With my first baby, I carefully followed the little table in the book they gave me in the hospital that tells you exactly which food to start with, and in which order to introduce other foods. I sat Jack in his highchair and watched as he tongued back out the little spoonfuls of rice cereal mixed with breast milk that I patiently put into his mouth.
Then I scraped it off of his face and offered it again.
And all I got for my trouble was a baby so constipated that he broke a bunch of capillaries in his cheeks straining to go.
So, so sad.
These days, I really don’t have the time or the inclination to spoon feed a baby. And I don’t even think it’s the best way to go about it. So starting a baby on solid foods at our house looks a lot different now. A LOT different. And for me it works a lot better.
Disclaimer, disclaimer, disclaimer: My babies have all been healthy and free from conditions that might affect their eating, and my family doesn’t have a history of food allergies. Here’s where I’m supposed to tell you to ask your doctor, but, honestly, I don’t think all doctors are especially good at this part. So, how about, just trust your Mama gut. That’s what I do. I’m not saying you should do this. I’m just saying this is what *I* do.
So, here’s how I feed babies now:
1. I start when baby shows interest, not on a set timeline.
For most of my babies that has been around five months. Your babies may vary.
I don’t rely on baby being able to sit up, or sit in a high chair, because she’s mostly sitting on my lap anyway. (I do use a high chair, eventually.) I don’t rely on teeth coming in, because my babies don’t get teeth until they’re almost a year and they really, really want to eat solid food well before that.
2. No rice cereal.
‘Cause I do not want to do that again.
But no matter what, feeding babies makes me feel a bit like a mad scientist anyway. Or a potions master. Baby straining to go? More water, more nursing. Still? Peaches and bits of raisins. Uh oh. Overshot. Bananas!
3. I don’t use baby food.
I don’t use rice cereal, but I also mostly don’t use other baby foods either.
With my first, I puréed my own baby food and froze it in little trays, because I think that’s mandatory for all first time moms who ever read an attachment parenting book.
Then I had my second nineteen months later and I couldn’t even imagine a world in which I could have found a way to steam a sweet potato AND put it in the blender on the same day. So I bought jars of baby food. And she wouldn’t have anything to do with them. Even at six and seven and eight months. She just wasn’t interested.
So I kept nursing her and started offering her bits of my food. And THAT she liked. So that’s what we did. No baby food, and it was fine.
4. Baby eats what I eat.
At five or six months, or when they show an interest, I start them on tiny sips of broth off of my spoon, or a little fingerful of a soft fruit or vegetable I’m having.
Eventually, as baby is able to gum and swallow more, she gets a little of everything I’m eating. Meat, veggies, eggs, dairy, nuts, everything. After reading this article in the Wall Street Journal, I actually make a point of giving my kids highly allergenic foods, in case it does help to introduce them early.
Food Allergy Advice for Kids: Don’t Delay Peanuts, Eggs
My guess is that my kids just naturally don’t happen to have food allergies. My oldest, to whom I did not give peanuts as a baby doesn’t have a peanut allergy, and neither do my younger kids, who have been gumming peanut butter and jelly sandwiches since six months old.
So, maybe it helps with allergies, maybe not, but it IS cheaper, easier, and more convenient than baby food. Our babies and toddlers and kids just eat what we are eating.
I think it makes for an easier transition to solid food as well. Since my babies are breastfed, they are used to some of the tastes of the foods I usually eat, since the flavors come through in the breast milk. Table food is going to taste a lot more familiar to my baby than a single ingredient jar of squash, because I don’t eat a lot of squash baby food.
5. I think of table food as entertainment, not nourishment.
Here’s the best difference between how I fed my oldest and how I feed babies now: I don’t worry about it. At all.
I keep nursing my babies until somewhere between one and two, depending on the baby <cough, Frankie> and that’s where their most important nutrition is coming from.
With Jack, I kept track of how much he had eaten in a day. I sat with him in the high chair trying to get him to finish a serving of baby food, spoonful by spoonful.
I do not do that anymore. Babies who can’t feed themselves get to eat off of my plate, babies who can sit up in the high chair get some food of an appropriate size and consistency on their tray and they get to eat what they can get in their mouths themselves. Sometimes one of the big kids will want to spoon feed them, which is fine with me, but I don’t make a habit of doing it myself.
And they’ve all thrived. And are very tall. But again, that’s probably because all the men on both sides of the family are very tall. Still, no one around here is going hungry.
As long as baby is still nursing, I view eating solid food as something that keeps them busy, not as something that keeps them fed.
By the time they are weaned, my kids have all been eating quite well, all on their own.
6. The Frankie exception.
The Frankie exception is just to prove that you never know what you’re going to get. Even when you think you’ve done this enough times to know what you’re doing.
Frankie was a skinny baby. He didn’t like most anything, including solid foods, and had a lot of trouble with the consistency of foods. I would have happily just kept nursing him, but he weaned himself at a year. My only baby to do that. I didn’t want to try to figure out bottles and formula with baby number six, so we did do squeezie packets of baby food with him, because he would eat them. He also ate a lot of ice cream.
But, we kept offering him table food as well, and eventually we were able to make the switch. And he’s not at all particular about food or textures now.
Lulu is at the other end of the spectrum from Frankie, on all things, but also on solid foods. She can and will eat everything. She’s seven months now and happily eats chili and noodles and breakfast burritos and Hawaiian pizza.
And that’s it. Feeding solid food to a baby doesn’t have to be an ordeal, it really doesn’t have to be a thing at all. Unless you have a Frankie, in which case, you do what you have to do.
Here’s how we handle food with older kids:
THANK YOU for this post. I went through the same thing with my daughter, fretting over food. I would not feed her a DROP of anything but breastmilk until she was 6 months old on the dot. She also got severely constipated when I started with rice cereal. I was thinking that for my second baby perhaps I should just be way more laid back about it, and after reading this, I feel much better about my instinct!
Ashley @ The Wannabe Catholic
This post further makes me realize that I parented my first child like everyone else does their second and my sweet second child, well, she gets treated like she's the 5th. I think it's probably good for them, they're doing great and are outstanding eaters.
"Baby Led Weaning" is the book I read after spoon feeding two kids and I have never turned back. I start giving them what we eat at 8-9 months depending on kid and never spoon feed them. People are always amazed at how well my kids eat. It is funny when outside people have tired to spoon fed my kids (before I tell them they don't have to do that) and the kids always look at them like "what are you doing?" and grab the food off the spoon to eat it.
I read a study once that said that less educated mothers are more instinctive parents than parents who are highly educated. The main reason is that educated mothers tend to turn parenting into a research project and do everything by the books. My sister-in-law got her doctorate in education a few months before her first child was born and she would fret over every little detail. My quote for her is "aspire to greater mediocrity" because seriously, people survived long before those books were written. I always just did what made sense. Even with my three we had very, very different situations as one had horrible allergies and one has autism so I had to be flexible and approach things in a way that made sense. I got really amused when my brother's daughter turned two and they were struggling with two year behavior… someone said (I think it was him) that, "even with a doctorate in education and a masters in psychology, a two year old is still a two year old." I think you've got this parenting thing figured out, Kendra.
Yep. I've always done this. I don't have the patience for baby food, plus it looks gross to me, so I can't imagine baby being all that thrilled. We feed our interested babies off our plates until they have that pincer grasp down, then they feed themselves. A first-time mom friend of mine recently asked me about when and how I introduced certain foods and the best answer I could give was, "Just follow your gut. You'll realize later that it's a lot less of a big deal than it feels like now."
My third wouldn't eat a drop of baby food. And just when I was starting to get panicky, he showed keen interest in my dinner and ate an entire bowl of regular spaghetti. Healthy and cheap.
Texture issues! Ugh!!!! You've only had one? Count yourself lucky, lady. Three out of my five were the worst, but even the other two had shorter lived phases when textures really bothered them. My oldest still thinks beans are evil (yes, he loves that Matt Smith Doctor Who scene) and it's all about the texture for him. I can tell because as he's gotten older, his palate has changed and flavors that he didn't care for before are suddenly tasting yummy to him, but certain textures like beans, couscous, eggplant… still don't fly. My youngest has the strongest sense of smell too that sometimes, when she was littler, things would pass just under her nose, but not even touch her lips and she'd back away and pinch her mouth shut.
Ha! After baby number 3, I really would like to burn all the "official" advice on giving babies solid food. But then again, a lot of that advice is on the internet, and I don't know how you burn the internet, so … /shrug.
I think the part I hate the most is that they tell you to mix the rice and cereal for the first feeding SO watery that you are 100% guaranteed to have a mess on your hands. I mean, adults struggle with eating soup neatly, and you're going to try to do that with a 5-month old? Gimme a break. I skipped right to a hearty cereal – milk mush around 6 or 6.5 months. Worked much better.
This is what I've done with my first and I'm so glad I've done it. He just eats off our plates and I honestly think that's why he's not a picky eater (at least for now lol).
This is very similar to what we have come to do. I did a lot of baby food with my first but really, ain't nobody got time fo' that.
My babies are skinny minis so I have but heads with doctors over it before. And once I get pregnant I don't feel like I can count on breastfeeding much. But for the most part, I do think babies will eat what they need if they are hungry. Without having spoons forced into them.
This makes so much sense. I don't want to spend a dime on baby food, or a minute of worry over whether Evangeline is getting nourishment. With breastfeeding still in place and table food there for exploratory/entertainment purposes, I'm hopeful this will work for me, too, in two or three months!
Ha! I was the same way with my first. I even got the baby bullet as a gift and used it to purée all of my food. The baby bullet is more of a hassle than anything. When I purée food now I just use the food processor because it is sooo much easier. I didn't let my son touch anything he had to chew until he was almost one year old. My second is 8 months old and I've already let her eat watermelon, bread, Cheerios etc. and she loves it! I still do purée some food for her. I also purée vegetables to
Mix it in with my sons Mac and cheese because that is the only way he will eat vegetables right now. He definitely has a texture issue and I thought that wouldn't be a problem since I never gave him jarred baby food! Ugh. Thanks for this post! It makes me feel better knowing that I'm not the only one who is not too concerned about my baby eating the "proper foods at the proper times." 🙂
It sounds like you are basically following the baby-led-weaning (but that's "weaning" in the British sense–introducing foods, not eliminating breastmilk) ideas, but you had to work them out for yourself! So glad we found the book early in our parenting journey… it's made mealtimes so easy.
Thank you for your post . . . mama gut instinct truly is the way to go! The parenting books I read produced so much anxiety in me as a first time parent. Two years later, I've tossed them out and plan never to read another, or recommend any to new parents. My kid got teeth at three months (seriously!), got on formula at four months (I was not cool breastfeeding with teeth), and decided to hate baby food at five months. But with his monster mouth of teeth at six months, he was more than happy to start eating our food. And now we are all happy. Thank you for your down to earth post!
I think what you're doing is called baby led weaning, but I call it just common sense! We did all the purees with our first, and it made it easier for the nanny, but I'm thinking with this one we'll just feed him what we're eating when he shows interest.
I just want to say I love your blog, and appreciate all of your parenting ideas! I am pregnant with boy #3 and have felt so overwhelmed and I am getting so many wonderful ideas from you, thank you so much!
So glad to hear of someone else who had problems with rice cereal. Our first cereal experience was a total disaster! My little guy was so miserable I was glad to be rid of it.
I was pretty laid back with my second and third (twins), until they started nursing ALL NIGHT LONG like newborns. Then I was determined to get two meals a day, every day, in their little bellies. After about a week they got on board with the idea and I got to sleep for more than an hour at a time at night. 🙂
It just makes sense! What on earth did people do to feed their babies before the invention of the 1950s blender? Great post.
This is pretty much how we do things now, too. I did everything "by the book" with my first, when I actually had time to spoon feed, but our 4th just eats what we eat. I even got some reusable squeeze packets to put soup and other difficult foods in. There are always ways to make it work.
Thank you! This is what I was planning to do with my first, besides being a little uptight about waiting until at least six months, but I started to get nervous when my brother (who almost does this) told me I should introduce new foods a few days about to see if they have allergies and all that junk. I might do that with strawberries and tomatoes and things lots of people are allergic to, but I am definitely not going to do with everything! I want her to actually like food!
Yes yes yes! This is right on Kendra! Especially the part about every parent who has read an AP book making pureed baby food. (I can't believe I did that!) I only have one exception with your helpful (non) advice. The "sitting in the high chair" rule isn't arbitrary and actually has nothing to do with the baby's ability to be spoon fed. It's thought that the digestive system is mature enough to handle food around the same time the baby has enough trunk support to sit unassisted. Strong trunk=strong digestive muscles.
I know, I know. You're gonna say that your kids did just fine even though they couldn't sit. But just in case any moms out there want to wait for just one sign that their kiddo is ready, I thought I'd throw that out there.
Both of mine showed an interest in food around 5 months but weren't great sitters. The interest passed quickly and showed up again around 8-9 months. Then we did everything your way (the second time around…..)
I was like you and a lot of the other mothers here with my first. I had the anxiety to make the 'expert-approved method' seem necessary and the time to do it. I hadn't been around many young babies before having my own so I just felt like I had to have some guidance for this little being that depended on me entirely and I loved so much. A lot of mothers are like that in the Western world. I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Uzbekistan. Uzbek mothers couldn't afford blenders, food processors, baby food jars or even diapers. They would chew a bit of their food and then offer it to the baby. I started doing that with my second and it worked better than the specially prepared baby food I bought or made.
This is like a stroll down memory lane with mine!! So anxious about my first and making sure he ate "right". And he's the one with all the pickiness about food. My 2nd had NO interest in any solids until he was almost one. Not even finger things like cheerios. Nada. He went straight from nursing to chunky table food. Just decided one day he wanted it and that was that. The others were more like Lulu – about 5 or 6 months when they started showing interest in my plate.
Is that toddler Bobby polishing off the baby food? Too funny!
Why yes, that IS toddler Bobby polishing off the baby food!
This is what we've always done..even with my first, she basically went straight to table food. I think I did that because even with just one kid I was too lazy to spoon feed, plus baby food is expensive while just giving them bites of regular adult food has a practically negligable cost.
My kids have probably been a little slower to pick up solids….at a year, they will still about 75-90% all nutrition from breastmilk and they didn't start at all until after 6 months. Around 18 months, is when my kids started to really pick up and eat considerable amounts of solids (although they all continued to nurse a long time after that).
Baby led weaning is a lot messier when babies are small. Since my babies always fed themselves with their fingers, it was always a mess. But the bonus is that they learned how to use utensils and feed themselves much earlier than other toddlers do. My 21 month old is very adept at using a regular (adult) fork and spoon and can drink out of a regular open cup without spilling.
Okay, I'm curious, how do you get them to eat solid foods on their own without HUGE messes? Because I've gone the opposite direction as you but for the same reason, which I find pretty funny 🙂 My first I had time and patience to clean up after his big messes and such. My third baby? No way! I succumbed to the evil (kidding) baby food jars because I just could.not.handle.messes. It was so much easier to sit for 10 minutes and spoon feed her some food in between my own bites and have zero cleanup besides a quick face wipe. Whenever I finally had to give her real food it was awful, the highchair has not been clean since honestly. I do clean it, but not often enough and she drops food into the a/c vent beneath it which is kinda annoying.
Plus, it's WAY easier to ask my 12 year old to feed her sister than it is to ask her to scrub the sticky food bits off the high chair. I'd feel guilty asking her to do that even if I was super busy. Gotta keep my cute little helpers happy and they fight over who gets to feed the baby; I have yet to hear anyone fight over who gets to scrub the floor under the highchair 😉
Oh, and your Frankie so sounds like my Peter (now 3.5)! He also self-weaned super early (10.5 months, ugh!) and was awful with solids. He had reflux and all sorts of bizarre food allergies though which I've been spared from with my other kids. But yeah, I had to thicken every one of his meals with baby cereal just so he wouldn't aspirate on it. Totally against what I did with my firstborn. I think God sends us these children to sanctify us and remind us there's definitely more than one way to do things. If I ever become a saint, for the record I credit Peter…because he's my sanctifying child 🙂
Amanda, that IS funny. I mostly sit my older babies in the high chair while I'm cooking or something with Cheerios or peas or cut up bananas or something they can pick up for themselves and I don't REMEMBER it making a huge mess, but Lulu isn't quite there yet. We've got one of those attach to the counter high chairs with the removeable tray, so it's pretty easy to wash it in the sink and wipe down the counter. But hey, if it's working for you, keep on keepin' on.