If you’ve landed on this page, you’re probably a parent introducing baby-led weaning (BLW) at home but wondering about doing blw on the go.
As a mom who has done both spoon-feeding and blw on the go, I can say there are definite pros and cons to each method… But I think the biggest thing that holds parents back from baby-led weaning while traveling or eating at a restaurant is the–huge, giant, humongous–mess.
In this essential guide, I’ll give you all of my best tips for baby-led weaning on the go, keeping the mess contained, and why it has ultimately been easier than spoon-feeding for me and my family.
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What is Baby-Led Weaning (BLW)?
If you’re new to baby-led weaning (also referred to as BLW), here’s a quick recap:
BLW is simply the practice of offering whole foods to babies as their first foods instead of mashing them up or pureeing them.
Babies self-feed and learn good eating habits like how to control the pace and how much food they are eating.
Gill Rapley, the pioneer of BLW, also explains that it is important for babies to engage in mealtime with the whole family. This means eating at the same time as the rest of the family, being included at the table (or their high chair close to the table), and offering them the same foods that the rest of the family is eating. The BLW process also involves drinking from an open cup once water and other liquids are introduced.
Baby-Led Weaning Vs. Spoon Feeding
Spoon feeding is the more “traditional” way of feeding a baby. When I think of “baby food,” I picture the tiny jars of pureed baby food in the grocery store. More recently, food pouches have become popular premade baby food options for their convenience (no spoons or bowls needed!).
BLW usually focuses on offering whole foods and avoiding purees and mashes. The truth is, you can do BLW and spoon-feeding at the same time. I primarily try to provide whole foods to my kids, but every once in a while, the convenience of a pouch or puree is best!
Pro Tip: If you are going to offer your food to your baby, make sure it is prepared or served in a way that is safe for infants. My favorite BLW app is Solid Starts. They have an app with a dictionary of foods showing you exactly how to serve every food you can think of at each age for your child.
Look for signs of readiness and talk with your pediatrician about when to start solid foods. American Academy of Pediatrics recommends (they usually recommend breast milk or formula as the baby’s main source of food until 6 months of age).
For my first, I made my own homemade baby food (check out all of my recipes and tips here!) from 4-6 months old. he really struggled with swallowing and his gag reflex, so spoon-feeding very smooth purees was the best option for him. Once he was comfortable swallowing purees, we started introducing whole foods (focusing on soft foods like bananas first).
With my second, he wasn’t interested in food until about 8 months. We sat him at the table with us during meal times. Eventually, he started becoming interested in what we were eating. He naturally started BLW on his own by asking for bites of food from our plates.
Unless you are making your own homemade purees, the variety of foods available for babies in the grocery store is pretty limited. BLW is a great way to introduce babies to all different foods, textures, and flavors. They learn the skill of self-feeding, practicing their fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and listening to their body to tell them when they are full. Want to know more about the differences between baby-led weaning and spoon-feeding? Read more here.
BLW Safety Considerations
You need to recognize potential choking hazards when feeding a baby. Common culprits are hard foods (like carrots), round foods (like grapes), and cylindrical foods (like hot dogs). But there are many foods that babies should avoid. Some are more obvious than others. For example, popcorn seemed obvious to me, but rice did not. You need to do proper research (I use the Solid Starts app) to mitigate the risk of choking.
It’s not required to bring your baby home from the hospital, but I strongly encourage getting CPR certified for infants so that you know what to do in the event of choking.
Equipment and Supervision
Ensure you have the right equipment (like a stable seat) for your child to lessen the risk of choking. And, whether you are at home or on the go, children need to be supervised during meal times. This goes for baby-led weaning and spoon-feeding.
Traveling is not the time to introduce new foods. Take it from me: my youngest had a severe allergic reaction to raspberries just hours after landing at our destination. There’s nothing quite like a medical emergency to throw a wrench in your vacation plans.
If you know your child has allergies to foods, make sure you always travel with their required medications.
Essential Tips for BLW On The Go
Baby-led weaning is not for the faint of heart 🙃! It’s a messy process that requires more thought than preparation.
With these tips, I’ll teach you how to plan and prepare for giving your little one food out and about. Whether you’re flying on a plane, eating at someone else’s house, or going to a restaurant, I’ve got you covered with these BLW traveling tips.
1. Plan Ahead of Time
Before you leave the house, think about where and what your baby will be eating.
Going to a Restaurant
Look at the restaurant menu ahead of time. Make sure they have familiar foods.
I relied on steamed vegetables and plain pasta for my children. They are readily available at restaurants and don’t require much additional preparation to make them safe to eat.
Parent-to-Parent: There’s no shame in the french fry game 🍟! I think my second child is 85% potato 🙃… French fries are the right size and shape for little hands, they take time to chew (buying you more time to enjoy your own meal), and they are obviously delicious. French fries have saved the day on many occasions for my family.
If you know there are no foods that your child will eat, or will be challenging to eat, you can bring your own food from home. Take a look at my portable blw food options below.
Make sure the restaurant has the gear you will need. This mostly comes down to having a high chair. You can also gauge how baby-friendly a restaurant is by whether or not they have high chairs.
Because I’m so used to the mess at home, it never dawned on me that serving 11-month-old red sauce pasta at my sister’s house was not a good idea… Until we got marinara on her brand-new dining chairs.
Let me save you from this!
Depending on where you are going, containing the mess will largely be in the foods you pick. If you’re going to a park or somewhere outside, containing the mess is less important.
You also want to think through how clean your child needs to be in addition to the environment around them. Always have a change of clothes in case of a BLW mess. It’s also important to have the right bibs for BLW. What works for spoon-fed babies definitely won’t work for baby-led weaning.
Rely on pouches and mess-free foods. If you’re going somewhere that isn’t BLW-friendly, or you really need your little one to stay mess-free (like on a plane).
2. Have The Right BLW Traveling Gear
Having the right gear for BLW on the go is key to success. You don’t need a lot, you just need the right products. A lot of food products are geared toward spoon-feeding, so make sure to look through this list for products that are for baby-led weaning.
Most places are going to have a high chair for you to use. If not, you can find different types of portable high chairs. These handy chairs range from small (they will fit in your diaper bag!) to more robust options (like the Fisher-Price booster seat that I own).
Pro-Tip: If you won’t have a chair, refrain from feeding your little one in their car seat or stroller. These seats are typically reclined so they aren’t safe for eating. Some strollers might have an upright position for feeding, but make sure to read the manual for your model to be sure. Sitting on the ground or on another adult’s lap are the best choices when nothing else is available.
Wipes, wipes, and more wipes!
You’ll want to pack hand and face wipes for cleaning your child, antibacterial wipes for cleaning the table and–probably grungy–high chair, and hand sanitizing wipes for yourself for preparing and handling the food.
Choose a bib that is easy to pack, easy to clean, and catches crumbs. These silicone bibs from Oxo are made especially for that.
I have an entire article dedicated to BLW bibs (who knew 🤣). So you might find there is a better option for your needs in there.
Mats, mats, and more mats!
These floor mats can easily be packed in your diaper bag and placed under your child for a quick clean-up.
A silicone table mat has several benefits. Of course, it protects the food from touching the surface of the table (especially if it isn’t easy to clean like a picnic table), but it also makes cleanup much easier. Silicone mats stick to the table, so your little one can’t pull it off.
Silicone mats can be bulky, and if space is at a premium (like when flying), you can actually buy disposable mats that have table-friendly adhesive to stick in place.
Pro-Tip: Chic Fil A puts these mats in their children’s meals! You can save them for when they are needed. Locations near me usually have them sitting out near the high chairs as well. I usually grab one or two extra each time I visit for this reason. Of course, take them in moderation and within reason!
• Plates and Forks
A suction plate and/or bowl is going to be your friend. Especially for older babies who think throwing their plates across the room is hilarious.
Bonus: These WeeSprout plates also have lids for easy traveling.
If your child likes to eat with utensils (my 15-month-old won’t eat anything unless he’s holding a fork… not eating with the fork, just holding it 🤣). You should have a pack of utensils on the go.
Restaurants typically don’t have child-friendly utensil options. Even their plastic forks are sharp and pointy.
If you are doing open cups, you can get suctioning cups as well to drink from.
Pro-Tip: These little suction cups are made from food-grade silicone and double as a toy on the go!
Open cups aren’t the only option for BLW. I have a full guide of cups (including sippies and spill-proof cups for traveling here).
• Clean up
A wet bag is just a secondary bag that you bring to put your bibs, mats, utensils, plates, cups, and anything else that is dirty. When you get home, you can put the dishes in the sink and the rest (including the wet bag if you plan right) in the washing machine.
Pro-Tip: If you have a grocery bag collection in your pantry like I do, grab one or two of those to make use out of them!
Cloth and Spray Bottle
You can definitely use your antibacterial wipes to clean the chair, table, and maybe floor, but if you want to avoid single-use wipes, just grab a small spray bottle to fill with your favorite cleaner and some small microfiber clothes for cleaning. You can even pop your clothes in the wet bag when you’re done!
Parent-to-Parent: Although I try to be as environmentally conscious as I can, I usually opt for disposable wipes. I don’t like having liquid chemicals in a bag that is easily accessible by my children on the go. It also avoids leaks.
• Coolers and Ice Packs
If you’re going to do BLW, opt for a diaper bag that has a small insulated pocket. I can’t recommend the Fisher-Price diaper bag enough. It’s the one I’ve had for over 4 years with both of my kids. The insulated pocket isn’t huge (you can fit a few 2-4 oz containers), but it works well with a small ice pack.
3. Portable and Travel-Friendly Food Options
You’ve planned for where you are going, what foods will be there, and what gear you will need. Now it’s time to look at the least messy BLW foods to make your job much easier!
You might look at this list and think it’s small… And that’s because I’ve chosen these specific foods that are easy to make and store and won’t leave big messes or stains (like sauces and fresh berries).
- Bread (make sure it is soft enough to chew, but not so gummy that it will get stuck in their throat)
- Canned beans or chickpeas (low sodium, drained and rinsed well)
- Dried fruit, freeze-dried fruit, or fruit melts: make sure you pick the option that is developmentally appropriate for your little one. Dried fruit is going to be the hardest (more of a choking hazard), while fruit melts will dissolve in your little one’s mouth. Always test these yourself before serving them to your baby.
- Peanut butter (make sure to follow safety guidelines as it is a choking hazard)
- Puree pouches
- Rice Cakes
- Yogurt pouches (you can buy shelf-stable pouches or opt for the refrigerator kind if you’ve got a cooler)
Honestly, pouches are your friend when traveling, even if you’re doing BLW. Don’t discount apple sauce pouches, other single food pouches (my kids love sweet potato, pear, and banana pouches), smoothie pouches, mixed grain pouches, and even pouches with meat.
Parent-to-Parent: I always travel with pureed prunes because my kids are prone to constipation, especially with schedule and sleep changes.
Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
- Dragon fruit
- Melon (canteloupe, honeydew, watermelon)
- Oranges (no seeds and peel each segment from the membrane)
Pro-Tip: Bananas are probably the best BLW food for on-the-go. They are high in fiber so they fill your little one up. They don’t need to be cut or sliced. They don’t need to be refrigerated or heated. They are the perfect consistency. And they have a built-in mess-free handle!
Perishable and Prepared Foods
- Boiled eggs
- Frozen peas and carrots*
- Frozen corn*
- Plain meats (shredded chicken, beef, pork, etc.) with no sauce
- Plain pasta (opt for varieties like whole grain, chickpea flour, or vegetable flour)
- Roasted vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, zucchini, peppers)
- Shredded cheese
- Yogurt Pouches*
*Pro-Tip: These frozen foods can double as ice packs and once they thaw they are ready to eat!
Ultimately, if you can prevent or tackle the mess, BLW on the go is better than spoon-feeding. Usually, you don’t have to bring any prepared food. BLW allows babies to self-feed, explore various textures and flavors, and learn to listen to their bodies. So, don’t let the fear of messiness deter you from embracing the adventure of BLW on the go. Remember, a few wipes and a change of clothes can solve almost any food-related situation, and who knows, maybe French fries will become your child’s ultimate travel companion!