Thinking of trying baby-led weaning? Feeding expert Annabel Karmel suggests the best foods to try (and which to avoid)
“If you’re thinking about baby-led weaning or just want to include some of its principles into your baby’s diet, here is a simple guide to the best first foods from 6 months onwards.
“Don’t worry about how much or how little your baby eats at the beginning as they will still be getting a lot of their nutrients from their usual milk. The best thing you can do is serve a variety of tastes and textures to get their weaning journey off to a winning start. If your baby is not taking to this approach, you may need to switch to purées for a while or offer them a mix of both.”
What are the best starter foods for baby-led weaning?
“First foods should be cooked until soft, but not too mushy so that they can grab it with their fist. It’s best to wait until your baby has teeth before you offer harder foods.
“Pieces should be of a size that your baby can hold. Babies around 6 months tend to use their whole hand to pick things up. They need to be able to close their hand around the food, so avoid making the pieces too wide. Small round foods such as whole grapes and whole cherry tomatoes should be avoided – cut these up before giving them to your baby. Longer pieces stand a better chance of being picked up. I would suggest cutting food into 5-6cm batons or sticks so that half is held in a baby’s hand and the other half sticks out.”
You could try:
- Cooked batons of carrot, sweet potato and broccoli
- Thick chunks of mango, banana, avocado, peaches and strawberries
- Fingers of bread, toast or pitta bread
- Soft pasteurised cheeses cut into chunks
- Cooked eggs, cut in half
- Unsalted rice cakes or bread sticks
- Pieces of cooked fish – be careful to remove any bones, and avoid marlin, swordfish and shark
- Cooked chicken pieces – the dark meat is the most nutritious
“One of the benefits of baby-led weaning is about making family mealtimes a social experience. While finger foods are important, you might want to try offering them a small portion of a meal you are eating as a family such as a mild curry or cottage pie (just be sure to leave out the salt).
“Remember: Babies should be given milk from their usual source for the entire first year at least. Between 6 months and one year, your baby will still need 500-600ml of breast milk or formula each day. They’ll gradually consume less in favour of solid foods.”*
Which foods should I avoid?
“There are a few foods you should avoid for babies under 12 months old:
- Mould-ripened soft cheeses
- Added salt and sugar
- Whole cow’s milk (or goat’s or sheep’s milk) as a main milk drink. You can introduce a little into your baby’s foods from 6 months, once they start on solids
- Shark, swordfish or marlin – due to high mercury levels
- High-risk choking foods like whole grapes and whole or chopped nuts – although nut butters can be given at 6 months
- Stimulants such as chocolate or sugar
- Unhealthy and processed options such as battered foods, chips, sugary breakfast cereals, and other foods that contain sugar
- Caffeinated drinks such as tea, coffee, hot chocolate and cola
- Until recently, parents were encouraged to delay the introduction of allergenic foods such as milk, eggs or peanuts, but in fact, there’s now substantial evidence that early introduction of eggs and peanuts can reduce the risk of a child forming an allergy
“Remember: Your baby should never be left alone while eating, and they must always be supported in an upright position. Babies can store food in their cheeks for quite some time after eating, so check they have swallowed all of their food.”
Starting your weaning journey? Annabel Karmel’s new Baby-Led Weaning Recipe Book is filled with 120 quick, easy and nutritious recipes, essential advice and tips to let your baby take the lead.
*Introduce your baby to solid foods once they are six months old, according to the NHS. Before this age, your baby’s digestive system may not be ready. The World Health Organisation recommends exclusive breastfeeding up to six months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond.