Monday, March 12, 2012

Baby on a Budget Guest Post: Baby-Led Solids

When I started the Baby on a Budget series, my intent was to help other parents find ways to make it possible to have a little one on a little budget.  What I didn't expect was that it would help me find new ways to save money and new parenting ideas to boot.  First, Amanda of Making Memories offered to write a post on Elimination Communication, something that I was interested in but hadn't had time to research.  Then, Amy of You Shall Go Out with Joy sent me an email asking if I would be interested in a post on baby-led solids for the series.  Lucia just turned three months old, so I haven't had the opportunity to delve into solids yet.  Not only is this post providing another money saving solution for my readers, it's also providing me with a much-needed introduction to solids just in time to use the information with my little one.  Thanks so much, Amy!


Ahh, bliss. You’ve finally settled into this whole baby thing. Breastfeeding seems like a breeze now, after the first difficult weeks. Alternatively, you’ve finally figured out how to wash the bottles so there is always actually a clean one available when baby is hungry. (Or maybe that is just my own particular fear due to my inability to keep the dishes cleaned!) But then. The six-month mark approaches and people start asking: Has baby started eating food yet? Is your freezer stocked? Mmm, rice cereal! 

If the idea of spending hours pureeing food and trying to coax it into your little one’s mouth makes you sweat, never fear: there is another way.  Baby-led solids (or baby-led weaning [BLW] here in the UK) is a great alternative way to introduce solids to babies and, as I’ll outline below, can save a few pennies to boot!

But first, what is baby-led solids? Baby-led weaning was first developed (in the modern sense) by a health visitor / public health nurse in England, Gill Rapley, after years of observing children start on solid foods. She has written a great book explaining all the ins and outs that I would definitely recommend if you are interested in the concept. (There are a couple of fact sheets that can give you a good start on it all as well). The basic concept of BLS is that, from about the age of six months, babies have the abilities necessary to feed themselves. Instead of giving purees, the parent/carer offers baby soft finger foods that she can pick up and put into her mouth to lick, taste, gum, chew, or just spit out in disgust!

steak, yum yum (at 26 weeks)
Two ideas inherent in BLS are, firstly, that solids are not offered until baby is developmentally ready to eat more than just milk. The main signs to look for with regard to developmental readiness include being able to sit up unsupporteddisappearance of the tongue-thrust (when baby pushes things out of his mouth with his tongue), ability to chew rather than suck everything, and development of the pincer grasp (picking things up with thumb and forefinger rather than palm).  Not only do these outer signs indicate that the internal digestive track is mature enough to handle food, but they also help ensure that baby can coordinate their movements to pick things up, get them to their mouth, and move them around in their mouth in a way that means that choking is unlikely. The second idea is that baby is allowed to go at his own pace—there is more to food than just nutrition, and it can take some time and serious exploration for a baby to learn all about the smells, tastes, and textures of this whole new world of food. As Rapley says, babies initially don’t realise that food will satiate their hunger (and still rely on their milk to fill their tummies), they are just curious about these new objects in front of them. As they get more used to food, parents are still encouraged to trust their baby to know how much to eat of each food that is offered. Without any requesting, cajoling, or forcing baby to eat “just one more bite”, mealtimes are more relaxed and baby learns to listen to internal cues about hunger and satiety rather than external factors.

With my son Gus, we gave him his first “meal” right at 6 months of age—banana and avocado. He wasn’t that keen on the taste—for a couple of weeks, he would have a horrified look on his face every time he first tasted something—but he loved experimenting with his food, and always went back for more. It was great fun for all of us to sit together as a family at the dinner table, my husband Jon and I eating our dinner and watching Gus explore. As he has grown (he is 15 months now), it has been a real joy to share our meals with him—and has taught me a thing or two about patience, trusting him to know himself and his needs, and accepting a bit of messiness! 

Okay, sounds nice enough, but how is this going to save me money?

To be honest, you can probably find ways to spend lots of money using BLW or very little money going the traditional route. But, for our family, it was easier for us to save in various ways by following a baby-led approach.

The beauty of BLW, to me, is that Baby eats what we eat, so there is no separate purchasing and preparation of food (as long as the food is low in salt—add it to the pot after dishing out Baby’s food or to your own plate at the table). This means that we didn’t buy any fancy equipment to make homemade purees or containers to freeze it in. There was no need to buy special spoons with curved heads or bowls with handles for feeding Gus with—we just used our regular old teaspoons, some glass ramekins we already had, and a few little bowls from Ikea.  We didn’t buy any foods that are marketed specifically toward babies, which inevitably cost at least twice as much as their “adult” equivalents. When Gus had porridge for breakfast, it was because I was eating oatmeal that day, and I just put a tablespoon or two into a bowl for him. Of course, when we are eating steak or asparagus (two foods that were on his menu quite early on—and very well received), maybe I do wish we had something a bit more cheap and cheerful to give him! 

practicing using a spoon--with mixed results!
But in all seriousness, babies don’t actually need to eat very much food. BLW allows the baby to regulate her own food and milk intake, which, with Gus anyway, is a surprisingly small amount. I read on the blog Cooking Manager that a good rule of thumb is to give a child one tablespoon per year of age for each food served, then allow seconds as desired. Most families cook enough food that a spoonful of casserole or a tablespoon of meat and veg can be given to Baby without either parent left feeling hungry at the end of the meal. Even now, there are very few meals that I prepare more than I did before Gus shared them with us (I usually have to make a bit extra risotto, which Gus loves, but that is partly because half of it misses his mouth!). 

Waste can also potentially be cut down. Since you are serving Baby food that you are also eating yourself, anything that he decides not to eat can easily be consumed by a foraging parent. That is, if it hasn’t been thrown on the floor, chewed up and spit out again, or had half a cup of water dumped on it (and let’s be honest, sometimes that doesn’t seem to stop you me). I have a friend that started solids the traditional way and has said that she doesn’t serve her son food that she wouldn’t eat herself, which seems to me a pretty good rule, but for me, I am not all that keen on eating leftovers of banana-broccoli puree or whatever weird flavours you find in some weaning cookbooks! Also, you don’t have to worry about half a (rather expensive) jar or pouch of food going uneaten and thrown in the trash.

A major factor, for me, is just the time that is saved by not making separate food for Gus. And time is money, people!  I always seem to have such a long to-do list, that I am grateful for one less thing to do. I’ve found that sharing my food with my baby has made me think even more about the healthfulness of my own diet, and not having to make special food for Gus has freed up time to make things that benefit the whole family, such as homemade bread or soup for lunch.

Starting solids is such an adventure, whatever way you go about it. But it should be fun and help babies learn to love food, not be stressful. Hopefully, baby-led solids can help relieve some of the stress from both feeding interactions and to your pocketbook.

More resources:

  • How do we get started with solids,, which gives lots of info about how to balance milk and solid food intake as baby is starting out
  • There are loads of bloggers that have written about the hows and whys of BLW, so here’s just one to whet your appetite: 10 Reasons to Choose Baby-led Weaning, Diary of a First Child
  • Some research regarding weaning, food preferences, and weight as a child has recently been reported in the news: NHS Choices and Analytic Armadillo talk about the research behind the headlines
  • Some documents on portion sizes for toddlers that were really enlightening to me in terms of how much food a toddler needs (these are for ages 1-4, so a baby just starting out would need even less!): The School Food Trust UK (Section 3 in particular) and the Infant and Toddler Forum (factsheet 1.3)

Amy is originally from the Midwestern USA, but moved across an ocean to be with the man she loves. She and Jon have been married for 5years and have a son called Gus, born in November 2010. She is writes about food,health, and parenting, but mostly just about her little family, at You Shall Go Out with Joy.

Please check out the other posts (including some great guest posts) in my Baby on a Budget series.


  1. This idea was pretty intuitive to me. I may start solids earlier with this guy, mostly because I sense he's going to want it.  When I've waited much longer and skipped baby food in the past though, I did have an acquaintance totally look down on me for it.
    Thankfully, I go against the grain a lot in parenting, so it didn't bother me.  It's great to know there's an actual name/method for this!

  2. We did a mix of BLW and purees. G scared me early on with banana and I just couldn't bring myself to give her whole pieces of food. If you've ever seen a baby choke, it is super scary & then they throw up. I really didn't like that. She was ready for solids and would do fine, but her eyes seemed to be bigger than her mouth--so to speak. So in the beginning I would give her some organic purees and then we started with finger foods too. We mostly 'spoon-fed' her for about a month and then moved on to letting her feed herself. I like that we didn't have to spend most of our meal feeding her and she has always had great fine motor skills. 
    I will say, though, that I do buy extra/special food for G because we can't afford to buy all organic and I refuse to feed her somethings that we eat non-organic.This was a nice post & I hope parents out there find the balance necessary for their family :-)

  3. I definitely hear you on the baby specific foods so that they are healthier. I'm hoping that by the time Lucia is eating more than just a bite or two, David will have a good job and we'll be able to purchase more organic foods. I have a baby food maker I received as a baby shower gift and I hope that I'll have the chance to use it with some organic fruits and veggies.

  4. This was the topic at the La Leche League meeting I went to earlier this month, and I believe they showed us all that same book mentioned in the post.  My babe isn't ready for solids yet, but I had decided against the purees before she was born.  I think an avocado would be a good first food :)

  5. What a great introduction to baby-led weaning! This approach definitely saved us money as well. Since our daughter ate so little in the first six months or so of BLW, we really didn't purchase or cook anything extra - just gave her a bit of everything we were eating and let her have a go. Much cheaper than jars and boxes of special "baby" foods!


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