MEET THE EXPERT: Tracey Murkett has co-authored four books on baby-led weaning and parenting with former health visitor Gill Rapley. Their first book, Baby-led Weaning: Helping Your Baby to Love Good Food (£12.99, amazon.co.uk), has been translated into 12 languages.
Baby brain food
- Half a ripe avocado
- 1 tbsp chopped cooked chicken
- Yolk from one hard-boiled egg
- A slice of bread
Mash the avocado, chicken and egg together. Spread over bread, fold and cut into fingers.
Spicy sweet potato
- 1 sweet potato
- Ground cinnamon
- Ground nutmeg
Peel the sweet potato and cut into cubes. Steam until tender, or simmer in a little water. Sprinkle with the spices and cool until just warm, then serve.
Wash and peel the carrots, cut into long, thin sticks. Steam for 10 minutes until just tender. Put on tray lined with greaseproof paper in a single layer. Allow to cool, then freeze on the tray. Once frozen, they can be put in a bag. Take out and warm in boiled water for a few seconds.
- Half a ripe peach, peeled and cut into fingers
- Half a small ripe banana
- One tbsp yoghurt
- 2 tbsp breadcrumbs
Mash the yoghurt and banana together until well blended. Add the peach and stir well, until the cubes are coated. Roll the cubes in the crumbs, then serve.
What is baby-led weaning?
Baby-led weaning is the ultimate parenting hack. When you think of starting your baby on solid foods, you might imagine it will involve a lot of scouring recipe books for the best blends of fruit and veg for your baby, then steaming and puréeing. Finally, once you’ve prepared a special meal for your baby, you've got to get her to eat it, slowly feeding her every last mouthful.
But baby-led weaning offers an easy alternative to spoon-feeding which lets your baby take the lead, using food you cook for the whole family. Instead of letting your own food go cold while you feed your baby, you can enjoy meals together as a family with no pressure on you or your child.
‘It’s a common-sense way to move on to solid food,’ says expert Tracey Murkett. ‘It’s based on natural development, and allows your baby to join in with healthy family meals. You allow your baby to walk and talk in her own time, and baby-led weaning allows her to eat when she’s ready too.’
Getting started couldn’t be simpler. As long as what you’re eating is healthy, your baby can have a go at eating it too. ‘The main things to avoid are salt and sugar,’ says Tracey. ‘If your baby is under 12 months, she shouldn’t be given honey, as this can contain botulism, or runny eggs, which can contain salmonella. Your baby’s defences aren’t strong enough to fight these off yet. But she can start with a wide range of foods.’
Ideal first foods include big pieces of pasta, strips of tender meat, fruit, veg, and toast or flatbread. Cutting meat and veg into long strips and stick-shapes makes it easier for babies to pick them up and have a go at eating them. Veg needs to be cooked so it’s soft enough to bite into but firm enough to pick up and hold.
Small round items like grapes and cherry tomatoes should be cut in half, or even quarters, to reduce the risk of choking. It’s a good idea to offer your baby different shapes and textures at mealtimes so she can explore the food and discover it for herself.
Parents often worry their baby might not eat enough if left to her own devices. But, as long she’s still given breastmilk or formula as usual, there’s no need to worry about how much food she eats.
‘A lot of parents top up with a spoon to make sure their baby has had enough. This is different from baby-led weaning,’ Tracey says. ‘This is just spoon-feeding and allowing finger foods. You need to let your baby choose how much she wants to eat. Traditionally, people introduce solids and cut down on milk at the same time. With baby-led weaning, you offer breastmilk or formula alongside food.’