Babies Eat Real Food: Getting Started with Baby-Led Weaning

Getting Started With Baby Led Weaning

So you want to feed your baby real food?

Then you need to know about baby-led weaning (BLW). BLW works wonders to expose babies to a variety of tastes, textures, temperatures, and the appearance of real foods.

The best part? It’s really simple. It involves giving a baby pieces of real food and letting them pick it up and self-feed. Easy-peasy.

Lots of newbies to BLW have questions, I am going to outline how we selected and prepared foods from 6 to 8 months of age. After 8 months, our kids went to eating the same food that we eat, therefore no special preparation was necessary (even though my daughter didn’t have any teeth until 10 months!).

There are many interpretations with how to progress each month and what to feed. Here is how we did BLW based on food types, motor skill development, and what worked for our family. For the record, I am a mother of two little ones with a Ph.D. in Child Development and a research focus in feeding

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Six Months: Fruits and Veggies.

Motor Skills: Fruits and Veggies are mostly served in very soft, overcooked sticks (3-4 inches long) and pieces of the size of the hand. The baby can easily grasp, pick up, hold, and nibble on these vegetables. Stay with sticks because chunks of food can be a choking hazard. 

How to Get started with baby led weaning
Here’s how a tray of roasted veggies would look prepped for a 6 month old.

Food Prep Advice: At first, little hands can have a hard time getting a hold of pieces of food–it is just part of the fun. Some foods are easier to grab if they are steamed and others are better roasted.

Steam cauliflower and broccoli, and serve it frequently. These bitter flavors are the least preferred by babies, so it’s important to expose early and often. Never decide if your baby “likes” or “dislikes” something–it is far too early to tell Those little taste buds are a work in progress and always evolving.

You will want to roast some of the slippery veggies—zucchini, carrots, sweet potato, red pepper, etc. The idea is to dry them out so they are easier to handle. They should be really soft and easy to chew–like a scrambled egg.

If we are going to keep it simple–please don’t do this everyday. Chop up a variety, lay them out on a pan and cook them at the same time—then stick a few days worth in the fridge.

When feeding ripe, soft fruits (like pears and bananas) just give them to the baby in their whole form. Babies have a lot of fun gnawing away at whole fruits.

A six-month meal: Broccoli + Sweet Potatoes
Getting Started with Baby-Led Weaning
A six-month meal: Avocado + Zucchini
Seven Months: Fruits, Veggies, Grains, Legumes, and Spices

Motor Skills: You are going to notice your baby start to do more “raking”. This means taking the four fingers and raking them back towards the palm to scoop up food.

Raking opens up lots of doors.

They can now rake up things like quinoa, oats, beans, and lots of other less tasty small objects like paper clips and dog food. Try to continue serving sticks but add in some other foods they can self-feed and rake.

There is no way around it, raking is messy. But it’s important that they get the chance to self-feed.

Your baby will be on the fast track to the pincer grasp (picking up with the pointer finger and thumb), which brings some dignity to BLW. Also consider loading a spoon for him and handing it over so he can practice getting it in his mouth.

Food Prep Advice: Keep serving up all of the above and start mixing things together. Quinoa and frozen peas, oats and avocados, brown rice and beans, etc. I like to make a large batch of grains and keep it in the fridge, mixing it with different veggies each day.

I am a big fan of the early mixing of foods and not a fan of serving foods separately in plates with compartments. Foods touching one another is natural and should be encouraged. Add some spices to keep it interesting.

Getting Started with Baby Led Weaning
A seven-month meal: Quinoa + Peas (plus cumin and olive oil)
Eight Months: Family dinner, game on.

Motor Skills: You will start to see some raking mixed with a little pincer action. The pincer grasp tends to emerge somewhere around the time that babies crawl (the hands get a lot of strengthening and stimulating that way)–so don’t worry if it is later. Your baby will be able to pick up almost anything you put in front of them with raking or pincer grip. If you have not already started doing so, try loading the spoon and fork and handing it to them to self-feed.

Food prep advice: This is where we got lazy. No more cooking separate food. At 8 months, they started eating everything we eat, but without salt. We do eat healthy, which made this transition easier. At this age we started to serve meat, but we are careful to only give hormone and antibiotic-free meats–which is a personal preference.

Rather than adding salt while cooking, I first scoop the baby’s food out and onto her plate, and then salt the rest for the grown-ups at the end. I swear by the Pampered Chef Kitchen Chopper. I can chop up her food the tiniest pieces, or leave them larger in a matter of seconds.

Getting Started with Baby Led Weaning
An eight-month meal: Martha Stewart’s Warm Quinoa + Chicken Salad

This is where my BLW advice ends, because we have now introduced real, grown up food that has lots of colors, textures, flavors, and temperatures. Don’t expect your baby to progress on the same path. There are many options to deviate and go in your own direction. Using purees for some meals and real food for others is fine—it is important that you find the right blend that works for your family.

Want more research-based information on feeding babies?

Denaye Barahona

Denaye Barahona is a loving wife and mama of two. She's a therapist for moms, an author, and the host of the top-ranked Simple Families Podcast. Denaye holds a Ph.D. in Child Development and is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She has been featured on the likes of The Today Show, Netflix, The Wall Street Journal, Real Simple, Forbes, and numerous other media outlets.