If the goal of baby-led weaning is to let baby feed themselves, you need to prepare food that fits their developmental stage. It’s important to think about the size and shape of the food you’re offering, to make sure that baby can pick up, grasp and eat. When you begin weaning, baby’s motor skills are most often still at the grasp-everything-by-the-fist stage, so take that into account when you’re preparing their first foods. As baby develops their newfound grabbing skills into more precise pincer movements, you can transition the shape of foods on their plate.
Remember that baby-led feeding is controlled by your baby - so don’t give into temptation to place the food into their mouth, or otherwise guide their feeding. Your role is to let them explore and develop at their own pace, and provide nutritious food shaped for their developmental stage...they’ll get the hang of it soon enough!
In the beginning: The full-fist grasp
One of the signs of readiness for weaning is that your little one has learned to grasp and pick up objects to bring them to their mouth - as they likely have with their toys, the tv remote, and your car keys! They do this with their full fists, and without much precise movement. We’ve all experienced our little ones grasping hold of hair or family pets and being seemingly unable to let go!
When you’re preparing food think: if my baby wraps her fist around this piece of food, will she still be able to eat it? You want to have a portion of the food poking out the top of their fist (about 2 inches long should do the trick), otherwise you will end up with a frustrated baby!
So to begin baby led weaning, start with over-sized chunks of food. Foods that are wedge or spear shaped work best.
Food shapes to try in this early stage:
Foods with a natural ‘handle’ like a stalk of broccoli, corn cob, or a whole banana
Large strips or spears of fruits like avocado, ripe pear, ripe mango, or watermelon (seeds removed)
"Chunky chips” of roasted root veg, like sweet potato, carrot, butternut squash and parsnip
Small pasta shapes may prove a frustrating experience at this stage, so consider larger or textured pasta shapes that are easier to grip like cannelloni, penne or fusilli.
Toast fingers (a liberal buttering softens it up nicely!)
Strips of (well-cooked) omelette with finely minced fillings like spinach, tomato, etc.
Lamb chops on a large bone
Strips of tender chicken breast
Food that is ‘clumpy’ can work well too - stodgy mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes (you could add cheese and veg to the mix), moistened quinoa, polenta or risotto are all great
Going pro: The pincer grasp
Between 8 and 12 months baby will begin to develop their pincer grasp, which helps them manipulate and pick up objects with between their thumb and index finger (or thumb and many fingers, when they begin). This fine motor control takes some practice to develop to full dexterity, so don’t expect an overnight transition! However you can begin to introduce smaller-sized foods in meals. While baby may not have much success in picking them up at first, they should have fun trying!
Food shapes best for pincer practice:
Corn kernels off the cob
Grapes, cut into quarters
Diced veg, like cooked carrot
Grains like quinoa, rice, wheat berries or pearled spelt, for the more advanced!
You can also “pre-load” a spoon for baby with natural yoghurt or thick homemade soups to help them practice their cutlery prowess! This is also a great time to introduce a fork as baby learns to use their newfound hand skills.
Beware choking hazards
Always avoid the following choking hazards when you’re prepping first foods:
Skins, pits, seeds, nuts, small bones
Dried fruits are too difficult to chew (you could instead finely mince and add as an ingredient in meals)
Round hard foods, such as grapes, cherries, and tomatoes should be cut into quarters
Hard, crunchy foods which easily 'break' when eaten, e.g. raw apple, raw carrot
And always, always ensure eating is done in an upright position, and if you have a mobile baby, make sure eating is not done on the run! (Read more about baby led weaning safety)
What tips do you have to help baby handle foods with fists or fingers? Leave a comment!