I met my dear friend Camilla for lunch the other day. She brought her delectable baby son Zeb with her, who is 16 months old. Once we’d set up his high chair and we’d ordered our meal, he proceeded to sit and devour the contents of the carefully packed little containers of food she had stowed away in her bag. One revealed pieces of cucumber, mini tomatoes and strips of cheese, another fresh blueberries and raspberries. Once he’d worked his way through these, she brought out the big guns: two mini hummus sandwiches. Surely life doesn’t get better for a one-year-old. His obvious delight in feeding himself was clear. And in the meantime, we were able to tuck in to our (delicious) moussaka at the same time and have a good old chat. Result.
My friend is a huge advocate of BLW (baby-led weaning). Not once had she spent her precious free time labouring over a pile of apples that needed peeling, coring, chopping, cooking and puréeing, nor had she mashed up bananas nor had she spent hours making sweet potato and carrot mush and dolloping it into ice-cube trays. From day one, Zeb had fed himself. As someone who has been through the whole puréeing and spoon-feeding process twice, it was so interesting hearing about an alternative. So I have asked her to contribute to The One-Handed Cook blog by sharing her best BLW advice with you!
A former cookery book editor and now a recipe consultant,
Camilla is a true foodie.
Read all about her BLW experience here:
Why did you decide to try BLW?
BLW was first mentioned at an NCT breast feeding workshop I went to and when the time came to introduce solids, all my NCT friends were talking about it and swapping videos. . . it was seeing a YouTube clip of a six-month-old baby devouring a chicken leg that convinced me – (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zzPMAJCPhmA) – though I should say that my son has never quite shown the same mastery of the drumstick!
Did you have any fears or concerns when you first tried BLW?
I was a bit worried about choking at first, but a friend made me see that the BLW approach made it less likely that a baby will choke on a large object because it is used to ‘chewing’ and moving solid things around its mouth unlike a baby who has only been spoon-fed who automatically swallows without chewing. The gag reflex is really strong in young babies and it is all part of learning how to process food.
I also worried that he wouldn’t eat enough but someone else told me that ‘Up to one, food is fun’ because babies get most of their nutrients from formula or breast milk. Zeb didn’t seem to swallow much at first (you spend a lot of time examining dirty nappies for signs of semi-digested food!) but that slowly changed over the first two months or so.
What are the advantages of BLW – for you and for him?
For me, it is the time you gain from not having to sit and spoon-feed your child. You also cut down the amount of cooking because many foods can be given whole and just lightly steamed or roasted. While your child is eating, you can eat your own lunch with him or cook for the next meal, tidy the kitchen, do the crossword . . . Particularly when they start walking, it is a valuable half hour of captivity! I still chat away to him and we try to eat together as often as possible but it does free you up to get things done. I have found that my son often eats more when I’m not sitting and staring at him so I potter around the kitchen, checking in with him and chatting on and off.
Eating out in restaurants is easier because you all eat at the same time and you can get on with your delicious meal without having to do airplanes with spaghetti Bolognese. I think this helps with general behaviour in restaurants – my son seems to be fairly well-mannered eating in public because he is quite used to tucking in to whatever is in front of him without throwing it on the floor or smearing it on every surface. Though it doesn’t stop him reaching for the glasses, cutlery, salt and pepper, butter dish etc. . .
For him, I think it teaches self control, independence and good motor skills (is there a better example of the pincer movement than picking up individual peas?!). The mantra to remember is ‘You choose the food, he chooses the amount’ – I think this sets up healthy eating patterns and good awareness of satiety and hunger for life. If you can trust that your child will eat what it needs and never force food into its mouth (though you are seriously tempted to on occasion!), you can be more relaxed about feeding and mealtimes don’t become a battleground. Perhaps it will all change when he’s older but so far Zebedee eats a wide range of foods without throwing tantrums or sprouts across the room.
I should mention that there are disadvantages too. . . The mess is really bad at first and a change of clothes is often required at the end of each meal but this doesn’t last for too long. There is also a lot of wastage early on; it isn’t the most thrifty way of introducing your child to solids.
Did you buy any books about BLW?
A canny friend told me to buy the BLW cookbook rather than the general BLW book as well as the cookbook because it’s all in the introduction (and online) and you just want the recipes for inspiration. I like the River Cottage Baby and Toddler Cookbook and Jenny Maizels’ Finger Food for Babies and Toddlers for more good ideas.
Tell us the first few things you gave your baby to try? (What age was he?)
At six months, we started with banana and avocado and broccoli. Broccoli is a good one because though it gets everywhere, some of it always goes in and you can track it through their system to their nappy giving you the encouragement to continue! We moved on to mango, asparagus, sweet potato, baby corn, eggy bread and mozzarella balls – all things that are soft enough to eat but hard enough to hold.
What are his favourite things to eat now?
Corn on the cob, felafels, fish cakes, edamame beans, meatballs, cherry tomatoes, buttermilk pancakes.
Would you encourage new mums to try BLW?
Absolutely. . . there are times when you discover more food in the crevices of their clothes or high chair than they have eaten or you are on all fours clearing mush from the floor when you wonder whether it is all worth it, but a year down the line, it is so brilliant to watch Zebedee tucking into risotto or picking up lentils. He already weighs 13Kg at 16 months so I can now totally relax that he is getting enough to eat!
Thanks, Camilla, a brilliant insight into BLW. Love the part about BLW enabling you to get things done while baby has his lunch!