Why I love Baby-led Weaning

Anyone who knows me well knows I probably take food too seriously. I just can’t help it.

Food is one of the great joys of life. It’s not just fuel. Food is bound up with family, talking, laughing, art, passion and traditions.

In Nigella Lawsons recipe book, How to Eat, she talks about her first pregnancy. In a short anecdote she describes chatting to an obstetrician at a party about breastfeeding. She was excited to learn that the taste of breast milk changes, depending on what the mother has eaten. In this way, the baby becomes accustomed to a variety of tastes. Amazing!

When it came time for Eloise to start eating, I hoped I could pass on my love of food. At first I was going to go down the path of making my own purées. However something about spoon feeding mush didn’t seem to work for me. I didn’t feel comfortable with it.

I’d heard mothers talking about forcing, distracting, coercing, persuading, shoving and tricking their baby into eating. This made no sense! Why would you need to “force” someone to do something as enjoyable and natural as eating!

You don’t force anyone to laugh, or sing, or look at a beautiful sunset or to play. Surely a baby simply wants to eat.

Well luckily I remembered a friend of mine, whose baby I’d seen eating a bowl of strawberries. The baby had been feeding herself. This friend put me onto information about weaning that can be found on the Australian Breastfeeding Association website. They call it starting with “family foods.” This type of weaning is also called baby-led weaning.

I have loved, loved, loved going on this baby-led weaning adventure with Eloise.

Why do I love it?

Well here are the best things about it.

Little Preparation

Since Eloise has started eating, I’ve hardly had to make any adjustments to my cooking. I’ve just given her what we’re having. My only change is I’ve started cooking with more vegetables – which has to be a good thing. She started off with cucumber sticks, roasted vegetables, avocado, mango, bread and strawberries. Now she can handle pretty much anything. She can suck up spaghetti covered in mince, scoop up rice, loves daintily picking up peas and kidney beans, chewing on steak and (to my husband’s horror) even loves her broccoli.

Food is a time for learning

For a while Eloise did more playing then eating at meals. But this didn’t matter. I would always give her a breastfeed before a meal so she wasn’t frustrated by hunger. Her skills in handling food have slowly increased and she has explored a variety of textures and colours.

I’m never worried about Eloise choking on her food. By letting the baby explore food at their own pace, they learn how to chew and swallow and how much to put in their mouth.

Food is family time

I loved how baby led weaning encourages parents to let babies eat at the family meal. It shows the baby that food is a social activity. It didn’t take long before Eloise was very excited to be put into the high chair. She knew the fun was about to start!

With this type of weaning, there is no need to give the toddler special food, like nuggets or chips. They are already accustomed to eating what the family eats.

Food is for eating

At first baby led weaning can be quite messy. What’s life without a bit of mess? You just need to take a few precautions to minimize the damage. However I’ve found that the mess has dramatically decreased lately. For a while, with Eloise, it was 50% play and 50% eating. These days she does a lot of eating!

My Mums brothers are both very tall men with huge appetites. They love their food. At one family gathering they were enjoying one of Mums meals, and at the same time watching Eloise eat. She must have been about ten months and was sitting up in her high chair feeding herself. In typical fashion, Eloise was eating with great gusto. My uncles looked shocked and I was worried that they didn’t approve for some reason.

“You know it’s quite appetizing watching her eat,” one of my Uncles said.  “She really enjoys her food.” Eloise continued to enjoy her meatloaf and vegetables and so did my Uncles.

And that’s food for you; food that we love, food that brings family together and food that is eaten because it simply makes us happy.

For more information on Baby Led Weaning you can visit the Australian Breast Feeding Association.

Pinky McKay also has a good article explaining the benefits of baby-led weaning.

If you’re really keen, you should buy the book. Baby-led Weaning, Gill Rapley and Thacey Murkett. The book answers every question or concern you could possibly raise. It’s extremely practical and gives excellent guidelines on how you can actually make baby-led weaning work. 

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7 ways to be a better cook

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We should all be professionals when it comes to cooking – or so I learnt last year.

When Eloise was about 6 weeks old, I somehow made it out of the front door to a cooking course. I had booked this pre-baby in all my naivety – didn’t really believe babies could make you tired…

The chef teaching us was passionate about food. She was soon waving around her sharp knife and trying to turn us eager amateurs, into half decent cooks.

Here are some of the basics we learnt:

1.       Keep your knives  sharp

With sharp knives you can work quickly. “A woman can do a lot of damage with a sharp knife!” the chef said. In a good way.

2.       Scrap bowl

When you start cooking, get out a bowl. Instead of making many messy trips back and forth to the bin, you keep everything neatly in one place and empty it at the end. Seems simple but it really helps!

3.       Keep your chopping board sturdy

Put a wipe or damp tea towel under your board. This keeps everything stable and safe.

4.       Perfect at least ten favourite recipes

Find ten favourite recipes and work on them until they are near perfect. This means you can cook without too much worry, no need for a recipe and the familiarity of the food is quite comforting for those who eat it.

5.       Try new recipes – don’t get stuck in a rut

Favourites are good but try and learn how to cook something new. Explore cook books and ask friends for recipes that you can try.

6.       Present the food well

Food seems to taste better when it looks good. This point is proved when you look at a platter of fruit. It’s far more appetizing when it’s cut up well.

7.       Stay positive

Even if your cake is a little flat, your lasagne not as cheesy you might like, and your steak overcooked –  never say a word. Smile, act as though it’s perfect and you’re sure to fool even the fussiest eater.

Of course, the real challenge now is to keep a very active 9 month old baby entertained while I whiz around pretending to be a master chef!

My Kitchen Rules

My Kitchen Rules; must admit I like this show. I can’t commit to watching it every night – but I love every bit I see.

It demonstrates the cooking talent of the amateur cook. And it’s quite impressive. I’m captivated by the cooking technique of these “characters”.

It’s amazing to think that all over Australia, every night, men and women are cooking up something marvellous. Flavours and textures are all combined to create beautiful food and all in about 45 minutes after a long days work.

I love meeting people who have a passion for cooking. My Mum’s friend sent me a recipe for lasagna, after I cheekily asked for her secrets. The recipe was unapologetically lengthy and detailed. Another Mother casually told me she was experimenting with baking different types of bread to see which her children preferred! Who has time to bake any more you wonder? Someone who loves baking that’s who.

The other day on a talk show they were discussing whether it is OK to serve take away at a dinner party. Unbelievably some thought this was fine. How does that make sense? Home cooked food is usually cheaper and always tastes better than anything you can buy. The point of a dinner party is to cook, and thus treat, your guests.

This woman on Sunrise also said that if she had more than 6 guests she would call in the caterer. My, my – what a precious approach! Lots of Aussie families have 6 or more people to feed every night. And do these families fork out the big bucks or have to live on some sort of pirate stew? No – they develop the skill to cook for a crowd on a regular basis. After all it’s just a matter of doubling quantities.

At least these cooks are only “judged” by their family – not by two smarty-pants in suits like in My Kitchen Rules.

Back to ‘My Kitchen Rules’  – I’m a big fan of the Bondi guys and the cupcake queens . If you could combine the Bondi healthy, delicious food with the cupcake queens beautiful deserts, it would be perfect.

I didn’t want to make this post about breastfeeding but it did occur to me that in my home, my kitchen does rule. My baby really is being served top quality. It’s food at the perfect temperature, with a taste that has variety; it fulfils her hunger and thirst and comes with a warm cuddle. Perhaps it’s a bridge too far, and I’m not basing this at all on science, but I believe it will set her up for a wonderful foodie life. A life of happy eating, where she will love good food and find the true joy of sharing food with those she loves.

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