Why beans are the perfect food for baby-led weaning
As both the founder of a bean brand focused on education and a new mama, you can bet I did a lot of research before introducing my son to solid food. I came across the principles of baby-led weaning and they really resonated with my desire for Remy to establish his own food instincts. When our pediatrician said it was time, I naively thought my baby would take to eating solids right away– but it took time for both him and I to learn! Read on to learn more about baby-led weaning, some key tips for a smooth and low-stress start, and why beans are the ideal food for little hands and growing babies.
Baby-led weaning is a very popular approach to introducing solid foods– involving jumping straight to finger foods and skipping purees. Originating in the UK, parents are embracing the concept around the world, and for good reason:
- It offers babies control over what and how much they put into their little mouths
- It promotes motor skill development
- It exposes babies to a variety of textures and flavors
- It provides a path for introducing allergens early on
- It promotes shared meals and eating as a social activity
In short, parents can facilitate an environment that allows babies to develop varied and healthy food preferences in the long run. What’s not to get behind?
Introducing solids is an exciting time, but it can also be intimidating, so we’re here to provide some first-hand context and clear the air.
It’s time to start solid foods when babies are able to mostly sit up by themselves, they bring toys to their mouth, and they express an interest in food when you eat in front of them. This is usually around 6 months, but it could also be later– every baby is on his/her own timeline! Great resources for getting started include this article from What to Expect and the Solid Starts site.
The key is to start with soft, single-ingredient foods and steer clear of any foods that are crunchy or hard. Serve them in large pieces to minimize frustration as he/she masters the pincer grasp. (Choking concerns are real, so make sure to stay informed.) Remember that even after introducing solids, breast milk or formula is still their primary source of nutrients for the first year, so no need to overthink it.
Be okay with the fact that meals will get messy! Baby-led weaning is all about exploring different tastes and textures. There are tons of online resources with recipes and preparation ideas (we love Healthy Little Foodies and Baby Foode). But remember that the foundational idea behind baby-led weaning is that babies eat what you eat, so while planning your meals, think about what you can make and set aside that will be suitable for your baby. (Important note: Babies shouldn’t be eating very much sodium, which can become the biggest hurdle when trying to share your well-seasoned food.)
Now, a word about beans and baby-led weaning, why they’re an ideal first food, and tips to ensure success:
- Cooked beans are a tender, soft food you can introduce as soon as you start incorporating solids. For babies who are starting to develop a pincer grasp, serve soft, tender beans that you gently smash between your fingers or with a fork. Otherwise, blend into a smooth puree and preload a spoon or spread on toast or rice cakes.
- Beans are really nutritious– a great source of fiber, protein, and important nutrients like iron and zinc, which some breast-fed babies can lack after 6 months. Beans with dark seed coats like Negro and Ayocote Morado also provide significant levels of antioxidants. Looking for more information? Read our Primer on bean nutrition.
- Cooking beans from scratch is tastier and more economical than using canned, and you can avoid the added sodium often found in canned beans. Underseason a batch of beans and then simply add salt to taste when serving to everyone else.
- Low in salt doesn’t have to mean low in flavor! Beans are a handy vehicle for introducing herbs and spices. Try coating them in healthy fats and tangy vinegar (see our favorite marinated beans recipe), coating them in a simple tomato sauce, or forming them into cakes. You can also play with the aromatics you’re using to cook the beans.
- Beans are enjoyed around the world and are a way to introduce new cuisines to baby and the entire family. Try Coconut rice and red beans, No-fail refried beans, Best hummus, and Kenyan kunde-inspired beans. (Avoid any fiery spices until they can understand what spicy actually means.)
- Beans come in so many different colors, sizes, and textures, which opens up a fun world as babies explore and develop their own preferences.
Over time, you’ll expose your baby to a wide range of choices to help him/her develop lifelong healthy eating habits and an adventurous palate. Serving up foods of different colors, flavors, and textures via healthy beans, grains, and vegetables is not only fun for baby, but for the whole family :)