Baby-led-Weaning : Ana’s Story

Making Montessori Your Own : Ana's Story

Hi Ana, share with us your views on the importance of eating together as a family. 

When we start our children on solids, we are not just feeding them for that day, or for that age. We are inculcating food habits and a relationship with food that will last a lifetime. I’ve seen my daughter be very curious about what I’m eating, and eager to try things from my plate. So, eating together gives us a chance to try new foods. She sees me and my husband catch up on our day over breakfast – and has learnt to be a part of our conversations. She has picked up so much vocabulary –names of foods we eat, utensils and even hot/cold/textures. All of this has come from sitting and eating our meal times together.

In your experience, how is Baby-Led- Weaning different from Parent-Led-Weaning? 

I think at the core, baby-led-weaning is built on trust in the child- that they know how much to eat, and in nature- that the child will develop skills to eat more, as and when her body needs more food. BLW is a pull based system, built on division of responsibilities. We as parents are responsible for what foods we offer, and when we offer them. We can make some rules about how the food is consumed such as – food only at the table, or washing hands before and after meals, no food between meals. But the child controls how much they eat of each food.

As a parent, following BLW requires a lot of trust and patience. It also required a lot of homework – of what foods to offer for which age, of size different foods to be cut so she can hold them, even exactly how long each food  needs to be steamed in the pressure cooker so it is at a softness she can chew, but doesn’t collapse in her palmer grip.

Having said that – I think like in all things, the middle path works best. While we followed BLW – in that we offered finger foods that she ate on her own – we didn’t always offer her the same food as what we ate. In the initial months we gave her steamed foods and fruits. Over time, we merged her diet into ours. So, I think you have to adapt the process to make it for your needs and circumstances.

Many parents find baby-led-weaning gives them no control over ‘feeding’ their child. How did you learn to let go and follow your child? 

I think the foundation really comes from having trust in the child’s abilities. Our children are not going to starve themselves. This is what I always remind myself – when a baby is born, they can’t see much, they can’t move, they are completely dependent on us – yet, when they are hungry, they cry, and once fed, they know they are done feeding. I had done 5 months of sole breastfeeding before we started on BLW – and during that time I fed on demand. I never knew how many ml/ounces my daughter drank at a feed – which days or meals she drank more or less. Yet, I’d seen her grow, and meet the growth parameters. 

So, once we start feeding solids, why did I suddenly think she wouldn’t know when she’s hungry, or wouldn’t eat till she was full? So the first thing I let go was this Qs of “has she eaten enough?” Learning to eat was a skill I needed to enable her to learn – as I was to enable her to learn walking or speaking- by providing her with the right environment and tools, and then being patient while she learnt it at her own speed.

Plus, I think you feel a loss of control when you feel there’s nothing you can do about a situation. With BLW, I never felt that. If there was a meal where she rejected a food- especially a food she’d eaten before- I’d go back and try it and check – was it too hard this time? Maybe too much salt by mistake? I was observing, building and testing hypothesis – lets try carrots cut thicker for a better grip next time, or if she is squishing the banana in her fingers, let’s keep the peel on and offer it like an ice cream cone. Following BLW made me more observant and in-tune with my daughter’s needs.

As time went on – and I saw her eating softer foods during teething days, or drink more water during a cold, or gravitating towards dahi/curd during a stomach upset – I could see she was listening to her body, and if I paid attention, I could listen and follow along too. Me double-guessing her judgement as she was learning, didn’t help her learn faster, on the contrary, it slowed her down.

What are some signs of readiness for Baby-led-Weaning that you observed in your daughter?

BLW isn’t a static thing you do once when you start the journey in solids. It’s always evolving.

When we started solids- I observed her being able to sit up (with support) and mouthing everything and being curious about our foods. Then, I observed her grip evolve- when she’d try to pick up crumbs from the table, and give her smaller bites to practice her pincer grip. I observed her try new flavours, and evolved our menu to get her to eat the same foods as us. If I observe her teething, we pivot to a much more liquid-y diet – with porridge, dahi, soups

As I type this, I’m reworking her menu because I think we are too much into fruits now and not offering enough veggies. We are also getting a stokke high chair that she can climb into, because she has recently grown out of her IKEA high chair that we plop her into. So it’s an ongoing process of observing, tweaking and evolving what and where we serve the meals.

Can you share some of the initial foods you offered your daughter and how you offered them? 

We started with finger foods – the size of my index finger roughly. Mixture of fruits (bananas, avocados), steamed fruits (pears, apples) and steamed vegetables (broccoli, carrots, beetroot). From 6-9 period, our menu over indexed on fruits and veggies – and we slowly built in grains into the diet.

How did you balance breast/bottle-feeding and weaning during the transition phase? 

Well, we had about a 6 month transition phase between when we started solids (my daughter was 5mo), and when we weaned from feeding completely. There were many different phases in between. For the first few weeks, we added the solids as a learning food, and kept the feeds as is. I offered solids first, and then topped up with a feed. (Some recommend doing it the other way around, it’s really up to you.)

Next, at about the six month mark, we built solid meals into the menu – breakfast, lunch and dinner – and had the feeds around it. I also shifted to mother’s milk via a bottle at this time. I wanted to give ourselves about a month of practice before I started being out during day time. We followed this routine between 6-10 months.

At 10 months, I dropped the morning feed as well. My daughter got busy playing, and didn’t notice. So the only feed she got from me directly was the night feed- and I knew this was part of her “bedtime routine” – so was nervous about how she’d react when we dropped it.

At 11 month mark, I introduced her to cow’s milk. We first tried it at breakfast, and then offered it 3 times a day. At 11.5 months, I started offering her cow’s milk after bath, before bedtime. And after a few such days, I stopped her bedtime feed. She cried for a couple of days- it was tough, I must admit- but each day she cried less than the previous, and after 4-5 days we were done with that.

The last to go was the middle of the night feed. My daughter used to wake up once in the night, and fall asleep during the feed. I took the nanny’s help to break this habit. For two nights, the nanny slept in my daughter’s room and rocked her back to sleep when she woke up in the middle of the night. After two nights, I rocked her back to sleep. Eventually, she learnt to sleep through the night.

A request to share a few words of inspiration to other parents on Baby-led-weaning. 

‘Love it, like it, learn it’ foods: I’ve picked this concept from Veggies and Virtues on Instagram, and found it works well. At each meal, we try to incorporate a food that my daughter loves, likes, and is learning to eat. This helps us give exposure to new foods, while ensuring there’s enough there to fill her up.

Exposure is what matters: Think of when you tried a new food last time. Did you gobble it up, or did you taste it first, and then get more on your plate? Our kids deserve that time. Get the idea of “my kids don’t like these foods” out of your mind- adopt a “learning to like” approach. 

Build a community: I follow several mother bloggers on Instagram who specialise in foods. It helps me learn, gives me food ideas and just have folks along on the BLW journey – because I don’t have friends who are following this near me. So it has helped me tremendously to find this tribe online

Read and learn- I’ve found the BLW cookbook a great resource that I referred back several times in the first six months of BLW. I’ve also enjoyed BLW videos by hapafamilyvlog on YOUTUBE. You should read up and learn before and as you go along on this journey

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Peeling Cucumbers

Our Little Kitchen

Peeling is a challenging activity that aids young children’s developing muscle strength. The repetitive action of peeling helps them gain control over their fine motor skills and also draws them into bouts of focus and concentration. Peeling not only engages their tiny fingers but also their mind in a constructive activity whilst building judgement and coordination. 

Who is this for?

I would begin around 2.5 – 3 years depending on the fine motor skill of the child. 

Things Required

  • 1 medium sized cucumber/carrot
  • 1 cutting board
  • 1 sturdy and small peeler (I prefer Y peelers) 
  • 1 medium sized bowl for peels 

Preparation

I have observed that children have a better latch over the peel when the edges of the vegetable are cut. This can be done by the adult while the child watches. I also prefer not to hold and guide the child’s hand while they are peeling. This gives adults complete control but a very false sense of ‘peeling’ to the eager child. If you find that you are anxious, increase the challenge gradually by having them collaborate in the process. Also, refrain from telling them how to peel because this shifts attention from peeling to talking. Instead, just show them how it is done and have them repeat after you. 

As always, you are the best judge of what works well for your child in your kitchen! 

Illustrated Guide 

I like to begin with an invitation, “Let me show you how to peel a cucumber today.” Introduce everything at the table, else tell the child what is required and gather them together. 

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Let the child smell, feel and touch the cucumber. Wash the vegetable at the sink and discard the edges. 

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Show the child the peeler. Point to the blade and mention that it is sharp and used only for peeling the vegetable.

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Hold the cucumber down using your non-dominant hand to give support and hold the peeler using full support of your palm and fingers. This gives children better support when they repeat after. 

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Begin at one end of the cucumber and point to the blade touching the peel.

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Exaggerate applying pressure and glide from end to end, pausing in between to watch the peel come off. 

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Place the peeler down and pick up the peel and place it in the bowl for peels. It is nice to point to the color difference where the peel is removed and touch and feel the cucumber. 

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Rotate around and continue peeling. Let the child peel however they can. You can offer to hold the cucumber for support. 

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Once the cucumber has been peeled, the peels can be put in compost. Guide the child to put the other items away or for wash. 

Short Guide

  • I like to begin with an invitation, “Let me show you how to peel  a cucumber today.” 
  • Introduce everything at the table, else tell the child what is required and gather them together. 
  • Let the child smell, feel and touch the cucumber. 
  • Wash the vegetable at the sink and discard the edges. 
  • Show the child the peeler. Point to the blade and mention that it is sharp and used only for peeling the vegetable. 
  • Hold the cucumber down using your non-dominant hand to give support and hold the peeler using full support of your palm and fingers. This gives children better support when they repeat after. 
  • Begin at one end of the cucumber and point to the blade touching the peel. 
  • Exaggerate applying pressure and glide from end to end, pausing in between to watch the peel come off. 
  • Place the peeler down and pick up the peel and place it in the bowl for peels. 
  • It is nice to point to the color difference where the peel is removed and touch and feel the cucumber. 
  • Rotate around and continue peeling. 
  • Let the child peel however they can. You can offer to hold the cucumber for support. 
  • Once the cucumber has been peeled, the peels can be put in compost. 
  • Guide the child to put the other items away or for wash. 

Note : You can also cut the cucumber in half to prevent it from rolling. I have used Persian Cucumbers. Use whatever is locally available. 

Breaking Beans

Our Little Kitchen

Green Beans are healthy, juicy and crunchy vegetables that are rich in nutrients. Very young children, just inducted into the kitchen, find the single step process of breaking beans just enough to challenge and hold their attention. The slender pods of the green beans help the child’s tender hands find strength in breaking them; there is joy in discovering tiny green beans inside. The repetition of the same step helps them gain confidence and a sense of completion of a task from start to finish.

Who is this for?

I would recommend this for children as young as 16 – 19 months. Even if they aren’t walking well, the adult can set this activity up at a table with a seat for the child to challenge their fine motor skills and muscle strength.

Things Required

  • 1 bowl (with a handful of green beans)
  • 1 colander

Preparation

Traditionally, green beans come with a thin string that runs along the seam. If you find this variety, for younger children, it is better to pick pods with the stalk. That way, we can show them to snap the stalk and also pull the string. In this recipe, I have used beans that do not have the string and can just be snapped in two. Also, a point to note is that when beans are steamed, there is usually no need to pull the string.

If you prefer, you are also free to trim the edges of the beans before setting the activity up for the child. In that case, it is nice to show them how you trim the edges. The child can be involved in discarding the edges.

As always, you are the best judge of what works well for your child in your home!

Illustrated Guide

I like to begin with an invitation, “Let us break some beans and steam them for lunch.”  Introduce everything at the table. It is nice to point to the pods and even create an element of surprise on what will be inside when we snap the pods. 

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It is also wonderful to describe some physical properties for children such as “Oh these beans are green in colour, they are slender and long.” etc.

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Show the child to take and hold a pod in both hands.

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Exaggerate applying pressure and break the beans into two pieces.

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Point to the surprise in the pod – the tiny green beans.

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If you find that even after breaking, the beans are long, you can just casually remark, “Oh, this is still long, I am going to make it shorter” and then just snap it again.

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Place the broken beans in the colander. Let the child break beans however they can.

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Once the beans are broken, they can be taken in the colander for washing. Involve the child in putting the used items away or for wash.

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Short Guide

  • I like to begin with an invitation, “Let us break some beans and steam them for lunch.”
  • Introduce everything at the table. It is nice to point to the pods and even create an element of surprise on what will be inside when we snap the pods. It is also wonderful to describe some physical properties for children such as “Oh these beans are green in colour, they are slender and long.” etc.
  • Show the child to take and hold a pod in both hands.
  • Exaggerate applying pressure and break the beans into two pieces.
  • Point to the surprise in the pod – the tiny green beans.
  • If you find that even after breaking, the beans are long, you can just casually remark, “Oh, this is still long, I am going to make it shorter” and then just snap it again.
  • Place the broken beans in the colander.
  • Let the child break beans however they can.
  • Once the beans are broken, they can be taken in the colander for washing.
  • Involve the child in putting the used items away or for wash.

Choosing Snacks Wisely : From One Mamma to Another

Hear it from the Mammas!

A snack can be a bag of chips, a fruit or a bowl of nuts. With more of us finding it hard to manage cooking our major meals, we have delegated the snack department to supermarkets which sport rows and rows of heavily processed snacks that are high in salt, sugar, unhealthy oils and other, far more complex ingredients, that have no business being in the food we eat! Since most of us don’t even realise the snacks we eat, it is time we pay attention to those silent fillers.

Let’s hear more about snacks and how we can choose snacks for our children from a Mamma of an adorable three-year old from Chennai.

Hi Hamsika, tell us about yourself and your family.

Hi, I am Hamsika, a working mother. I live in Chennai, India with my husband Lalith , our 3-year-old daughter Naabhya and my parents-in-law.

What are Naabhya’s meals like? Tell us a little about how you plan and prepare these meals.

Naabhya has a very regular meal pattern. I don’t prepare anything specifically for her. She eats the menu of the day at home.

Breakfast – A glass of porridge and a banana – I should mention here that the porridge powder is made from multi grains such as black urad dal, moong dal, roasted gram, wheat, sago, peanuts, almonds and cashews. When Naabhya turned two, I started adding millets such as fox tail, horse gram and pearl millet. This is prepared with milk and jaggery and is a wholesome breakfast.

Mid-Morning Snack at School – I usually pack biscuits or fruits, boiled vegetables and nuts.

Lunch – Rice with ghee and vegetable with an option of Rasam or Dal or Spinach and definitely a cup of curd.  

Evening Snack – Banana chips or Peanuts or Puffed rice or Papad with a glass of seasonal fruit juice or tender coconut. I would like to mention that in our family, we use gingelly oil for our regular cooking and prefer either groundnut oil or refined oil for fried snacks.

Dinner – I usually give her options – Roti, Dosa, Pasta or Poha and give her what she asks for. I also offer her a glass of milk before bed.

When I was a kid my grandma used to give me lunch before I rushed to school. She wouldn’t mind compromising on the last spoon of food, but not on the  ghee and curd which I believe are important to making the meal wholesome. So, I hold on to this for Naabhya. One specific thing that I have followed since she was a baby is I don’t give her white sugar. Instead, I replace with jaggery or palm sugar.

How do you define snacks and how big a role do they play in Naabhya’s daily life?

Snack for me is a simple quick  food, very easy to prepare and less messy to eat. Snacking helped me bring in the “eating by herself” habit with Naabhya. I usually choose something dry and easy to pick, so she can have it by herself. She has two parts for snacks in a day, her mid morning snack which is at school and thankfully, they have a set pattern. The evening snack is where she eats what she likes and it is between her juice and dinner.

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What kind of snacks do you offer Naabhya?

I usually buy biscuits made from a local bakery, carrot cake or banana walnut cake, homemade fries (வடகம் in Tamil, पापड़ in Hindi) masala peanuts, puffed rice, roasted gram(chickpeas gram) banana chips, peanut & jaggery chikki, rusk, popcorn or nuts.

Tell us about the snacks you definitely stay clear of and WHY?

I would say no to any snack that is vacuum sealed like chips, fries that have a lot of salt and oil and anything with artificial colour and sugar like gems, jelly etc. I also say no to aerated drinks and flavoured, colourful drinks and prefer fresh juice or tender coconut to it.

I am completely open to store-bought snacks as long as they are freshly made and have a very short shelf life.

Everywhere around us, we find heavily processed snacks that are high in corn fructose syrup, sodium and oil. How do you choose snacks from all these options? 

Snacking can be healthy if we make a little effort. My husband snacks more than me but ever since Naabhya has started eating, we both choose snacks with a lot more care. Children learn a lot from us! We always make sure to have a couple of options of what she likes (that are also healthier) at home. It is very easy to buy something off the shelf but takes a little more effort and planning to make something simple at home.

As parents, how do you create awareness in Naabhya on snacks and how to choose wisely?

We simply don’t introduce them to her in the first place. We took it as a task not to buy the heavily processed snacks, so now she knows the real taste and doesn’t like the salty or sugary stuff. There are mothers who tell me, “Oh!! Sad you are not giving her anything” but trust me she wouldn’t say no to cup of ghee dripping badam halwa from her grandmother or  freshly made murukku (twisted gram flour crisps that are popular in South India) from a local store.

A request to share with us three simple and healthy snacks that you make at home?

Puffed rice : You get plain puffed rice in the store and I just roast it in a heated pan and add salt and chilli powder to taste. You can also add a garlic pod for flavour.

Roasted Gram Laddus : You can dry roast one cup roasted gram, grind it along with one cup of jaggery in the mixer. Then, transfer the mixture to a tray and add ghee and make small laddus. They can be stored in an airtight container. This laddu works very well when Naabhya has a cold since it helps remove phlegm.

Raw banana chips : Just heat oil in a pan and fry the sliced raw banana and add salt and spice.

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Can you share a note to other Mammas on the importance of choosing healthy snacks and some tips on how  to make it possible in their busy schedules?

Snacks can actually play an important role in managing kids hunger. Always give a small quantity so that the snack does not become their meal. I find that the young kids derive great satisfaction in finishing their bowl of snack. I have also observed that avoiding artificial flavours and preservatives have a lot of impact on their behaviour. A snack can be as simple as a roasted papad from the tava and does not have to be anything fancy.

I also generally follow the traditional method when it come to food because it is already tested by our ancestors.