How to Cut Foods for Baby-Led Weaning
You’ve probably seen photos online of babies practicing baby-led weaning, chomping down on a whole carrot or grasping raw apple slices. But, is this safe?
In the case of the raw carrot and apples, nope. But, baby-led weaning certainly can be safe, if you know how to cut and cook foods properly.
Baby-led weaning, or baby-led feeding as I prefer to call it, means that babies feed themselves finger foods as soon as they start solids. But it isn’t anything goes. Here’s how to make sure that the foods you give your baby are safe and easy-to-eat for your baby’s developmental capabilities. Because if your baby can’t pick up the food, then she can’t actually eat it!
And these guidelines work for any finger foods, even if your baby is still eating some purées (which is just fine, by the way!).
Size and Shape
At around 6 months — Most babies just starting solids haven’t developed their pincer grasp (thumb and forefinger) yet. So to pick up foods they grasp them with their whole palm. Since you want your baby to still access the food while it’s in her palm, it’s best to cut food into long, thin sticks. Think about the length and width of your pinky finger, and check out the photo above from Baby-Led Feeding for some ideas.
Other than choking hazards and honey (which you should never give to a baby under age 1), most foods are fair game at this age, including meat, poultry, cheese (shredded), and allergens like eggs, nuts (never whole, but a little smooth nut butter stirred into a purée or spread on toast), and fish.
Toasts are another excellent vehicle for introducing new foods and flavors. Because while we don’t want foods to be too hard (see below), we also don’t want them to be too soft and gummy. Commercial bread can be difficult to pick up and can turn into a ball of mush in a baby’s mouth. But, lightly toasted bread is ideal for self-feeding. Here are 15 of my favorite toast toppings for babies.
And remember that much of eating at this early stage is about your baby exploring–touching, smelling, and yes, tasting. But don’t be alarmed if it seems like little of the food is actually making it into her tummy. Self-feeding takes a lot of eye-hand coordination, and that’s an ability your baby is still developing.
At around 8-10 months — When babies develop their pincer grasp start cutting foods into small pieces, about chickpea-sized. And for small round foods like chickpeas or blueberries, smash them lightly before serving. It’s great for babies at this age to practice their pincer grasp, but it’s also A-OK to continue serving food in sticks like you did when he was younger. The photo above is also from Baby-Led Feeding.
Some of my other favorite single-ingredient foods at this stage include chopped hard-cooked eggs and small pasta shapes.
This is also a good time to begin offering your baby a spoon along with thick soups or mashes. It will take practice for her to get the hang of eating with the spoon, but you can pre-load the utensil to start, and of course, practice makes perfect.
At all ages, foods should be soft enough that you can smash them with gentle pressure between your thumb and forefinger. This means no raw carrots, apples, nuts, or tough chunks of meat. For vegetables, this usually means steaming them, roasting them, or cooking them in an Instant Pot. Meat should also be very, very tender. Here’s my guide to cooking meat for babies.
Remember, to err on the side of caution with baby-led feeding and always stay with your baby while she’s eating. Then enjoy the show!
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Photos by Lauren Volo.