Whether or not you applied the Baby Led Weaning (BLW) approach right from the start, 9 months is around the time most babies will really take an interest in finger foods.
You’re probably excited to expand your baby’s menu, but with risks like food allergies and choking hazards, you might be nervous about introducing new foods.
I’m here to reassure you that it doesn’t have to be scary. Feeding your baby can be super fun and relaxed, and I promise the pictures (and memories) you get will be priceless.
Instead of just throwing a bunch of random sample menus and recipes at you, I’m going to take you through a normal day of what baby led weaning (finger food feeding) looks like for us.
Disclaimer: I’m not a pediatric dietitian, a nutritionist, or a medical professional of any kind. The information I’m sharing is from my personal experience, and you should certainly do your own research and consult your pediatrician with questions.
A Day in the Life: Baby-Led Weaning
Meal Time Gear for Finger Foods
Meal times with a baby do not have to be complicated. You don’t need a ton of different equipment. For our setup, we just have a highchair, two rotating bibs, and a water sippy cup.
Just so you know, I incorporate affiliate links, from which I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you, to help showcase products I personally own and love, as well as to illustrate certain points or product features.
If you’re curious about our highchair, this is the one we have. I don’t love it, but it was inexpensive and does the job. It’s not the easiest to clean, and it’s bulky, but the fact that it comes apart into a separate table and chair is neat.
If I could pick a different one, I’d go for one that stores easily like one with no grooves to dig food out of or cloth cover to wash.
(One from Ikea would be good if you’re on a tight budget.)
My favorite bibs. We call them troughs in our house because they catch most of the food Baby drops. We never get tired of seeing her dig around in the pocket for seconds. Plus, it helps a lot with the mess.
Before I stopped buying plastic, I ordered a set of sippy cups. While I dislike that they are plastic, I do like that they’re easy for babies to drink from themselves and simulate normal drinking mechanics without spilling (much).
Spoons are optional!!
Before I learned about baby led weaning, I got a set of baby spoons. But we hardly ever use them! No purees or mush in this house! We’re not against them or anything…we just don’t need them. Our baby has fed herself from the time she started solids at six months old.
A Typical Day of Baby Led (Finger Food) Meals
Up until “Carrots” (our online nickname for our firstborn girl) turned nine months, she did not have consistent mealtimes (she was primarily breastfed).
We followed the baby led weaning approach (which most basically means we offer solid foods that she can choose to feed herself) for fun. Often, we would use it to occupy her while we ate dinner.
However, around nine months, she seemed to be getting a lot hungrier during the day–she was fussier, not satisfied for long with mommy milk, not napping well–so I decided it was time to offer her three square meals a day.
I had been putting off consistent meal times because I was afraid it would be a pain to make her separate food and clean up her massive messes, but it has actually been really helpful for keeping her contained and occupied while I feed myself.
In a normal day, Carrots wakes up around 7 am and breastfeeds. I wrap up my morning routine, and we go to the kitchen to have breakfast together.
While I make my breakfast, Carrots sits in her highchair in the middle of the kitchen. Usually I strip her down to her diaper because things get messy!
She usually starts the day with some fruit. Right now she is loving blueberries and mango. If she is particularly hungry/interested in eating, I will bulk out the meal with something more substantial like sweet potato, which I cook in advance and keep in the fridge.
While she munches, I get my breakfast together, and then eat while she finishes.
If she’s particularly messy, she gets hosed off in the shower, and she loves it. Otherwise, I just wash her hands and face in the kitchen sink. Honestly, it does not take that long to clean her up.
Is it inconvenient? Yes. But it really only takes about 5 minutes to clean her and put her clothes back on, and another 5 to clean the high chair.
Carrots breastfeeds on-demand, so I don’t have to worry about the quantity of food she eats. If she is hungry soon after, she snacks whenever she needs and it works great.
After a morning nap and a couple snacks of mommy milk, lunch time rolls around. We repeat the morning system, and she eats lunch while I make mine. For lunch, she might have some pre-cooked sweet potato and yellow squash. This results in a HUGE mess 100% of the time, so she gets carried at arms length straight to the shower afterwards.
Note: I am not washing her with soap, or giving her a full bath/shower multiple times a day. I am literally just hosing the food off of her.
For dinner, I try to find components of our meal that I can cook without added salt for Carrots. I set aside enough for her before seasoning the rest of the meal.
As an example, let’s say I make fajitas. I will either cook everything in one skillet and wait to season it, or I will separate some out and cook it in its own pan without salt (since I prefer to season things early on while the meat is cooking.
If we are having fajitas, I will cook her some chicken, peppers and onions, and slice an avocado.
As a special treat, she will sometimes get a few frozen raspberries or a strawberry. However, these are not foods we feed her daily (which I’ll explain in a bit).
After dinner, Carrots gets a bubble bath and tops off with more milkies before (hopefully) going to bed.
How do I know when she is done eating?
The amazing thing about babies is they know exactly when they are done eating. When you present the food and allow them to feed themselves, they will stop when they are finished. (Because of this, an advantage to BLW–as opposed to spoon feeding–is that it can help prevent obesity/over-eating in the future.)
I never try to coax Carrots to eat more once she is done. But how do I know when she’s finished? She usually signals the end of a meal in one or more of the following ways:
- She plays with her food more than she eats it, smearing it around her tray, rubbing it on her face, throwing it in the floor;
- She grunts and reaches to be picked up;
- She stops banging on her tray for more food;
- She might put food in her mouth, but spits most of it back out;
- She stops eating altogether.
At this point, we either remove her from the highchair and clean her up, or ask her to wait patiently as long as she will tolerate so that we can finish our own meals.
Bonus tip: Breast/bottle feed before a meal; babies don’t yet connect hunger with eating solids, so if they are really hungry, they might actually eat less and fuss more because they are wanting milkies.
How much do I feed her? What is an appropriate portion size for a nine month old?
Since most babies will not overeat when feeding themselves, I let Carrots eat as much as she wants. If she keeps eating, I continue offering her more.
I usually give her one piece of food at a time, and when she’s eaten all of it, I give her more. Lately, I’ve actually been holding the plate up to let her select her next food herself, and she chooses exactly what she wants.
As for the size of the individual pieces of food I give her, I’m of the school of though that bigger is better. I’m not saying I give her a whole chicken breast to nom on…what I mean is that I don’t chop her food up into tiny pieces.
I feel–and my experience has confirmed–that allowing her to bite off the amount she feels comfortable with creates less of a hazard than giving her pre-diced pieces. Especially when she was younger, she would sometimes inhale and choke on a smaller piece of food, but she has never once choked by feeding herself from larger chunks.
Plus, some babies take longer to develop a fine-tuned pincer grasp, so by leaving food in larger pieces, it is easier to grip and guide into their mouths.
Common Foods I Keep on Hand and How I Prep Them
Sweet potato – I set 2 sweet taters on a pan and bake the for 60-90 minutes (depending on how soon I get around to taking them out) at 400F. I literally do not do a thing to them, not even poke holes. They caramelize and are so soft and sweet. To serve (after cooling), I’ll cut off about ⅓ of the potato, quarter it and feed it to her warm or cold.
Yellow squash – After washing them, I cut 2 or 3 squash crosswise into ¼ to ½ inch thick rounds and steam them in a double boiler until they are soft and mushy (probably a bit overdone). I feed them to her with the peel on.
Zucchini – After washing, I cut them into either sticks or rounds, then steam in the double boiler for ~5 minutes. I’m looking forward to seeing if she likes them spiralized, but I haven’t tried that yet.
Tomato- Cut into wedges and served raw
Blueberry – whole, as is (washed)
Banana – I’ve tried giving her long pieces of banana, but she doesn’t seem to like that, so now I cut it into rounds.
Chicken – Cut into strips, cooked through, but careful not to overcook so that it isn’t dry and chewy
Treats (due to price):
Avocado – sliced
Mango – whatever shapeless blobs it’s in after peeling it on the rim of a glass
Mandarin orange – fresh, not canned. I started by peeling the membrane off and only feeding her the “meat,” but after experimenting, she is able to eat the clear layer without choking.
Foods We Limit (but still give her):
Frozen raspberries – (halved)
Strawberry – halved or quartered longways
Obviously, there are TONS more foods she could have, and I do try to introduce new things periodically, but it’s easier and cheaper to buy her favorites in bulk and cook/prep them in batches a few times a week.
When we try a new food that she doesn’t seem to like, I wait a few weeks and then introduce it again. She hated banana for the longest time, but actually ate some this morning.
Some of the Foods We DON’T Give Our Nine Month Old
While we are quite relaxed about letting our baby feed herself and the shapes and sizes of her foods, there are some foods we just don’t give her.
Studies show that because a baby’s gut is underdeveloped, certain foods, when introduced too early, are more likely to cause food allergies further down the line.
In addition, a baby’s digestive system, as well as other organs like the liver and kidneys, are not prepared to process some foods until a child is a little older.
For a more in-depth explanation on some of these food concerns, see this article from Babble.
These are foods we have decided to hold off on intentionally feeding our baby. Sometimes she has tastes, but they are not incorporated into any of her meals.
- Eggs (I have an eggwhite allergy)
- Nuts (potential allergen)
- Honey (see the article I linked above)
- Salt (baby’s system can only process small amounts)
- Dairy (not more than a sip or bite of something we’re having)
- Most grains, especially wheat
- Corn (potential allergen)
- Soy (because it’s not good for anyone)
- Sugar (because sugar)
- Juice (too much sugar!) When we’re ready, I will make my own juice and cut it significantly with water
- Chocolate (caffeinated, don’t forget)
- Baby cereals (fills Baby’s stomach without providing nutritional value, meaning less demand for breastmilk or other foods, leading to lower nutritional intake overall)
- Baby puffs, cheerios (made with highly processed ingredients, and cheerios have too much sodium to boot)
- Deli meat (sodium content and preservatives)
While this list isn’t comprehensive, it’s a pretty well rounded picture of what we don’t feed our baby (yet) and why. Also, while there are some pretty hard and fast no-nos, much of this is our personal prerogative. You may be comfortable offering your baby foods off of this list, and that is totally up to your discretion. I’m by no means telling you you MUST avoid all of these foods.
Even though I’ve listed them as foods we avoid, our baby does sometimes snag tastes of them, and we’re not too worried about it.
For example, she knows my Trim Healthy Mama shakes are the bomb-diggity, and she pitches a huge fit if I don’t share. I let her taste random things like that because I don’t think such limited exposure will give her long-term problems.
Heck, look at all the ridiculous crap in baby formula. One of the samples I was sent had corn syrup solids as the NUMBER ONE ingredient. Many formulas (at least from the Big 3) have milk, whey, soy, and lactose as well. I know for a fact my THM shakes have better quality ingredients than powdered formula (which my baby has also had on more than one occasion).
Right now, there seems to be so much conflicting research and advice on how to best circumvent food allergies. Some experts say to avoid all potential allergens for at least the first year, yet now the American Academy of Pediatrics is telling parents to feed babies allergenic foods early to prevent food allergies.
You, as the parents of your child, will have to make that call for yourself. Some people are comfortable feeding their babies toast and peanut butter. Others would have a stroke in you even suggested it.
My personal take…don’t take yourself too seriously. We try to be wise and not overload our baby’s system with something that could later present as an allergy, but we are not stringent about avoiding them either. Like I said, my baby has tasted pretty much everything on my no-no list (except eggs).
It will also depend on whether you have food allergies present in other members of your family. If not, it’s likely much less of a concern. However, if you know that family members have specific allergies, or Celiac disease, you may need to take a more selective approach.
We lean toward the cautious side because my husband’s side of the family has Celiac and some serious food allergies, and I have mild allergies to wheat, almonds, and egg whites.
If in doubt, just wait. Your baby will be just fine if he doesn’t eat a cheese sandwich until he’s 17 months old.
Final Thoughts on Feeding a Nine Month Old
While there are a lot of scary aspects to offering whole chunks of food to a tiny uncoordinated human with few to no teeth, try not to worry too much about what can go wrong. This stage is so much fun! You get to learn so much about their personality and enjoy the social bonding that comes from sharing a meal together.
Do a little research on how to help a choking baby, just in case of an emergency, and listen to your instincts. You know your baby best, so use your own judgement about shapes, sizes, and food types.
Just have fun with it!
Let me know in the comments…Are you a baby led-weaner, or have you gone the traditional route of spoon-feeding? How do you feel about introducing solids?
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