"The ultimate goal of introducing solids is to provide a variety of tastes of real foods to educate your baby's palate and let them learn to like the foods that your family is enjoying," says Natalia Stasenko, a pediatric dietitian and mother of three. To get babies on board the family food train even earlier, many parents are following the baby-led weaning method. Baby-led weaning skips purees and lets little ones self-feed as soon as they start solids. If you try this method, expect a mess, don't worry if your baby seems to not actually eat much at first, and be sure to talk to your doctor about when to introduce potentially allergenic foods like eggs and nuts.
When preparing baby-led weaning first foods, texture is key. The food you give your novice eater should be soft and easy to smash with gentle pressure between your thumb and forefinger. Raw hard fruit and veggies are a choking hazard, so steam or roast them first.
Size also matters, both for safety and because if a baby can’t pick up the food, then what’s the point? Few 6- to 8-month-olds have mastered the pincer grasp (thumb and index finger), so they’ll pick up foods with their whole palm. To make it easier, cut foods about the length and width of an adult pinky finger.
Remember that many foods are slippery! When serving bananas and avocado, leave some of the peel on to make it easier for your baby to grasp. Using a crinkle cutter can also be helpful. Once your baby develops his pincer grasp, around 8 to 9 months, serve food cut into small pieces, like ripe mango chunks, cooked beans, chopped steamed spinach, and pieces of pasta.
Read on for the best baby-led weaning foods for your little one.
Long, easy-to-grasp pieces of soft raw fruits like banana, peaches, very ripe pears, melon, avocado, and strawberries are a great option for baby-led weaning first foods. Stasenko recommends washing bananas and avocados and serving them partially peeled to make them easier to hold.
Eggs are a good source of protein, iron, and fat—which babies need everyday—and they are incredibly easy to prepare. Babies can dip a toast soldier into a boiled egg, eat scrambled eggs, or nosh on omelet strips.
Cooked meat and fish provide the iron, protein, and fat babies need at this stage of development. Stasenko likes soft meatballs, thin slivers of steak, or chicken. "Your baby will may end up only sucking and gnawing which is fine—that's how she'll learn eating skills."
These nutritious and delicious foods deserve a place in your little one's diet.
Cut toast into long graspable pieces, whether plain or smeared with a little butter, olive oil, hummus, or nut butter for some extra nutrition. "This can be a relatively mess-free breakfast or snack," Stasenko says. Toast the bread just lightly to prevent it from becoming too dry.
"Broccoli florets are easy for little hands to handle, plus they are a wonderful introduction to savory foods," says Stasenko. Just be sure not to steam them to the point of mushiness since that will make them hard to hold.