There is so much to cover here, I am breaking this post down into two. In this post, I will cover when you should start introducing those table foods and how to begin the process. In Part 2, I will discuss how to completely leave baby food behind and what your feeding schedule will probably look like around this age.
As a mom, each time I had to transition both my boys onto table foods I was frustrated and overwhelmed. Hmm, maybe I shouldn’t admit that, I am an OT, I know how to do this, right? Well, yes I do, but it was still a challenging time as a mother. (I have mentioned that I’m Type A, change is hard for me!) The little routine you had starts to shift, as they are also beginning to wean from breast or bottle and learn to drink from some type of cup. As parents we worry, “Are they eating enough?”. With jarred food you can really quantify how much they have eaten, but it gets a little blurry when half of the diced up food you give them is on the floor. My point is, I have been there! Okay, let’s get going with the basics…
A week or two before you begin to introduce solids, start to thicken their baby food. Thicker foods require more movement of the tongue and muscles in the mouth, which helps lay a good foundation for moving a solid piece of food around in their mouth.
If you are making your own baby food (get the DIY here), then add less water or liquid when pureeing and be on stage 2 if you are using jarred food. Some stage 3 type foods would be great as long as it doesn’t have a mixed texture. Many of the jarred variety have whole pieces of food mixed in with the puree, don’t go there– yet. That is putting the cart before the horse. For now, stick with smooth purees, gradually increasing their thickness. You can also increase thickness by adding cereal or freshly pureed foods into jarred baby foods.
Also, begin to dramatically chew for your baby. Show them how you put a small piece of food into your mouth using your hand and leave your mouth open so they can see what you’re doing. It may take finding the right moment to get their attention, but this will help peak their interest, as well as teach them what they should do when you hold that piece of food up to them for the first time.
When to Get Started
Generally speaking, a good time to start for most babies is around 8-9 months. However, it may be later for your child, especially if they were a preemie. You will know they aren’t quite ready if they refuse, gag, or cough a lot when you try. That’s okay, don’t be discouraged, this just means you will need to take it slower and consistently offer safe foods they won’t choke on.
For other babies, it may be even earlier. As an OT, I can’t recommend starting earlier, but of course it is your choice if you feel they are ready. It is likely that they will be mostly swallowing (not chewing) most of the food though.
What the First Food Should Be
The best first table food to give your child is Gerber Puffs. No, I am not getting any kickbacks for saying that! I have tried a few other brands, but the texture of the Gerber variety is great for beginners. Puffs are perfect because they are hard and crunchy initially, which helps babies realize there is something in their mouth and how to keep track of it once it is in there. Some people think to start soft with something like eggs or banana. Not bad logic, but because those foods are so soft, babies have a hard time feeling exactly where it is in their mouth. The wonderful thing about puffs is that they dissolve in saliva in just a few seconds. So, if your babe doesn’t chew and just tries to swallow they aren’t going to choke on it. That is peace of mind.
Puffs are also great because they can be broken into really small pieces for those first attempts with nervous parents. And, babies can pick them up easily!
Stick with these for a few days to a week, until you can see them munching up and down with their jaw. Ideally, they should be feeding themselves the puffs, too, but don’t let that be a deal breaker on moving forward.
Once they get the hang of puffs, try small pieces of other foods that dissolve really quickly. Some examples are: Town House Crackers (not Ritz), Graham Crackers, Cheese Puffs, and Baby Mums Mums. I know these are not the healthiest of options, but in terms of safety and learning to chew they are the best. If you aren’t sure if something is safe, do a taste test yourself. How quickly does it dissolve compared to a puff? How much do you need to chew it?
As your child manages these foods well, you can start with soft foods like bananas, noodles, cheese, breads, and overly cooked veggies in a cube shape.
- Once you begin introducing table foods, offer one at each meal. Then, slowly increase the variety of foods they are eating as they are managing more foods.
- Continue to steadily increase the thickness of baby foods as you progress with table foods. If you aren’t making your own baby foods try pureeing what you are eating for dinner or mix this into the jarred baby food. This will help get your child used to more textures and tastes.
- Carefully monitor all new foods. Some coughing and an occasional gag is normal. If you are seeing this frequently, the texture you are giving them may be too difficult for them. Wait a week or so before introducing it again and then proceed slowly. Discuss persistent gagging and choking with your doctor.