The first time a baby eats solid food is a milestone for any parent—it’s a new chapter in a baby’s life, and it’s exciting. And as he takes his first mouthful of food parents cross their fingers and hope that their child will be a “good eater.” They want him to enjoy food, to eat healthily, and they want to have easy, stress-free family mealtimes.

But many parents find the first few years of solid food are not much fun for either them or their child. They struggle with common problems, whether it’s getting their baby to accept lumpy food, or coping with picky eating or mealtime battles with a toddler. Often families settle for separate mealtimes and different food for adults and children.

Most babies start their journey to grown-up eating by being spoon-fed their first mouthfuls of puréed food on a date decided by their parents. But what happens if you don’t do it like this? What happens if you let your baby decide when and how to start solids? What happens if you let him handle “real” food himself instead of spoon-feeding him? In other words, what happens if you let your baby lead the way?

Well, like many families, you and your baby will almost certainly find the whole adventure more fun. He’ll show you when he’s ready to start, and he’ll share your meals from the very beginning. He’ll learn about healthy family food by tasting and testing it and by feeding himself—no mush or purées but real food. And he’ll be able to do all this from about six months onward.

Baby-led weaning (BLW) will develop your baby’s chewing skills, manual dexterity, and hand-eye coordination. With your help, he’ll discover a wide range of healthy foods and learn important social skills. And he’ll eat only as much as he needs, which may make him less likely to be overweight when he is older. Most of all, he’ll enjoy it—and he’ll almost certainly be happy and confident at mealtimes as a result.

Baby-led weaning is safe, natural, and easy—and, like most good ideas in parenting, it’s not new. Parents the world over have discovered it for themselves, simply by watching their babies. Baby-led weaning works whether your baby is breastfed, formula-fed, or having a mixture of the two. And, according to parents who have tried both BLW and spoon-feeding, letting your baby lead the way is much easier and more enjoyable all around.

Of course, there’s nothing revolutionary about giving babies finger foods starting at six months. What’s different about BLW is that the baby has only finger foods, making purées and spoon-feeding a thing of the past.

This book will show you why BLW is the logical way to introduce solids and why trusting your baby’s skills and instincts makes sense. It will provide you with practical tips for getting started and the low-down on what to expect. It will let you in on one of the best-kept secrets of stress-free parenting. With BLW there’s no program to follow and no stages to complete. Your baby won’t have to work his way through a series of smooth purées, mashed food, and lumpy meals before he’s allowed to eat “real” food—and you won’t have to follow a complicated daily timetable of meals. Instead you’ll be able to relax and enjoy your baby’s adventures with food.

Most books on introducing solids contain recipes and menu planners; this book is different. It’s more about how to let your baby feed himself rather than what to offer him. Planning “baby meals” assumes that babies can’t have ordinary family food or that their food has to be prepared separately. But most meals in any healthy cookbook can be adapted easily so that your six-month- old baby can share them. As long as your own diet is healthy and nutritious there’s no need for separate recipes. We have, however, included some suggestions for good first foods and foods to avoid to help you get started. And, because many parents see BLW as an opportunity to look at what they eat, we’ve provided guidelines on how to ensure a healthy and balanced diet for the whole family. If you’ve been living on junk food or prepackaged meals, you can use this book to help you turn over a new leaf.

Baby-led weaning can be great fun for you and your baby. If you haven’t seen any other babies start solids this way, you’ll probably be amazed at how quickly your baby becomes skilled at handling different foods and how adventurous he is with new tastes compared with other children. Babies are happier doing things for themselves—and it helps them learn.

Many parents who have used a baby-led approach have shared their experiences with us. Some had found spoonfeeding difficult in the past; others had turned to BLW in frustration when their six-month-old refused to be spoon-fed. Some were first-time parents who were attracted by BLW’s reputation as a gentle and commonsense way to introduce solids. What we heard time and time again was that their babies absolutely loved it, and that they became—and remained—happy and sociable eaters.

We hope this book will help you to discover just how easy the transition to family meals can be and how using a baby-led approach can provide the foundation for a lifetime of healthy, enjoyable eating for your baby.

—from the Introduction