You don't need to make recipes specifically for baby led weaning. With simple changes, almost any recipe can be made baby led weaning friendly! Try these dietitian-approved ways to modify what your family is already eating for baby led weaning.
One of my favorite things about bay led weaning is that it's less work for parents. You don’t have to sit and spoon feed your baby while trying to eat your dinner, and best of all, you don't have to make separate meals! But that doesn't necessarily mean your baby can literally pick up anything off your plate and eat it - there are a few things to consider for your baby's safety. Keep in mind that this is easiest if you cook the majority of your meals at home.
Why You Need To Modify Some Recipes For Baby Led Weaning
Going back to the basics of baby led weaning, babies need foods that are the right texture so that they can easily mash them with their gums. They also need foods that can easily be picked up with their whole hand since they have limited dexterity with their little fingers. And finally, I don't recommend salt or sugar for babies. So if you're eating fried chicken or a Caesar salad, your baby probably won't be able to eat that. But we don't want to make separate meals for babies. That goes against the whole spirit of baby led weaning. Instead, we can modify what we're already making to make it baby led weaning-friendly!
How To Modify Recipes For Baby Led Weaning
There are three things that may need modifying in order for babies to eat them safely and easily. They are texture, shape and salt or sugar content. Here's what I recommend to make things easier for you while cooking so that baby can enjoy meals rights alongside the family!
Any food that baby gets should be easily mashed between baby's gums (you can test this by pressing it between your thumb and forefinger), OR fibrous enough that baby cannot break off pieces (such as a long piece of steak or a cucumber wedge with skin). A few ways to achieve this in foods that are not already the appropriate texture:
- Cook vegetables a little longer for baby so that they are soft enough
- Cook any raw fruits or vegetables that are tough, such as apples or carrots
- Remove tough skin from poultry, potatoes, and other cooked fruits or veggies
- Leave out nuts, dried fruit or other choking hazards (from muffins or pancakes, for example)
- Make sure pieces of vegetables in mixed dishes are chopped fine enough that they aren't a choking hazard
- Cook meats to a tender texture (you want to aim for a juicy steak, not one that's dried out!)
Modifying Shape or Ease of Grasping
Babies need foods that are about the size and length of your pinky finger so that they are able to easily pick them up and bring them to their mouths. Lots of foods that your family enjoys can easily be cut up into a shape that's easy for baby. But some foods, like mixed dishes, require a little planning before you cook so that baby can pick them up more easily. Some ways to modify the shape of foods:
- When making ground meat, leave some pieces larger and form into finger-shaped "meatballs" for baby
- Choose larger, longer noodles when making pasta, such as penne or rigatoni instead of smaller shapes
- When making mixed dishes, you may need to take some components out as you cook them and set them aside for baby's plate
- For foods with tiny pieces, like rice and beans, you can mash them together so that they form larger chunks that stick together easily
- Spreads or dips can be spread thinly on a finger shaped piece of lightly toasted bread
- Avoid 'coins' such as round pieces of carrots or hot dogs
- Roll slippery foods, such as kiwi or avocado slices, in flaxseed, crushed Cheerios, or something else that will give them some texture, or leave a piece of the skin on for easier gripping
Modifying Salt and Sugar Content
I don't recommend adding salt or sugar to baby's meals. Babies' little kidneys can't handle too much sodium, and they just don't need any sugar (until at least one year of age, and ideally two years). Honey is also not safe for babies under one year due to the risk of botulism. These things are pretty easily modified if you cook most of your meals at home:
- Leave the salt out of recipes, and salt your own food at the table.
- Choose unseasoned, low sodium or no salt added versions of canned vegetables, broth, and grains
- Choose canned or frozen fruit with no added sugar (or canned in water/juice)
- Read labels to be sure foods have little to no added sugar
- Leave salt and sugar out of things like pancakes, muffins, and baked oatmeal. You can sweeten many baked goods with mashed banana or fruit puree (like prunes or applesauce), and you can always add maple syrup to your own at the table
- Choose plain yogurt, and if you need to flavor it, do so with fruit, nut butter, or cinnamon
- If a savory recipe calls for sugar or honey, you can usually either leave it out, or if it's in a sauce, serve baby's portion without the sauce
- The same concept can be applied to foods that may be too spicy for baby, too!
Examples of Family Meals Modified For Baby Led Weaning
- Healthy Orange Chicken - Cut carrots into sticks (or use baby carrots) instead of slicing into coins, pop peas out of the pods for baby, or use frozen broccoli instead of snap peas. Adjust red pepper flakes so it's not too spicy for baby.
- Mediterranean Chicken and Farro Bake - Leave out the salt and salt your own at the table. Cut strips of chicken for baby after cooking. Rub skins off cooked tomatoes. Smash baby's farro and beans together for easier scooping up.
- Tortellini Lasagna Soup - Leave some chunks of ground beef larger while cooking and/or form them into meatball 'fingers'. Leave the salt out and salt your own at the table. Serve meat and halved tortellini noodles to baby with a little sauce and cheese.
- Carrot Apple Breakfast Cookies - Leave out walnuts or chop very finely (the size of crumbs). Cut baked cookies into strips for baby.
- Gluten-Free Pumpkin Blender Muffins (pictured) - Leave out the walnuts and replace maple syrup with applesauce, mashed banana, or pureed prunes.