11 Foods for Baby-Led Weaning and What Foods to Avoid

Around 6 months of age, babies get to spark their taste buds by adding foods to their otherwise breast milk- or formula-based diet. Many caregivers look forward to the opportunity to watch their babies respond to a variety of new colors, textures, and flavors.

Babies may be spoon-fed infant purees, the typical approach in Western society, or they may feed via the baby-led weaning (BLW) method.

BLW is characterized by infants feeding themselves small pieces of soft foods they can pick up independently. Proponents of this method claim that it offers benefits such as improved appetite regulation and motor skills (1).

This article presents the best and worst baby-led weaning foods.

Avocados are fruits known for being highly nutritious. They are an ideal food for babies and adults alike. It’s no secret that babies grow rapidly in the first year of life and need adequate nutrition to support this.

This easily mashable fruit is typically famed for its healthy fat content, but it’s also packed with fiber, potassium, folate, copper, and vitamin E (2).

Only 5% of Americans meet their adequate intake (AI) for daily fiber. This nutrient is known to enhance digestion and help reduce the risk of certain chronic diseases, including cancer, diabetes, and heart disease (3).

In a study in young children, those with high fiber intakes also had greater intakes of key brain-boosting nutrients for babies, including iron, folate, and vitamin B6. So, feeding your baby avocado and other fiber-rich foods will provide them with many beneficial nutrients (4).

  • 6–8-month-olds: Cut a ripe avocado into slices about the width of an adult finger for easy gripping.
  • 9–12-month-olds: Cut a ripe avocado into small cubes or chunks.

Though it’s not necessarily a mess-free option for your baby, yogurt is a taste bud-friendly food with calcium, protein, and gut health benefits. Yogurt is a cultured dairy product, meaning that it contains healthy probiotic bacteria cultures such as Lactobacillus (5).

Probiotics play a prominent role in digestive health and can benefit young children who experience tummy troubles such as diarrhea and constipation (6, 7).

For example, in a 2019 study of 82,485 Japanese infants, researchers found that eating yogurt at least 3 times weekly significantly lowered the risk of stomach inflammation (8).

Whole milk yogurt comes in a variety of flavors that might be sweetened with added sugars. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020–2025 recommend that children under age 2 avoid added sugars (9).

The American Heart Association also discourages added sugars in young children because increased added sugar intake may increase heart disease risks by elevating blood pressure and triglycerides (10, 11).

Therefore, the better option for infants is unsweetened whole milk yogurt.

Not only are they affordable and easy to prep, but eggs are also chock-full of nutrients such as protein, vitamins D and A, and choline. In fact, eggs are one of the top sources of dietary choline, which is essential for the development of babies’ brains and eyes (12).

Studies show choline levels are positively aligned with academic achievement in children and information processing speed in babies (12, 13).

Keep in mind that it’s critical to offer only fully cooked eggs to babies to reduce the risk of food poisoning from Salmonella exposure.

Salmonella is a bacteria found in many foods, including eggs, that can cause sickness if the contaminated food isn’t properly cooked before eating. Babies are at high risk of food poisoning symptoms because of their naturally weak immune systems (14).

You can tell that an egg is hard-boiled and safe for your baby if it’s cooked until both the yellow and white parts of the egg are firm (15).

  • 6–8-month-olds: Bring water to a boil and hard-boil eggs for 15 minutes. Cut the egg into quarters or strips.
  • 9–12-month-olds: Bring water to a boil and hard-boil eggs for 15 minutes. Dice the egg. You can also scramble an egg and cut it into small pieces.

Carrots come in many colors, including orange, yellow, and purple, with each color offering unique nutrients.

Carotenoids are a type of nutrient that is converted into vitamin A in the body. As such, carrots offer babies vitamin A, an essential vitamin for keeping the immune system in good shape (16, 17).

Specifically, lutein is a carotenoid found in carrots. It helps with vision and may contribute to brain growth (18, 19).

  • 6–8-month-olds: Peel and cut carrots into sticks about the width of an adult finger. Steam or boil the carrot sticks until soft.
  • 9–12-month-olds: Peel and chop carrots. Steam or boil until soft.

Tofu is a calcium-rich, soft, plant-based food that’s an excellent option for babies.

A single slice of tofu offers 10% of your baby’s Daily Value of calcium. Babies rely on this mineral to develop and maintain healthy bones (20, 21).

  • 6–8-month-olds: Follow package instructions to squeeze out excess water. Cut into wide sticks your baby can grip. Warm the sticks by placing them in the microwave for 10 seconds, or lightly pan-fry to make them lightly crisp for gripping.
  • 9–12-month-olds: Follow package instructions to squeeze out excess water. Cut into bite-size cubes your baby can pick up. Warm the cubes by placing them in the microwave for 10 seconds, or lightly pan-fry them.

Some parents worry about giving meat and fish to babies and consider delaying introduction of these foods. However, rest assured that babies can gain a ton of nutritional benefits from these protein-rich foods.

Meat and fish are important for babies, offering essential nutrients for growth and development, including easily absorbable iron, vitamin A, vitamins B6 and B12, and zinc (22, 23).

Because BLW may lead to lower iron intake, parents using BLW are encouraged to add foods rich in iron to every meal (22, 23).

Other iron sources include lentils, spinach, and fortified breakfast cereals (24).

Zinc plays a significant role in brain function, nerve development, and memory. Older babies are at a higher risk of zinc deficiency because their zinc needs increase as they age (25).

Meat and fish are primary sources of zinc. If your family follows a vegetarian diet, oatmeal, ground chia seeds, and brown rice are other sources of zinc for older babies (26).

  • 6–8-month-olds: Offer fully cooked, soft, finely shredded chicken, turkey, beef, salmon, or pork.
  • 9–12-month-olds: Offer fully cooked shredded or ground meat or small pieces of salmon.

Babies fed BLW-style can eat apples to help meet their needs for vitamin C.

Vitamin C-rich foods can help babies’ bodies absorb iron from iron-containing foods. Further, if infants don’t get enough vitamin C in their diets, they’re at risk of connective tissue problems from a condition called scurvy (27, 28, 29).

  • 6–8-month-olds: Peel, cut into wedges, and cook apples until soft. Sprinkle with a pinch of cinnamon.
  • 9–12-month-olds: Offer your older baby peeled, shredded raw apples.

A popular root vegetable, sweet potatoes are a well-liked baby-friendly food that’s easy to prepare.

Sweet potatoes contain fiber, a necessary nutrient for healthy digestion. In fact, a low fiber intake is associated with constipation, so sweet potatoes may help keep your baby comfortably regular (30, 31).

  • 6–8-month-olds: Cook a whole sweet potato. Peel and cut into strips the width of an adult finger.
  • 9–12-month-olds: Cook a whole sweet potato. Peel and cut into small chunks your baby can pick up.

Oats are a whole grain rich in fiber, copper, selenium, zinc, and many other nutrients crucial for immune function and gut health. Babies typically take well to cereal grains such as oats because of their texture, mild taste, and ease of eating (32, 33).

  • 6–8-month-olds: Use breast milk or iron-fortified cereal to make baby oatmeal. To serve oats cold, blend or grind them and mix with unsweetened yogurt or applesauce.
  • 9–12-month-olds: Make homemade oat muffins and cut into bite-size pieces.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) encourages offering potential allergen foods, such as peanuts and tree nuts, in infancy. Early exposure to potential food allergens may reduce food allergy risks in babies who are at least 4 months old (34).

Nut butters, such as peanut, almond, and cashew butter, are rich in protein and effortlessly combine with many other foods. Babies must get adequate protein in their diets to support growing bones and muscle strength (35, 36).

Choose a natural peanut butter to avoid hydrogenated oils and added sugars that tend to be less healthy.

Monitor your baby for potential food allergy symptoms such as (37):

  • wheezing
  • nausea
  • hives
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea

If you suspect your infant may have a food allergy, seek medical help immediately.

  • 6–8-month-olds: Mix a small amount of natural creamy nut butter into yogurt or oatmeal. To reduce the risk of choking, avoid using crunchy nut butter.
  • 9–12-month-olds: Spread a thin layer of creamy nut butter onto a piece of toast or a cracker. To reduce the risk of choking, avoid using crunchy nut butter.

Even when your baby is trying new foods, it’s important to also give them plenty of liquid to keep them nourished and hydrated.

Breast milk remains the best source of nutrition for babies. If breast milk is not available, iron-fortified formula is the best alternative nutrition source to ensure healthy growth and development. Babies need breast milk or formula from birth to around 12 months of age (38).

In addition, babies who are at least 6 months old can safely drink 4–8 ounces of plain water daily, according to the AAP (39).

Summary

Safe BLW foods for your baby include cooked eggs, oats, sweet potatoes, carrots, and nut butter. Be sure to prepare and cut foods properly to ensure safety.

Some foods are unsafe for babies and should be avoided to reduce health risks.

Unsafe foods that can cause severe illness

It’s best not to give honey and corn syrup to babies under age 1 because these foods may be contaminated with Clostridium botulinum, a harmful bacteria known to produce toxins that can cause paralysis in babies (40).

Similarly, unpasteurized meats and dairy products can lead to life threatening infections if they carry harmful bacteria such as Listeria. If you plan to give meats or dairy products to babies, be sure to purchase products that are clearly labeled “pasteurized” (41).

From around age 1, babies have greater immunity and improved gut health to fight illness (42).

Also, it’s critical to avoid giving your baby high mercury fish. These include predatory fish such as swordfish, shark, and orange roughy. Mercury is a heavy metal that can harm a baby’s developing brain, spine, and nervous system (43, 44).

Instead, it’s safe to offer your baby small amounts of low mercury fish like salmon, light tuna, and cod once or twice per week (43, 44).

Foods that can lead to choking

To reduce the risk of choking, avoid offering these foods to your baby:

  • Sticky foods: marshmallows, gummies, candy, large amounts of thick nut butter
  • Round or coin-shaped foods: grapes, cherry tomatoes, hot dogs, hard candy
  • Raw foods: broccoli or cauliflower stems, carrots, raw apple — unless shredded for older infants
  • Hard-to-chew foods: popcorn, hard-crusted bread, whole nuts

Unsafe liquids for babies

Children under 12 months of age should not consume cow’s milk because their kidneys and digestive system may have trouble processing its mineral and protein content (9).

Further, the AAP recommends delaying offering juice until 12 months of age to prevent tooth decay (45).

Summary

To keep your baby safe and healthy, avoid potentially harmful foods and liquids such as honey, corn syrup, unpasteurized meats, and dairy products; foods that can cause choking; cow’s milk; and juice.

Babies can eat a wide variety of foods through baby-led weaning (BLW), starting from around 6 months of age.

Avocados, yogurt, tofu, eggs, carrots, meat and fish, apples, sweet potatoes, and oats can provide your baby with nutrients to support their rapid growth and development.

Your baby’s age and stage of development will determine how you prepare these foods. Generally, opt for well-cooked foods rather than raw.

Because babies are at risk for food poisoning and choking, remain aware and informed of the foods and liquids to avoid in infancy, including honey, round foods, and hard-to-chew foods.

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