Baby-led weaning: Recipes, tips and ideas


by Lorna White |
Updated on

Baby-led weaning is all about skipping those spoon-feed purees and instead, offering your baby finger foods to make mealtimes fun. It's understandable why so many parents love to wean their babies this way, as thinking of new recipes and flavour combinations can be tricky!

Originally popularised by British midwife Gill Rapley, she suggested simply putting appropriate food on your baby’s tray and letting them feed themselves.

Since then, we’ve learnt a lot about what works well - and what doesn’t - when it comes to this method of introducing solid foods to baby.

So, is baby-led weaning best for you and your baby?

What is baby-led weaning?

Baby-led weaning (BLW) is when your baby feeds themselves with suitable chunks of food using their own hands rather than you spoon feeding them puree. You avoid washing up the blender, but be prepared – you'll probably end up with a lot of food on the floor!

The benefits:

Adventurous eater: Letting your baby make choices may lead her to be a more adventurous eater as they grow up and introducing texture straight away means they're less likely to be put off by lumps of food or different colours, shapes, smells, flavours and textures.

More sociable: As your baby is eating what everyone else is eating, they're more likely to eat with the rest of the family. Research shows that good eating habits are more likely to be formed when families eat together. This also means you'll be spending less money on milk formulas and pre-made baby purees as everyone will be tucking into the same foods!

It's natural: A baby's desire to explore is innate and it's how they learn. If you encourage little ones to use their hands, they are discovering different textures, as well as colours, smells and (hopefully!) taste. Plus, they are likely to have much more of a fun and enjoyable experience this way... they're only little once after all, so if you can't play with your food at that age, when can you?

The downsides:

Adapting family meals: If you’re giving your baby the same food as the rest of your family, you need to make sure these meals are suitable. Babies shouldn’t be eating food with added sugar or salt, so no stock cubes (but you can introduce them to herbs and some spices). There are plenty of pre-made sugar-free baby foods out there for them to try if you want a night off cooking.

Time-consuming: It may take a while to make sure that everything is cooked perfectly and has the right consistency (and won't be a choking hazard). This method is based on your baby being the one in control, so you must let the mess happen! Before your baby is nine months old, it might be challenging for them to get the food into their mouth.

Baby gagging: It’s likely you’ll experience your baby choking or perhaps gagging, so learn what to do if this happens. To clear their airway you will need to put your baby face-down on your thigh. Whilst supporting their head, give them five back slaps between their shoulder blades with the heel of your hand. To try to avoid choking, make sure you don't give them suitable sized pieces and observe them whilst they're eating.

When to start baby-led weaning

You can start BLW from when your baby is 6 months old. They should be able to sit up in a high-chair unassisted and have good neck strength. Baby is ready when they are able to move food around their mouth with their jaw and tongue. Don't worry if they don't seem to be doing a chewing action yet - this might not happen until they reach 9 months.

It's also worth noting that your baby will still need their breast milk or formula when they're on solid foods and you should keep giving them milk alongside their food up to 10-12 months.

How to start baby-led weaning

• Put the food straight onto your baby’s tray. In a bowl, it’ll be catapulted across the room. You can find some useful weaning products at many retailers.

• Don’t put too much in front of them. Two food items are enough.

• Cut food into chip-shaped pieces about the length of your finger. This is the easiest shape for them to pick up. The chips need to be long enough for your baby to grasp, with enough sticking out of their fist to eat.

• Use a crinkle cutter to chop the food. The crinkles make it easier to grip.

• Don’t put the food in your baby’s mouth – you must leave your baby in charge. ‘Don’t worry if they just seem to be playing with the food,’ says Rana. ‘Licking, smelling, mushing, holding – it’s all part of learning to eat.’

• Don’t feed food that’s known to be a choking hazard, such as whole olives, cherries or grapes.

• Be alert for gagging or choking. Because baby-led weaning food is lumpier from the get-go, you’re more likely to have to deal with this hazard. ‘When a baby gags, they're bringing the food from the back of their mouth to the front, so they can chew it,’ says Rana. ‘It’s usually quick and there’s usually a noise. Choking is much more serious. This is when food is blocking a baby’s windpipe – and it can be silent. Take a first-aid course and learn how to deal with choking at before starting weaning.’

The best baby-led weaning foods by age

To start off your baby's baby-led weaning journey, the rule is to keep it simple. Try foods that are easy for them to pick up, and don't be tempted to over complicate with lots of flavours at once. Fruit and vegetables are a good place to start...

For babies 6-7 months

Banana: half unpeel it to give your baby something to hold, along with easy access to the fruit.

A piece of soft, cooked carrot: naturally sweet and full of vitamin A to strengthen your little one’s immune system.

Steamed broccoli floret: most babies love the taste of broccoli and its stem provides a built-in ‘handle’.

Slices of mozzarella cheese: Cheese provides an excellent source of calcium

Mashed potato: Put a heaped spoon of soft mash or sweet potato mash in front of them.

Avocado slices: Be sure to make these thick enough so baby can grip the pieces well.

Hard boiled eggs: Slice into quarters for a tasty (but messy) breakfast.

Toast soldiers: This is a great option for helping your tot to try new textures.

For babies 8-9 months

Steamed baby sweetcorn: This is a great one for them to grab hold of and eat.

Cucumber batons: These are also great at soothing sore gums.

Unsalted rice cakes: Perfect for snacking on when out and about.

Whole wheat pasta: Penne and fusilli works well for little hands.

Blueberries and raspberries: Be sure to cut these in half for safe weaning.

Steamed green beans: These are nice and long for holding onto.

Minced chicken, turkey or beef: Small pieces of minced meat are safe for giving baby's as well as being full of protein.

Small meatballs: These can be meaty or veggie, just make sure you slice them in half so baby can eat them more easily.

For babies 10-12 months

By this age, your baby should be able to eat whatever you're having, just as long as it is cut into bite-sized, easy to eat pieces to avoid choking. They may also enjoy things like...

Hummus and pitta bread: Make sure you cut the pitta into nice, thin slices.

Baked fish: Flake this into bite sized pieces for easy eating.

Sweet potato wedges: Great for adding as a side dish for bigger appetites.

Safety tips to keep in mind with baby led weaning

If you're trying BLW with your baby, it's important you know the difference between gagging and choking.

Gagging is very normal for babies eating solids for the first time and is a natural gag reflex action when a piece of food isn't quite manageable for your baby's tiny mouth and throat. Signs of gagging include some coughing and spluttering, watery eyes and spitting out. Your baby will eventually learn what is manageable for them and what isn't food wise.

Choking on the other hand is when a piece of food gets lodged into baby's throat or windpipe and stops them from breathing. To reduce the risk of choking, always sit with your baby while they're eating, make sure they're always sitting up straight when eating and avoid giving them foods that are too hard.  A lot of people don’t realise that with babies, bigger pieces of food are so much safer and easier to manage than little chunks, so bear this in mind when you're preparing the meals.

It's always useful to know first aid when you have a child.

Baby-led weaning feeding schedule samples

You may be wondering when's the best time to give your baby food to try, but it's important to know that you don't have to follow a set schedule. As eating solids is new to them, your little one may only want to take a few bites to begin with, but don't give up or lose hope. The more regularly foods are introduced, the more likely they may be inclined to try it. If one food doesn't seem to be working, try serving it with other foods, cooking it differently or swapping it for something a bit different and then reintroduce it at a later date.

Remember, you will be giving your baby these foods between bottle or breast feeds and naps, so you don't want to give them something immediately after, when they have a full stomach of milk. Below we've included an example of a schedule for the first few months of the weaning journey.

6-7 month sample schedule

07:00: Bottle or nurse

08:00: Breakfast (omelette strips)

08:40-10:40: Nap time

10:45: Bottle or nurse

12:10: Bottle or nurse

12:25-14:00: Nap time

15:00: Bottle or nurse

16:00-16:45: Power nap

17:00: Bottle or nurse

17:45: Dinner (Mashed potato and pureed beef mince)

18:45: Bottle or nurse

19:00: Bed

Meet the expert: Dr Rana Conway, a nutritionist and author of Weaning Made Easy about baby-led weaning.

Lorna White has been a Digital Writer for Mother&Baby since 2020. She has a keen interest in a range of topics, from potty training and nutrition to baby names and maternity fashion.

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