Introducing solids: Purees versus Baby Led Weaning

RachelMS, RD, LDN, CSSD, CBS

Read time: 6 minutes

What should I know about the difference between traditional spoon-fed purees and baby led weaning?

  • What the primary differences are between the two methods
  • Understand the pros and cons of each feeding method
  • Ideas for first foods for each
  • Tips for introducing solids

Between all the sources we get our information, there is an overwhelming number of opinions on how to introduce solids to your baby. In this article, learn the difference between introducing solids with traditional spoon-fed purees versus using baby led weaning, along with their potential benefits and disadvantages.

Understanding their intricacies will help you choose the one that works best for you and your infant.

Is your baby ready to start solids? Find out: Introducing Solids: Signs of Readiness

Traditional spoon feeding: Starting with purees

What it is: This technique is most well-known and is often recommended by pediatricians. It puts the parent or caregiver in control of the feeding (you hold the spoon, you feed your baby).

It begins with spoon-feeding purees followed by lumpy mashes, and then graduating to soft solid finger foods and finally soft table foods.1, 2 It’s important to progressively advance textures as the baby matures and shows readiness.3, 4          

Read more: Introducing Solids: First Foods and Textures

Which pureed foods should I introduce first when spoon-feeding?

While many pediatricians still recommend a fortified single grain mixed with breastmilk or formula as the first food, followed by pureed vegetables and fruit, there is no medical evidence indicating that solids should be introduced in any specific order.5, 6

Rather than worry about the order of foods introduced, the primary goal is to introduce many flavors to set your infant up for loving a wide variety of foods in the future.7, 8 As you get started around 6 months, all foods can be introduced: proteins, vegetables, fruit, grains, and healthy fats.

Read more: How Can I Make My Own Pureed Baby Food?

Read more: Learning to Love Healthy Foods

Pureed first foods
  • Steamed and pureed vegetables: broccoli, peas, sweet potato, butternut squash, cauliflower, asparagus, carrots, etc.
  • Steamed and pureed, or mashed fruit, no skin: Apples, pears, banana, avocado, mango,
  • Infant cereal or over-cooked and mashed pasta
  • Well-cooked pureed ground beef, chicken, turkey, or fish
  • Well-cooked, mashed scrambled eggs
  • Whole milk yogurt

In this traditional feeding method, finger foods are recommended to be introduced by 8 to 10 months.10 Offer pea-sized pieces of very soft finger foods. To know your little one can ‘gum’ (chew) the foods well, you should be able to smush the food between your fingers.

Potential benefits of traditional spoon-feeding purees:
  • Less mess
  • Easy to purchase store-bought purees
  • Potential for less food waste
Potential cons of traditional spoon-feeding purees:
  • Baby relies on you to eat
  • If you are not listening to your baby’s hunger or fullness cues, it may be easier to overfeed baby.13
  • If you are not able to progress through to soft solids in a timely manner, your little one may have a difficult time accepting textured foods.2, 11, 12

Learn about: Understanding your Baby’s Hunger and Fullness Cues: Responsive Feeding

Read a more detailed explanation of traditional spoon-feeding: Introducing Solids: First Foods and Textures

Baby Led Weaning (BLW)

What it is: This newer technique discourages spoon feeding and supports infants to self-feed from the beginning.14 The theory behind baby led weaning is that infants should be in control of what and how much they eat and advises adults to never put food in baby’s mouth.15 This allows the infant to be in control of the entire feeding experience.

Because infants have more control of their ability to grasp and swallow at 6 months, if you are choosing baby led weaning it is recommended to start around this age and not sooner.14, 15

Which foods to introduce first when using baby led weaning?

BLW first foods should be soft enough to ‘smush’ between your fingers so that you know baby will be able to handle the texture in their mouth. Food pieces should be cut into a ‘strip’ for the baby to grasp or be in a large enough chunk for baby to pick up and hold in their fist.

Baby led weaning first foods:
  • Soft, peeled banana, avocado, mango
  • Steamed and peeled sweet potato, carrots, broccoli, asparagus, winter squash
  • Steamed and peeled apple and pear slices
  • Well-cooked fish and scrambled eggs
  • Moist roasted proteins such as beef, poultry, and fish
  • Over-cooked pasta

Foods that are choking hazards should be avoided, as with any feeding method. Read more: Preventing Choking in Infants and Toddlers

Some baby led weaning proponents also encourage feeding baby what the family is eating (“table food”); however, these foods may be too high in salt and sugar. Feeding family foods may be acceptable so long as a separate dish is prepared without these added ingredients. 

Potential benefits of baby led weaning:
  • Greater acceptance of foods*
  • Baby has more control over how much they eat, listening to their hunger and fullness cues
  • More practice with oral motor and chewing skills
  • Independence with eating
Potential cons of baby led weaning:
  • Messy
  • More food waste
  • Too much added sodium or sugar
  • Not meeting infant’s increasing iron needs*
  • Not meeting calorie needs*
  • Risk of choking*15, 16, 17

*Research is still on-going

It is important to note that many of the baby led weaning pros and cons listed above have not been proven by research yet.15, 17

For example, while many believe the risk of choking is higher with BLW, studies show that there is no significant difference in choking between babies fed in the traditional method versus fed with baby led weaning.16

Read a more detailed explanation of Baby Led Weaning: Introducing Solids: Baby Led Weaning

Tips for starting your baby on solid foods

Go with the feeding method that feels right to you

Know that there are no studies showing that one feeding method is better than another, so go with the one that feels right for you and your family. 

Whether you choose the traditional spoon-fed purees, or the baby led weaning approach, how your baby reacts to it – and how comfortable you are – is the best indicator that it is working… or not!  And know that you can switch techniques at any point.

For additional support, speak with your pediatrician about your decision. 

At first, solid foods are not to replace breastmilk or formula

As you get started on this journey, know that introduction of solid food is complementary to breastmilk and/or formula feeding. Breastmilk or formula should remain a primary source of nutrients and calories up through most of the first year.18, 19

In the beginning, think of eating as a way for your baby to explore foods, tastes, and textures, rather than a way for them to get all their nutrients. This will allow you and your baby to set aside frustration and have more fun with the process.

Read more: Feeding Tips for Healthy Weight Gain in Infants and Toddlers

No added salt or sugar

As with any feeding strategy, avoiding foods with added salt and sugar is key to your infant’s health as well as the foundation to building healthy taste preferences.20 

If you plan on letting your baby eat table foods, whether pureed or as soft finger foods, try making a separate dish for them that has no added salt or sugar.

Read more: Minimizing Added Sugar in your Child’s Diet

Listen to your baby’s hunger and fullness cues

If you are following the traditional spoon-feeding method, be sure to pay close attention to your little one’s fullness cues. Stop feeding when they indicate they are full or no longer interested in eating.13

Read more: Understanding Your Baby’s Hunger and Fullness Cues: Responsive Feeding

Feed your baby iron-containing foods

Iron needs increase after 6 months of age, so including foods with iron is an important part of feeding.2 Note that iron from vegetables and beans is better absorbed when eaten with vitamin C.21 

Foods high in iron:                                                                                                            

  • Iron-fortified cereals and grains, such as oatmeal and pasta
  • Red meat (ground beef)
  • Dark green leafy vegetables such as: Swiss chard, beet and collard greens, Bok choy, and kale
  • Lentils, garbanzos, navy, kidney, black, pinto
  • Tofu22

Foods high in vitamin-C:

  • Red and green bell pepper, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower
  • Orange, grapefruit, kiwifruit, strawberries, cantaloupe, tomatoes23

Read more: Nutrient Needs and Feeding Tips for 6 to 12 Month Olds

Let’s Chat!

We know parenting often means sleepless nights, stressful days, and countless questions and confusion, and we want to support you in your feeding journey and beyond.

Our Happy Baby Experts are a team of lactation consultants and registered dietitians certified in infant and maternal nutrition – and they’re all moms, too, which means they’ve been there and seen that. They’re here to help on our free, live chat platform Monday through Friday, from 8am–6pm ET, and Saturday and Sunday, from 8am–2pm ET. Chat Now!

Read more about the experts that help write our content!

For more on this topic, check out the following articles:

How Can I Make My Own Pureed Baby Food?

Storing Baby Food

Choosing Store Bought Baby Food

Family meals: Modeling Healthy Eating Patterns

The Division of Responsibility: Helping Avoid Picky Eating

Teaching your baby to self-feed