I’ve read a lot of parenting books, and in particular a lot of books on weaning, food and mealtimes. One of my favourites which I think relevant to anyone starting baby led weaning is Ellyn Satter’s Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense (Amazon afffiliate link*).
I love this book even though it was written pre-baby led weaning being ‘a thing’ and the weaning plan includes purees and spoon feeding. That’s because my favourite message of this book is relevant to everyone. I love what Satter calls the ‘division of responsibility’ in feeding – in fact, I think every new parent starting baby led weaning should be issued with a handout on it.
The concept is simple: a lot of the problems people face with pickiness, misbehaviour and other aspects of mealtimes come from the division of responsibility not being correctly followed. The division of responsibility holds that you are responsible for feeding; your baby is responsible for eating. Neither should step on the others’ toes.
The parts of the process that relate to feeding (and so are your job) are the when, where and what your baby is eating. The parts that relate to eating (and so are your baby’s job) are the whether or how much to eat.
When – it’s your job to decide when your child eats. Milk feeds should be done on demand, so this gradually becomes your responsibility as solid food enters the equation. Most parents do serve meals at set times, naturally taking on this responsibility, but snacks often end up the responsibility of toddlers, who are allowed to graze at will. Satter believes that it’s down to a parent to set appropriate times for eating to allow toddlers to come to the table hungry for their next meal.
Where – again, it’s up to you to set where meals and snacks happen. Satter believes (and I agree) that mealtimes are best held at the table with all the family.
What – as the parent, you choose the menu – you know what makes a balanced meal or healthy snack. This doesn’t mean you serve an entire meal of stuff you know your child hates. But it does mean that you serve what you think is best for the whole family without catering too much to pickiness – and definitely no short-order cooking of another meal when someone doesn’t eat it.
Whether & how much – it’s up to your baby to eat or not eat, and to decide how much they eat from what’s been served. Parents can fall into difficulty when they try and take this responsibility on. Mealtimes are simply not enjoyable for either of you if you are cajoling, bribing or forcing your child to eat, and babies are best placed to know whether they are hungry or not. It can be frustrating to deal with waste, so serving very small portions can be ideal – you can always give seconds or follow up with some yoghurt if they are still hungry.
So that’s it really! Pretty simple, yet I found it resonated so much for me. Starting baby led weaning can be scary. Thinking of things like the meal location or timing as my job made it easier for me to gently take control without feeling guilt at taking choice away from my child. And realising that it isn’t my job to make my baby eat made mealtimes much more relaxed and fun.
(*The rest of the book is great too. If you want to check it out and purchase using this link, I’ll get a small commission at no cost to you).