Upon entering the home of nutritionist Caroline Maria dos Santos, 25, you could already smell freshly prepared food. On top of the stove, a pot of rice, beans, boiled pumpkin and a frying pan with chicken burgers, all fresh. On the table, tomato and lettuce salad. Typical Brazilian food would be served both for adults and for Matteo, an 11-month-old baby.
Sitting in his high chair, Matteo stretched out his hands to the bamboo plate to take a piece of the hamburger or pumpkin by himself, which was falling apart between his little fingers. Hands smeared with food were brought to his mouth calmly as he smiled. By dessert time—gossip—Matteo became agitated. “He loves it,” says Carol.
All meals at the nutritionist’s house are like this, with the baby sitting at the end of the table, the father on one side and the mother on the other. “The child eats by imitation”, explains the nutritionist while, between bites of her own plate, she shows Matteo how to chew food.
Contrary to what happens in many homes with babies, mealtime is one of the quietest times of the family’s day. Matteo doesn’t cry, he doesn’t throw his food away and he doesn’t throw a tantrum to eat. But the climate of peace is not exactly a miracle, it is a method.
no baby food
Young and recently graduated, Carol decided to apply the BLW (Baby Led Weaning) method, one of the most recent studies in the field of nutrition and pediatric pediatrics. The acronym in English means “baby-guided weaning” and was suggested by British researcher Gill Rapley, an expert in infant feeding.
In this method, adults offer food in pieces to babies. Meal time does not need cutlery and the preparation of the food in a mashed, crushed or shredded way. The child is free to take whatever they want and eat alone.
To apply the BLW, it is necessary to observe some signs that the baby over six months is ready for the introduction of food, such as:
- sit without support
- Have head and trunk control
- Have autonomy to pick up objects and bring them to the mouth
- Show voluntary tongue movements (doesn’t push things out of the mouth)
- Show interest in food
Matteo’s food introduction began at six months of age, as recommended by the WHO (World Health Organization). Upon identifying the signs, Carol decided to offer her son everything the same way she and her husband eat.
To make life easier, she cooks everything without salt — which is not recommended until a year old — which can be added to the food later, and she doesn’t make anything separate for Matteo except the rice. “There’s no way to put salt in the rice afterwards, it’s horrible, you can’t”, she comments. “I always look for practicality, but it doesn’t work with rice,” she says. When it comes to eating, at the table, the salt shaker is indispensable for adults.
“In the past, it was thought that the introduction of food was the period of making the baby eat, but it is a time to let the baby know the food, this is also important”, explains the nutritionist. Therefore, the baby food is dispensed in the BLW method. A mixture of foods in the same texture, says Carol, prevents the child from learning to differentiate flavors.
As we talked at the table, a piece of boiled pumpkin crumbled between Matteo’s little fingers, and he brought his smeared food hand to his mouth with gusto. “Kneading, feeling the texture of the food, this is all a food introduction too, not necessarily just eating,” he says.
So at mealtime, there’s no stress to force Matteo to eat everything on his plate. “The child knows when he is satisfied, it is not good to force, because it ends up leaving him not knowing when to stop eating”, says Carol. “And then they became adults who don’t know how to stop eating”, she reflects. With no pressure, Matteo ate everything on his plate and even ordered dessert.
Despite the criticism, the nutritionist’s family respects the method Carol chose for the food introduction of Matteo. “I thought it would be worse,” she confesses. At family gatherings, when they say that the baby will be “in the mood” to eat sweets or some ultra-processed food, Carol explains that “children don’t feel like things they’ve never eaten.”
“They don’t know what a food is, it’s all new to them and they’re curious,” says Carol. “It’s like a new toy,” she compares her.
Food, however, has its social aspect. In order not to exclude her son from important moments of socialization with the family, Carol brings healthy options so that he can participate in all meals, even those with foods he cannot eat yet. For a birthday party, she made a date candy with cocoa with a texture similar to that of a brigadeiro.
“There are people who say ‘I gave it and my son didn’t die’, but the consequences are long-term”, he explains. “People think that if they give something they can’t, the problem will appear later, but it will appear throughout life, such as obesity, eating disorders. There is a lot of belief around the introduction of food and outdated guidance from professionals who are not nutritionists.”
Away from her profession since her pregnancy, Carol found an opportunity to return to the job market at this stage of her son’s life. On Instagram and TikTok, she created a profile to record Matteo’s meals and ask questions about food introduction. This is how @nenemdanutri was born on social media.
Before becoming a mother, Carol worked in an office and her focus was in the area of sports nutrition. Today, she has no plans to return to that routine.
“I did it to feel more in the profession and also to register this moment”, says Carol. “It just started to take on proportions I didn’t imagine,” says the nutritionist, who already has 58,000 followers on Instagram and 332,000 on TikTok. Most who follow Carol are mothers — a small portion are parents or caregivers of young children — but regardless of whether they have children, it’s almost impossible to resist a video of Matteo eating.
It was one of those cute videos that went viral and made Carol famous — she was even recognized on the street with her baby. In the video in question, Matteo spit out a piece of chicken and the mother was criticized in the comments for letting the baby eat pieces. Carol then decided to make lemonade out of lemons. She took advantage of her 15 minutes of fame to talk more about BLW.
“Sometimes I get worried about Matteo’s exposure on the internet”, she confesses. “But I think being able to take information and help several mothers is superior to this concern.”