The first time my parents ever tried to give me solid food, I grabbed the spoon and started feeding myself.
“You should have seen the look on your face,” my mom loves to tell me. “Like, ‘how could you guys hold out on me like this?’”
I know it’s the worst kind of cliché to say I love food. But seriously, I love food. Growing up in rural Vermont, I was perfectly content to sit in the garden and munch veggies straight from the ground, a little dirt be damned. And when I moved to New York City as an adult, the culinary world became my literal oyster as I bounced happily between oyster happy hours, supplementing my favorite acquired taste with such fussy farm-to-table Brooklyn delicacies as squid-ink pasta, whipped chicken liver mousse, and every cheese plate I could get my hands on.
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I couldn’t wait to have a kid who loves food the way I love food. I couldn’t wait to experience his delight as he bit into a fresh strawberry for the first time, or tried perfectly smoked eggplant or buttery omelets or warm, crusty bread.
But I’m also the laziest person ever, particularly in the kitchen. My husband does 90% of the cooking because if it were up to me we’d subsist entirely on Thai takeout. It’s not that I don’t know how to cook — I just forget that meal prep takes time, and then it’s dinner time and I have one tomato and seven jars of mustard in the fridge and you know who can make a better meal than that in a fraction of the time? Those nice people at the Thai restaurant.
So when my infant started uncrossing his eyes, holding his head up and making grabs for my pad see ew, I reckoned I’d have to start stocking up on jars of puréed carrots or whatever — because no way was I going to be one of those moms who lovingly stewed, mushed and jarred her own baby food. It was a nice fantasy, but I knew myself better.
All About Baby-Led Weaning: A Culinary Adventure That Lazy Moms Will Love
Then I found out about Baby-Led Weaning. Born in the U.K. (where, confusingly, “weaning” refers to adding food to a baby’s diet rather than stopping breastfeeding), this simple philosophy suggests skipping the spoon-feeding and simply giving your baby regular food from the start. All you have to do, it claims, is place bits of food roughly the size and shape of fingers in front of your baby, and their natural desire to explore will do the rest. You know how a six-month-old will pick up literally anything in front of him and put it in his mouth? Surprise: he’ll also do this with food!
As a former baby who insisted on feeding myself, this really resonated with me. But I had questions: a lot of them. Like, what about choking? (According to a study published in the journal Pediatrics, the risk isn’t any higher than it is with spoon-feeding, but my husband and I took an infant CPR class just to be safe.) How is he supposed to chew if he doesn’t have teeth? (With his surprisingly strong little gums! And don’t expect him to swallow a lot. At the beginning, it’s mostly just about exploring different flavors and textures.) Is anything off-limits? (Surprisingly, no. Even spicy food is fine, as long as he’s used to spice from your diet via your breast milk. Just stay away from raw oysters and honey, and go easy on the salt.) Another question: Will he get enough nutrition? (The Baby-Led Weaning philosophy stresses that the majority of babies’ nutrition will still come from breast milk or formula for the first few months: a popular adage is “food until one is just for fun.”)
I devoured the Baby-Led Weaning book, which contained many tips for making your regular table food baby-friendly. (Some of my favorites included leaving a bit of skin on bananas or avocados so they wouldn’t be too slippery for little hands, roasting veggies to increase their sweetness and chewability, and starting with broccoli because the florets basically have a built-in handle). Then I skimmed the Baby Lead Weaning Cookbook, which included basic recipes for dishes that seemed decidedly not infant-friendly, such as lasagna. I never cooked any of them, but it was reassuring to see that little babies could eat (or at least gum) more than I gave them credit for.
Then I sat my six-month-old up at the table, placed some steamed broccoli in front of him, and watched him go to town.
Was it messy? Sure. Did he love it? You bet. Was I hooked? Oh, hell yes.
My Baby-Led Weaning Journey
I quickly embraced baby-led weaning with as much enthusiasm as a lazy mom can muster. I loved that we never had to prepare separate food for our baby and that we could spend meals eating and talking to each other instead of trying to force a spoon full of mush into a reluctant little mouth. Our baby seemed to like it, too.
Within a month he’d sampled a huge variety of foods: not just fruits and vegetables but also fish and steak. By the time he was a year old, he’d tried stuff my husband and I didn’t have until we were in our twenties, like truffles and sushi. He’s currently two-and-a-half and hasn’t yet become a picky eater (knock wood). Sure, he loves mac-n-cheese as much as the next kid, but last night he housed a plate of arctic char, asparagus, and okra like it was chocolate-chip cookies (and yes, he also devours chocolate-chip cookies).
We recently began baby-led weaning with our seven-month-old, and the journey has been similar. The kid loves food, and I love not having to feed it to him. But when a well-meaning friend gifted us a box of fancy organic baby food, the jars were so cute and colorful (and were taking up so much room in our fridge), I figured I’d give it a try.
Fifteen minutes, one glop-spattered wall, three spoons on the floor, and one crying baby later, I gave up. My son couldn’t understand why I kept shoving a spoon in his mouth, and our dining room was a mess. (To be fair, baby-led weaning is hardly neat, but I’ve found it’s easier to sweep scrambled eggs and toast off the floor than try to rinse puréed beef and carrots from an infant’s hair.) I passed the baby food along to another family, tossed the spoons in the dishwasher, and never looked back.
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