You only need to venture down the baby aisle in your local supermarket to see the huge variety of first foods on offer.
From rice cereal to rusks, purees and casseroles, it’s easy to see how the member of the family with the smallest belly can quickly become the most expensive to feed.
Sadly, the youngest member of the family can also generate the most meal-time waste thanks to portion-sized packaging, and the food being tossed with the wrapping since bub didn’t like that flavour or texture after all!
Introducing your baby to solids is by no doubt one of the most exciting steps in early parenting. Just like other aspects of parenting, there’s several options when it comes to weaning your baby onto solids and each have their own pros and cons.
Let’s take a look at the three main options…..
Option 1: Commercial baby food
Buying commercial baby food is widely accepted as the most convenient option for introducing solids.
It’s understandable that the extensive range of first foods available these days, not to mention the growing number of organic varieties, are tempting for the sleep-deprived parent, but this convenience comes at a cost….to the family budget and the environment.
It also can come at a cost to your child’s health.
While the infant food market is highly regulated in Australia, food for toddlers and pre-schoolers falls under a different category. If buying commercial baby food, get in the habit of checking for added salt, sugars, flavours and thickeners to make sure you’re not getting more than you bargained for. Also pay attention to the type of food packaging and opt for glass over tinned containers (as many tins have a fine plastic lining that often contains BPA, a known endocrine disruptor).
Option 2: Homemade baby purees and casseroles
Making your own baby purees and casseroles is very easy (especially if you own a stick blender!). It’s also very economical and has the added benefit of you knowing exactly what ingredients are in each meal. Homemade baby food also produces minimal waste, thanks to the absence of single-use packaging.
Within a few weeks of my eldest son’s first mouthful of solids I’d fed him homemade purees of most vegetables and fruits and was whipping up delicious organic casseroles. I’d puree or mash, freeze in small portions, defrost, reheat and feed.
I’d always enjoyed cooking and he was my first born so I had time to be his personal chef and sit there and spoon feed him. It was a slightly different scenario when it was time to wean my second son, and that’s when we chose baby-led weaning….or perhaps it chose us….
Option 3: Baby-led weaning
Baby-led weaning is simply the act of baby feeding themselves solid food from the start, rather than being spoon-fed by someone else. They generally sit with the rest of the family at mealtimes and are given food in pieces the size and shape they can easily handle, rather than as purees or mashed foods.
Baby-led weaning was how we introduced solids to our second son, who just so happened to be gorgeous, unsettled, wakeful and determined.
By the time he reached six months of age I was severely sleep-deprived, exhausted and facing mummy burn out. The thought of pureeing foods and leisurely spoon feeding them to him, like I did my first son, was as enticing as having another baby.
I’d studied baby-led weaning in great detail and was convinced it was the right choice for him and our family.
And it was.
I’d simply cook family meals and he would help himself to something from my plate. His first solid foods included watermelon and steamed carrot sticks. Over the following weeks and months I provided an assortment of healthy family foods like steamed vegetables, savoury pikelets, rissoles and fruit on his tray and he would work his way through them during our meal time. Even on the days he was on a slightly different schedule it was easy. I’d simply have him eating his dinner from his highchair at the kitchen bench next to me while I was putting the finishing touches to the family meal.
This process involved no extra work, was easy and time efficient. It also added minimal extra cost to our grocery bill as he ate the same food as the rest of the family. This differed dramatically to my friends who were spending a small fortune on commercial baby food.
Baby-Led Weaning also generated no rubbish. Our bins contained no baby food jars, packets, boxes or squeeze tubes. Of course there was some leftover food, and much of it on the floor, but our chickens happily accepted these leftovers and returned the favour by keeping our family in eggs.
One of the upsides of baby-led weaning is the growth in confidence and fine-motor skills. This results from the simple act of baby feeding themselves. Babies learn to roll, crawl, walk and talk when they’re ready so it only goes to say that babies who learn to eat solids when they are ready are naturally more confident and happy. There were no food battles or tantrums in our household when we practised baby-led weaning, just one happy baby feeding himself.
When it comes time for you to start weaning your baby onto solids, consider the options above (or a combination of these options) and take the issue of waste into account just as you would do cost, convenience and health.
From our family’s experience, baby-led weaning was the outright leader on cost, convenience and health and it also ticked the box for waste-free weaning.
Regardless of whether you choose to spoon feed your baby or try baby-led weaning, your baby’s health, our environment and your family’s budget will all benefit if you select wholefoods rather than packaged commercial baby foods.
Keen to learn more about sustainable eating and how you can choose food that’s good for you and good for our planet?
It’s one of the key topics covered in Self Sufficiency In The Suburbs, a new online club to support you in creating a sustainable home to improve your family’s health and wellbeing, save some cash, and reduce your household’s impact on the environment.
About the Author: Laura Trotta, the leading voice on sustainability, is a passionate believer in addressing the small things to achieve big change, and protecting the planet in practical ways.
She holds a Bachelor of Environmental Engineering, a Master of Science (in Environmental Chemistry) and has over 22 years’ experience in the sustainability sector. Laura has won numerous regional and national awards for her fresh and inspiring take on living an ‘ecoceptional’ life and lives with her husband and two young sons in Outback South Australia.