The below content was originally produced in 2019 in collaboration with The Nursery Collective, and Rachel Cassidy from Little Peeps Eats.
If your baby is ready to start eating solids there are generally two schools of thought on how to introduce them to new foods.
The more common and traditional method is parent-led, through which we spoon-feed purees to our baby, and the adult makes the decisions about which foods to serve, the texture and how much.
The other method is through which your baby explores different kinds of food and makes the decisions about what to feed themselves. Baby-led weaning is one method of infant self-feeding that is becoming popular recently and offers many benefits for your child’s development.
In this article, we are partnering with Australian infant health business entreprenuers Mashblox to look further into what the big deal is about infant self-feeding.
Why have we traditionally fed purees?
One of the reasons why we conservatively lean towards purees comes from history. The idea of pulverising our food was popularised by one of the first proclaimed health gurus in the 1900s, Horace Fletcher, in a time that fibre was thought to carry disease.
We’ve been doing it ever since, especially for our most vulnerable new arrivals. This pushed us towards spoon feeding and controlling intake, since cleaning liquid food spills off a cloth bib was a bigger deal back then.
It is easy to understand why first time Mums might lean towards what they traditionally understand should work, like parent-led feeding. Most maternal and child health care centres will recommend starting with purees, such as rice cereal, weet-bix, blended up fruit and vegetables and plain yoghurt. It’s what I did with my first born, and whilst he was a good eater, I must admit I quickly grew tired of the time I spent in the kitchen making baby purees. With my second born we moved onto baby-led weaning, which was a much easier method and I enjoyed simply letting my bub take control of what they were eating and be introduced to solids over time from what the rest of the family was eating.
The benefits of self-feeding for your child’s development
Through baby-led weaning, you present your child with a range of age-appropriate food cut into shapes and sizes that they can grasp hold of, then let them choose what to try. This might include:
- Broccoli spears
- Fingers of toast
- Mini Rice cakes
- Watermelon fingers
- Pear slices
- Blueberries, chopped strawberries
- Grated carrot or apple
- Cheese sticks
- Fingers of ham, chicken or roast meat
- Mini pancakes
Some children just aren’t developmentally ready for these and other foods at the firmer end of the scale, so this needs to be considered per child, while factoring parental confidence levels. Despite the choking risk, the move towards baby-led weaning is gaining strength as there are many benefits, both for your child’s development and for family life. If your child is ready and you can get the confidence to trust in this sort of ‘winging-it’ approach, as well as put up with the mess, you may see many great things come out of it.
This method of eating is being promoted as a way to encourage your child to build a healthy relationship with food, by establishing intuitive self-regulation habits. Children who self-feed are less likely to become fussy eaters as well as less likely to develop overeating habits, since your baby is the best judge of when they’re full.
Fussy eating often doesn’t come from the taste of the food itself, but from how the food looks and feels when presented to your child. This is their first experience of ‘plating up’ that may see them going on to become chef artistes as adults!
Children this age love to feel different textures and discover things for themselves. If you present a range of colours and textures of inviting food, your child will be enticed to try all sorts of different things.
They are also learning how to grasp and manoeuvre items, as well as discovering how it feels in their mouth. This kind of eating encourages motor skills as well as independence.
In a nutshell – here are some benefits of infant self-feeding
Self-feeding helps your child to recognise when they are full and encourages them to stop, rather than finishing everything on their plate or bowl, as a spoon is repeatedly bought to their lips before they are aware their belly is full. Self-feeding is a great start to self-regulating how much a child eats and learning to not overeat. They learn to connect food with an internal feeling of satiety instead of any external triggers.
According to Alix, CEO, Founder and Inventor of Mashblox;
“If all has gone well in their development, most kids have built-in instincts for how fast to eat and when to stop that are calibrated to their energy requirements. We just need to support those instincts to flourish into their childhood.”
If you introduce self-feeding, this frees you up to eat your own dinner, or help older siblings with theirs. This schedule means that your baby can eat with the family, starting a routine of sitting down to meals together, which is lovely for the family as a group.
- Your baby learns to control their own intake
- Learn about and explore food at their own pace
- Self-regulate for their energy requirements
- Encourage healthy eating patterns that carry through to childhood
- Become happy, independent eaters
- Develop motor skills
- Support a wide range of textures
- Benefits to family dynamics in that everyone’s able to focus on feeding themselves
- Mashblox specifically can also be used as a teether, without teaching snacking habits
Mashblox - Makes Mealtimes Fun
Baby-led weaning can be a messy process, because you are allowing your child to explore their own food, as well as put it literally anywhere. Hopefully, it ends up in their mouth, but it will probably also end up in their hair, on the walls and floor, on you, the family cat and a bunch of other places.
Younger children will also be learning about the gag reflex through self-feeding, which means they will often stick things too far into the back of their mouths before they work out not to do this. We’ve also acknowledged that some children’s gag reflex is not well developed enough for adult textures. Some won’t like having spoons shoved into their mouths by other people, but will happily explore this process themselves.
Some parents are reluctant to try self-feeding because of the mess, or because their child doesn’t seem ready for it. Some may try initially and give up.
Others may start with parent-led purees and meet ‘fussiness’ from the start, with babies rejecting basic healthy foods like mashed banana, mashed avocado or porridge. Often this fussiness is not from the taste, but from the texture or how the food looks, or displeasure in being spoon-fed, problems which can be sorted easily by using Mashblox.
According to Alix;
“Not all children are developmentally ready for typical Baby Led Weaning methods. The gag reflex isn’t always enough in the early days, but Mashblox offers self-feeding options of broader textures than just finger foods! (Without the messy floor)”
Mashblox encourages motor skill development, independent learning and exploration, and turns mealtimes into a fun activity for your child.
Mashblox are quite unique, and unlike anything you or your children have seen before. These clear hollow silicone blocks can be filled with food, no matter how squishy or messy. Children find them intriguing, and play with them, stack them, grab, squeeze, suck on and drop them.
They are engineered for minimum spillage of “mash potato consistency” foods and turn inside out for a simple clean.
Some ideas for what to offer your child in Mashblox:
- Weetbix & milk
- Scrambled egg
- Mash pumpkin, potato or carrot
- Cottage pie
- Spaghetti bolognaise
Check out these quotes from some very happy Mashblox customers:
‘Picked up a Mashblox… and it was a big hit! Banana usually gets tossed and not eaten, put it in the Mashblox and it was devoured!” Lauren, Mum to 11-month-old Owen.
“We have had success! Tried spinach, green peas and a little bit of coconut yoghurt. She is still so curious and loves to investigate the Mashblox and explore what is inside. Very excited that she was so happy to eat green veg. The Mashblox really makes it fun.” Kat, 14-month-old Madelyn’s Mum.
“You can’t just give one to the baby because every one wants one. Kids of all ages love them. A pleasure for parents to watch mealtime being purely joyful.” Ruby, Mum to 9-month-old Angelica, Eduardo 18 months and Trinity 3 years.
Baby self feeding: solid food solutions to create lifelong healthy eating habits. Nancy Ripton & Melanie Potock
Feeding my kid, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XPlWigINAWY
Mashblox has engaged four Universities between Australia and UK to coordinate further trials into self-feeding. All references for their research case can be found here: