My friends ask me what I did differently to get Kyan to eat the way he does. If I had to name one thing I did that I feel was pivotal in his hearty appetite, I would say it was the way we introduced food to him.
I nursed Kyan exclusively for 19 months. At around 7 months, we started introducing solids to him. There are a few ways to wean a baby from breastmilk. We chose to do baby-led weaning. I found this blog extremely helpful and referred to it constantly during our weaning process.
In short, Baby Led Weaning (BLW) means offering your baby (age appropriate) foods that are soft-cooked and diced or mashed into small easily manageable pieces. You skip thin and runny purées and avoid feeding your baby with a spoon. You may choose to offer your baby a large hunk of pear that he can easily hold and gnaw on or a bowl full of soft cooked diced pears; the choice is yours. The foods are then given to your baby to eat without being pureed and without being spoonfed. You do the cooking, the cutting or dicing and the offering of the foods and your baby does the rest. It is important to note that your baby should be in control of what he is eating and you should never actually feed him by putting the foods into his mouth!
Baby Led Weaning is a method of introducing solid foods that leaves it up to your baby to decide what, when and how much to eat, allowing your baby to make all food choices for him or herself.
HOW TO TELL IF YOUR BABY IS READY?
- Babies should be at least 6 months of age if you wish to use the BLW method of introducing solid foods. (We started at 7 months because Kyan was 2 weeks early and he had digestion issues with my breastmilk during infant stage so we wanted to give his intestines a little more time to mature before we introduced solids.)
- Be able to sit up unassisted
- Should have lost the tongue thrust reflex
- Be able to grasp and hold onto foods
WHAT WE DID
We went straight into feeding Kyan avocados at 7 months' old. I cut them up into long thick strips and placed them on the table in front of him so he could grab it and feed himself. Each meal was a big mess (for us) and a hose down (for him, and sometimes us too) and he loved it. We remind ourselves to trust him and respect his body and refrained from putting any food in his mouth or try to feed / force / coerce him into eating. Mealtimes were new, fun, engaging and he was driving his own exploration. Solid foods were seen more as an experience than a nutrient. Breastmilk was still his main source of nutrition.
Mealtimes mostly consisted of me cutting up some vegetables and then letting him explore. He tried everything I gave him. Broccoli, haricots, goat cheese (big love!), green peas, cauliflower, bak choy, figs, okra etc. I don't remember him not liking anything except corn. He loves corn now but won't touch broccoli anymore. For the first month, we followed the give-the-same-food-for-at-least-three-days-before-introducing-a-new-food-rule. We started with vegetables the first two weeks and then added fruits in between vegetable days because we didn't want him to get used to the sweetness of fruits from the get-go. By the end of the first month, we were serving up three to four different varieties of vegetables and one fruit each meal. We kept our finger foods in these handy containers. We laid out the the foods on the table in front of him and let him pick and choose whatever he wanted. We stayed away from salty, sugared and processed foods and waited till he was over a year old before we introduced honey and nuts. We also had zero media around the dinner table, except for music playing in the background. (I used to play Classical music during mealtimes when he was younger and then when he started signing, he told me one day, "Mama, music, scary." So we switched to Bossa Novas. His favorite was this Brazilian car song from this album and from this French Playground, Track 5 Bonjour Bonjour.
He gradually ate more and more on his own and started dropping his daytime nursing. By 17 months he was nursing once in the morning and once at night. By 19 months, he weaned himself off my boobs completely. I remember it was harder on me than it was on him. But I knew he was ready. By that time, he was eating a full meal with us, munching on veggies, grains, noodles, soups and drinking his veggie smoothies daily.
I decided to not offer him any dairy (except cheese) or red meats and chose to provide fish and seafood. Read here if you want to know why. One thing I've been asked many times was, "Doesn't Kyan ask to eat things he's not supposed to eat? And how do you tell him no?" The interesting thing was, he was always so engrossed in his own food that he never really had any interest in foods that were not placed before him. I kept waiting for him to point to the orange chicken that we ordered or Kevin's BBQ ribs, but he never did. When he did ask, which was around 2.5 years old, we plainly told him it's not for him. We try to not attach any negative or positive feelings towards what we are having and this seems to allow Kyan to make up his own mind about it. We still don't do processed sugars and simply tell him as-a-matter-of-factly that there's too much sugar in candies and they spike his blood sugars and are not healthy for him. He seemed to take it like he understands and don't mind not having it. Past 3 years old when he asked to try something, we let him and never make a big deal out of it. He ate everything we ate. If he said he's full, he's full, but he needs to stay at the table because we are still eating. We try to make the meal experience cozy and engaging instead of focusing on how much he's eating. He started asking for beef jerkies during one of our road trips and we now let him gnaw on that on-the-road. He loves bacon and will eat his eggs, oatmeal, yogurt too, all at the same seating.
Rituals. We sing or say a blessing at the table before meal time, we make it fun, peaceful and a "thing" we do. Getting Kyan to come to the table went so much smoother once we set up a ritual. We have one sweet snack time everyday at around 330 to 4 in the afternoon after his quiet time. I learnt this trick from reading this book my sister recommended me. We started establishing this habit since he was about 8 months' old. It is the only time during the day he is allowed to have a non-fruit sweet snack like a jam bar or a cookie. He understands there is a time for a sweet snack and this helps him feel secure in his routine and encourage him to eat his meals during mealtimes better. When we do one snack in-between meals, it is always cheese or fruits and the rare cracker. When he complains he's hungry even after a snack, we ask him to wait for his lunch or dinner. He can be hungry and is usually only looking for food because he's bored.
I feel that positive associations with food is the main reason Kyan is easy to feed. He was allowed to play, mash, make a mess with foods from the beginning. There was no stress to eat and his wishes and body was totally respected. We always sat down to eat and till this date (he is now 3.5 years old), he will carry his plate to the table and sit down to eat. We've never chased him around trying to put food in his mouth. We expect him to sit at the table to eat and he knows that's expected of him. It was non-negotiable and I always tell him firmly we eat at the table. If he was having a snack or apple, even by himself, he'll just sit and look out the window and enjoy his food. He will also try to corral his friends to sit down at the table with us when we have guests over. He is a champion eater, great water drinker, adventurous and mostly willing to try new foods without much or any persuasions.
Of course it wasn't always smooth sailing and we do have our difficult times. Especially when we are traveling, on the road and he is tired, fussy or distracted, or simply not hungry. I remind myself not to fret or worry because I know he will naturally eat when he is ready. Kevin and I both feel we did the right thing going with BLW and encouraging him to listen to his own body and guiding him to make the right choices for himself. Especially when he tells me these days "Mommy, my tummy is telling me he's full and I should stop eating. Let's save it for tomorrow.", I know he knows his own body better than I do.
Here's a video of Kyan eating his first solid food if you are interested.