baby food on white spoons and toddler food above spoons

Baby Led Weaning vs Purees: Feeding Strategies for Successful Eaters

By Littles Nutrition

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baby food on white spoons and toddler food above spoons

Baby led weaning vs. purees, how to choose what’s best? Everyone seems to have an opinion, and so it can be hard to make a decision through all the noise. Not every option will be suitable for every family. Let’s look at the pros, cons and some research to learn about how to choose what’s best for your family. 

Starting Solids

It’s an exciting, but also nerve-wracking, time period in a family’s life when your baby is ready to start the transition to solid foods. This time period is known as complementary feeding. This is the time when your baby still depends on breast milk or formula as their primary source of nutrition, but they begin to eat solids in addition to this. 

How to know when your baby is ready to start solids

Infants are typically ready to start solids when:

  • *they reach 4-6 months of age (6 months for baby led weaning)
  • *can sit upright independently
  • *their tongue-thrusting reflex (or extrusion reflex) has dissipated
  • *have adequate head control without support
  • *they show interest in table food (by reaching or watching you eat closely)
  • When your infant is ready and showing readiness, it’s time to get started- but how do you know where to start? Baby led weaning vs purees? Which method is best? Let’s explore the options. 

Baby Led Weaning

What is it?

Baby led weaning is a feeding technique for starting solids that allows infants to self-feed larger pieces of soft foods or finger foods, instead of spoon feeding. It was first coined by Bill Gapley in 2005. While it may not be the right fit for every family, it has been growing in popularity among parents over the last several years and is advocated for by many. To best decide if this option is best for your infant, let’s take a look at the pros and cons. 

baby eating finger foods during baby led weaning.

Pros of baby-led weaning

  1. Make one meal for the whole family. Infants can often eat the same foods that the rest of the family are eating- with some modifications. This may provide more convenience for families that are short on time for cooking or preparing meals. 
  2. Can help development fine motor skills. Because infants self-feed with baby-led weaning, they develop skills such as the pincer grasp and bringing hands to mouth. They rely on these skills in order to taste the food, so may those skills be better developed than those who are spoon fed. 
  3. May help prevent picky eating. Exposure to a greater variety of textures and flavors can improve food acceptance later on. In a recent research study, it was concluded that “using the full BLW method during CF (complimentary feeding) can protect the child against the occurrence of feeding problems such a food selectivity or picky eating in the future.” You can find the link to the full study here.
  4. Self-feeding promotes intuitive eating. Infants who self-feed are in control of their hunger and satiety cues. They can eat more or less in response to those cues. This is an excellent skill to continue throughout toddlerhood and beyond, to promote a lifelong healthy relationship with food. 

Cons of baby-led weaning

  1. May take additional time to modify foods. Once foods are prepared, special care must be taken to make foods safe for infants to eat. The general rule is to make foods “finger sized” in length and 2 fingers wide. Foods should be just soft enough to chew, but also firm enough to grasp. 
  2. Gagging may occur. While infants learn how to move new foods around in their mouths, chew and swallow, it’s important to recognize gagging. This is a normal occurrence during this learning process. Gagging is very different from choking and is a reflex mechanism that actually protects the airway. We recommend that parents and caregivers take an infant/child CPR and first aid course to help recognize the signs of choking and what to do if it occurs. You can learn more about choking hazards for infants here
  3. Increased mess at mealtime. Because babies are in control, the mess is usually much larger than when a parent spoon feeds. It’s important to remember that this is a time for food exploration, which includes feeling textures, tasting, smelling and even food play. All of this is normal and great for development!

Best first foods for baby led weaning

  • 1. Avocado
  • 2. Toast stick with mashed avocado
  • 3. Cooked broccoli with stem
  • 4. Banana with some peel still on
  • 5. Ground beef
  • 6. Salmon
  • 7. Scrambled egg


What are purees? 

Pureed foods are a traditional way of introducing solids to an infant’s diet. This technique involves 3 stages of food that creates a slow, gradual transition from thin liquids to solids: 

  • Stage 1: Smooth, thin and more liquid purees
  • Stage 2: Thicker, strained purees with less liquid
  • Stage 3: Thick or mashed purees with soft chunks 

Purees can be an excellent choice for many families. To see if this is the right fit for your family, let’s take a look at the pros and cons. 

Pureed baby food with berries as decoration

Pros of feeding purees

  1. Can expose your child to a wide variety of foods. Because purees can be made or bought as individual foods or mixed combinations, baby’s can be exposed to more foods in a shorter amount of time.
  2. Increased convenience of feeding. Many baby foods can be store bought in small jars or pouches or you can make your own and store in jars like these Sage Spoonfuls glass jars or these Haakka Silicone Refillable Pouches for later. This makes them portable and convenient for families on the go.
  3. Less mess than baby led weaning. Since parents are in control, mess is reduced – usually to baby’s face or bib.
  4. Easier to know exactly how much your baby is eating. It’s easier to visualize if your little one eats a full jar or a half jar of purees. On the other hand, when following baby led weaning, it can be more difficult to know if your baby actually chewed and swallowed their broccoli or just munched on it.

Cons of feeding purees

  1. May be more expensive. Since baby will have their own “special” meal comprised of either homemade or store bought purees, they will usually not be eating the same meal as the family.
  2. Later developed motor skills. Since parents typically spoon-feed, baby will learn fine motor skills such as pincer grasp once they begin finger foods later on (usally 8-9 months old). The exception is if the baby is allowed to bring their own spoon to their mouth.
  3. May (not always) encourage texture preferences that lead to more selective eating. Some babies will prefer purees and may not accept finger foods readily.

Best first foods for purees

  • 1. Avocado
  • 2. Sweet potato
  • 3. Green bean
  • 4. Carrot
  • 5. Banana
  • 6. Apple
  • 7. Pear

Special Considerations when choosing baby-led weaning vs purees

Sometimes the transition to solids doesn’t go as smoothly as we would like, regardless of which method we choose. It’s possible to encounter feeding difficulties and have concerns that make it feel scary and worrisome. Luckily, there are professionals that can help. Seek guidance from your pediatrician if you have concerns during complementary feeding. Additional help from a pediatric dietitian or feeding therapist may need to be considered for feeding difficulties. 

Can you do both baby-led weaning and purees at the same time?

Baby holding spoon with various baby purees and finger foods for baby led weaning surrounding him

Yes! It’s important to know, you don’t have to choose baby-led weaning vs purees exclusively. It’s possible to incorporate both using a combination method. You can absolutely provide finger foods, while also pre-loading a spoonful of yogurt or pureed fruits or veggies for your baby to self-feed. Doing both methods in tandem can allow for development of motor skills while also providing a larger variety of foods and nutrition. 

Want more?

Read more kids nutrition articles from Littles Nutrition here to help guide your family to mealtime success!

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