided that baby-led weaning isn't really for us right now. The thing is, Hugo is hungry at mealtimes. When I make him purées and soft pastas in broth to feed him, he gulps them down and opens his mouth for more. When I let him feed himself, he ends up frustrated and hungry. And also? The mess was too much for me. Remember, I'm home by myself with Hugo five days a week. I'm the only one on full-time baby and clean-up duty, all day long. If he'd taken to baby-led weaning like a duck to water, I might have been okay with the mess. But when we went back to purées, we were both happier and he was more content.

So, like with so many parenting choices, baby-led weaning works for some families and not for others. For the time being, Hugo is content for me to feed him (he even keeps his little hands carefully by his sides, never interfering with the spoon!) and I don't mind making all these special little pots for him. I'm not too worried about whether or not he'll be a picky eater as an older kid. It seems to me that that's the kind of thing we'll just have to wait and see on. Right now I'd like to bask in his fleeting babyhood. We'll cross that next bridge when we come to it.

How about you, readers? Tell me your thoughts and experiences!