– Written by Caroline Baughman
As your child approaches six months you may be thinking about starting solid food. You might feel unsure about what to do and/or excited about entering into this next phase with your child. Questions arise about what options you have, what you need, and how to introduce foods.
We have put together a beginners guide on starting solids from a Montessori aligned approach to help answer those questions. Baby Led Weaning is the most commonly used method in Montessori as it allows for independence and following the child. This approach may not be for every family and that is okay, we have something in here for those who wish to do traditional feeding and purees too or a combination of both – the Montessori way.
How to start
The first step is to understand that at first the Baby Led Weaning method is about exploring foods. Your child will not eat very much of what you offer until a few months into the process. The child will be developing their jaw and mouth muscles, as well as their gag reflex. It is normal for them to taste, spit, and gag when just starting any kind of solid foods. This exploration is an adjustment period and the food will not provide enough nutrition to sustain a child.
We recommend that you continue breastfeeding or formula feeding until at least 12 months of age (and as recommended by your pediatrician). Around the 9-10 month mark babies may naturally want to consume less milk as they eat more food. Babies can choke on whole foods as well as purees so it is important to be vigilant when feeding your child. It is important to ensure you recognize the signs of choking and how to remedy the situation regardless of what method of solid foods you decide to use. Safety is of the utmost importance and your child must show signs of readiness to begin.
Before you introduce solid foods you will need a few tools.
A highchair (suggest Stokke Tripp Trapp, Kekaroo, Kaos, Hauk) to align with Montessori but any that’s easy to clean will do. Once your child is older and can crawl into a chair at a weaning table (around 9-10 months) this is an acceptable place for feeding as well as long as they are being cautiously supervised. (We know the IKEA Antilop chair is a favourite in many homes but we would not suggest it as it does not have a foot rest, and foot rests really promotes posture when baby is sitting, helping them to sit upright and makes it easier for them to cough). Another chair we can recommend is one like this Toogel booster seat which straps to a regular dining chair and the child’s feet rests on the seat of the chair.
Child sized utensils (preferably stainless steel / metal)
Child sized cup (preferably glass or tempered glass)
Plates and bowls (more so for purees, preferably glass or porcelain)
Crinkle Cutter (if doing Baby Led Weaning)
We suggest you avoid processed foods or anything with salt and extra sugar. To make cooking easier you can remove the baby portion from family meals before adding those ingredients. Babies can have seasoning but it is best to follow the child and their personal preferences for seasoning. If you want recipes you can search online or purchase a Baby-Led Weaning Cookbook and Baby-Led Feeding. We also recommend The Gentle Eating Book on Kindle.
For those feeding purees you want to look for no sugar added versions and ensure that you try to get single ingredient purees first. If you look at the ingredient list on the jar it should be one ingredient only. Water for mixing is fine as well. While you can purchase foods in glass jars and pouches, we recommend the jars as the glass doesn’t leach into the food.
Preparing the food is the most important step. The food used for Baby Led Weaning starts with fruits and vegetables. You can give the food fresh, steamed, roasted, or boil the fruits and vegetables. Food for your baby is OK as long as it is soft enough. You can test the food between your thumb and forefinger. It should squish easily, at least until they have more teeth and are accustomed to chewing. After they are accustomed to the process and begin chewing you can eventually offer other foods like easy to chew meat, beans, toast, and pasta. You want to offer your baby stick or wedge sized pieces of food at first.
It should be about the size and thickness of your finger. The crinkle cutter helps create ridges in the food making it easier for your baby to hold. Once your baby gets better at using their pincer grip you can introduce smaller pieces and more slippery foods. For round foods like banana, carrots, berries etc. ensure that you cut them in quarters as they are a choking hazard.
We suggest you avoid the following foods regardless of the method used for feeding.
This includes honey (until 1 year of age), Cow’s Milk, Soy Milk, nuts and seeds, sticky foods such fruit snacks or dried fruit. Hard or crunchy foods (until old enough to chew well), soft nut or seed based butter, popcorn (until 4 years of age), and any food that is a high allergen in the family. Speak to your pediatrician before adding foods that are known to be high for allergies. This includes eggs, fish, milk, peanuts, shellfish, soy, tree nuts, and wheat.
We also recommend talking with your pediatrician about the symptoms of a food allergy and how to handle any reaction.
***Please note that different countries may have different recommendations so please consult with your pediatrician if you have any concerns***
How to Feed
Some points are the same for both Baby Led Weaning and puree feedings. This includes:
Ensure your child is in their highchair (or weaning table for older babies) for all mealtimes. This helps develop an association and expectation for the child. Feeding outside of the highchair can also be dangerous as the child must be seated upright at all times.
Try to incorporate your child into family meals. This is a great way for them to observe and learn from you.
Generally you want your child in a good mood as the session can be between five and twenty minutes from beginning to end.
Present utensils as soon as the child shows they are able to bring items to their mouth. You also want to ensure you have water available to sip during the meals. Use an open glass with just enough water to cover the bottom and assist your baby in learning to tip it up and drink. Having water with meals helps prevent tummy troubles and constipation.
You want to begin slow with one offering a day. This can be increased once your baby gets better at eating or seems hungrier. You can then gradually increase to two and later three meals per day. You can decide which meal you start with in terms of breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
Ensure you throw away any food that your child didn’t eat. DO NOT save it. There are now germs and bacteria mixed in with the food.
Baby Led Weaning
Start out with 2-3 pieces of food at the most on the tray, plate or table. This ensures that your child isn’t overwhelmed.
Allow the child to choose which pieces they want and feed themselves. Never place food into your child’s mouth, even if they are struggling, as it presents a choking hazard.
Image from the cookbook Baby -Led Feeding
You want the food to be room temperature or slightly warm. This is mainly for jar leftovers that are cold from the refrigerator. Keep in mind to not place it directly in the microwave as it can create hot spots and burn the child’s mouth. You can place the food into a glass bowl or jar (like a mason jar) and heat it in warm water or run it under hot water from the tap for a minute or two.
Take the food out of the jar and place it in a bowl or on a plate. This helps to avoid cross contamination and allows for you to use the food in the jar for more than one feeding. There are directions on each jar but keep in mind that a jar of food is only good after opening for typically 24 hours.
In the beginning you will need to load the spoon with a bit of purees and hand it to your child. Try not to feed them by placing the spoon in their mouth yourself. Once the child is a bit older and has more control they can then load the spoon themselves. You child may try to use their hands to feed themselves. Allow your child to place their hands into the bowl if they want and feel/taste the food.
We hope you found our guide helpful and feel prepared to tackle solid food with your little one. It can be stressful or intimidating to some but don’t forget to have fun! Create new favorites, introduce traditional family recipes, and enjoy this new experience with your child.
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***Disclaimer – The content of this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice and remember different countries may have different recommendations. Always consult with your pediatrician if you have any concerns.***