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Baby-Led Weaning, a la Francaise

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Baby-Led Weaning, a la Francaise

Theresa Heiden

How things have already changed since my first post about Dakota's introduction to food! While she enjoyed the simple purees her first couple months of eating, she shifted course around 6 months old. It seemed that she was most put off by the spoon itself. Since she already had 2 teeth, I cautiously gave her a little piece of banana and a couple of those dissolvable puffs instead of purees. She chewed and swallowed like a champ, and seemed to really enjoy it, so I decided to start baby-led weaning with her, with a few spoonfuls of mama's oats thrown in. This created a happier eating environment for both of us, and Dakota quickly grasped "grasping" the food, eventually mastering the pincer grasp. So while this hasn't been the exact Montessori weaning experience I had imagined, it has been the right path for Dakota, and given her more independence and satisfaction! (See links to her set-up at end of post)

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As someone who thoroughly enjoys both cooking and eating, I've been enjoying reading about various ways in which to help your child appreciate and enjoy a variety of foods. A few mom friends and I started a "book" club (yes, it is mostly a wine club), and our first read was French Kids Eat Everything. I had really enjoyed reading Bringing Up Bébé pre-baby, so I was optimistic about this book too. General synopsis: Canadian mom and French dad living in Canada move to France with their 2 picky-eating little daughters who (spoiler alert) soon speak fluent French and eat beet puree and fish stew (but don't forget the chocolate croissants). She offers 10 French Food Rules with lots of anecdotes and research. Overall it's worth a read to reconsider how we as adults eat too! *As I guiltily wipe crumbs off the couch* ;)

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As most parenting books go, there were quiet a few eye rolls, but there were also plenty of ideas that jived with my parenting style or inspired me. Such as... 

  • The focus of feeding babies should be on satiation and taste, rather than calories or fullness. I do think the author makes a good point that in America, we are so worried when we start introducing solids, that it takes away the pleasure of eating. Before the age of 1, babies are still getting most of their nutrients from milk, so eating can simply be a chance for babies to get used to lots of different tastes and textures.
  • Introduce real, unprocessed foods, particularly veggies. While the French introduce this in the form of purees, I've done this with whole foods (I'm okay with those messy fingers). Introducing food in its "pure" form helps to develop their tastebuds for a whole variety of foods. I do think giving Dakota a piece of broccoli has more benefits for her future enjoyment of broccoli than disguising it in a puff cereal or muffin. That being said, I believe snacks and pancakes always have a place in our life, in moderation. :)
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  • Your child doesn't have to like the food, or even eat it, but they do have to taste it. This is an easy rule to start with babies. I've heard it a thousand times but I still need the reminder that it can take a dozen introductions for a baby to like a new food. Variety and "eating the rainbow" is so important, and if we stick with only the food they immediately like, it'll be that much harder to deal with the picky toddler years! Now that the local farmers market is open, I'm using that as an opportunity to introduce new fruits and veggies, for both of us! 
  • Make mealtime a pleasant and relaxed place to eat. This is definitely one of those "easier said than done" rules for most families. I do find that when I sit and eat with Dakota at the table, she is generally happier during the process (though she does also love her weaning table, so we do both). This "rule" also incorporates the idea of setting the table before eating. We don't make it fancy, but giving Dakota real dishes gives her a sense of autonomy and a chance to learn consequences of throwing ("all done!").
  • A little (healthy) fat is good for babies. The French are pros at making vegetables taste delicious, and I'm pretty sure their secret is butter. The key is that they are cooking with high quality ingredients, including the fats they use. From what I've read, there is nothing wrong with adding a tiny dab of butter or olive oil to your baby's steamed veggies, and in fact, babies need healthy fats more than anything at this stage. Other good sources of fat that we've introduced are avocado, chia (sprinkled on fruit), nut butter (mixed into oats), eggs, and yogurt.

While I was inspired by the French way of eating, it was reassuring to remind myself of the "American" parenting tendencies that I am also very much on board with. Such as...breastfeeding on demand, letting Dakota make her own (limited) choices, eating with our fingers and playing with food (exploration!), snacktime, and giving kids power and ownership! In my opinion, childhood should still be a time for playing in the dirt, and eating it too. ;)

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