Introducing table foods to a baby and troubleshooting what to do when babies and toddlers won’t eat finger foods is A LOT to talk about, which is why you’ll find this is a 2-part series. In this Part-1, I will cover when and how to start introducing table foods to your baby. In Part 2, I will discuss how to completely leave baby food behind, what your feeding schedule will probably look like around this age, and what to do if your baby won’t eat table or finger foods.
WARNING: Patience Required
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 a feeding therapist, I know how to do this, right? Well, yes I do, but it was still a challenging time as a mother. 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 (ideally a straw 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. It’s tempting to stop moving forward and just keep up with baby food or allow yourself to worry to no end. Patience is a must to not lose your mind, and I say this as someone’s who has a reputation of lacking the virtue.
My best advice, is to take heart and know its all part of the process. Remember that until 1 year of age their milk source (breast milk or formula) is their main source of nutrition. This is why people say, “food before one is just for fun.” We want to teach our babies how to eat table and finger foods so they have the skill, but not get stuck on how much they are actually eating. This is an exciting time, and its absolutely adorable when your chubby little baby is gnawing on a bread stick or getting puffs stuck on their face!
Now that you’re in the right frame of mind let’s dive into the details of when and how to introduce table foods to your baby!
When Can Babies Eat Table and Finger Foods?
Generally speaking, a good time to start introducing table foods 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, sometimes at 7 months. As a feeding therapist, I can’t recommend starting too much 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. If you’re thinking about baby led weaning, check out my pros and cons of BLW.
One really important word of caution is to NOT wait too long to start transitioning to table foods. Babies will instinctively chew until around 11 months old, and those learning opportunities with food from 8-10 months are incredibly valuable in them eating as toddlers.
Step #1 to Transitioning to Table foods
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. Be on stage 2 baby food if you are using store bought. Beware that some stage 3 type foods are great because they are thicker, but 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 its really important to stick with smooth purees, gradually increasing their thickness, as your baby tolerates it. NO CHUNKS.
I’d also recommend increasing the thickness of store bought baby food by adding cereal (this is one of my favorites) or freshly pureed foods into jarred baby foods.
Step #2 to Introducing Table Foods to Your Baby
Once you start thickening their foods, it would also be great to start eating your own food at a meal, if you aren’t already. Your baby will watch what you do and learn a lot from it. When you see that you have their attention begin to dramatically chew for them, even with your mouth open. Show them how you put a small piece of food into your mouth using your hand and give some really big chews. 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.
Step #3 Introducing the Very First Table Food
The very first time you give your baby an actual table food, you’ll want to try and pick a time with little distractions and that you have the best attention they can give you. Make sure they are seated in their high chair, because this keeps them in a safe position and will help prevent choking. Read about how to make sure your baby is seated safely for eating.
Place the food (see below for the best food start with) on their tray and allow them to touch and explore it for a few minutes. Some babies will pick it up and put right into their mouth, depending on their age. While that is certainly ideal, your baby may be interested but may need some more help.
First, demonstrate picking it up and putting it into your mouth. Then, pick up a piece and put it into their mouth, right where their molars will be. If they munch up and down and swallow you can offer more bites. However, on first attempt some babies cough or gag. Other babies will spit it out. Be encouraging, peaceful (they will sense your stress, hide it if you are), and know when to call it quits. Often it may take a few meals over a few days before babies get the hang of it. This is where the patience comes in!
Before we move on, we need to talk about what that first should be. I’m getting really specific about this, and for good reason…
The Best First Finger or Table Food for Babies
The best first table food to give your child is Gerber Puffs, its what I always use. 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.
It may seem to make sense 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. For some babies this means they will refuse table foods and for others it means they aren’t chewing and just swallowing.
The wonderful thing about puffs is that they dissolve in saliva in just a few seconds. So, if your baby doesn’t chew while they are learning to eat and they 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!
When Can Babies Eat Puffs?
Remember that puffs are a table food or finger food, so it follows the same rule as above. The average age when babies are ready to eat puffs is around 8 months, sometime it’s 9 months, and other times it’s 7 months. It really depends on your babies interest and skills. You’ll likely have a gut instinct on the “right” time.
If you aren’t sure you’ll definitely want to try by early in the 9th month, and you can take a small piece of one and place it on their back gums, as a first step. If they accept it easily and munch up and down, they are ready… of course this may take a couple of attempts and this is where demonstrating can be helpful again, just like I described in step 3 above.
Step #4 to Transitioning Baby to Table Foods
Stick with puffs for a few days to a week, until you can see them munching up and down with their jaw most of the time. Ideally, they should be feeding themselves the puffs, too, but don’t let that be a deal breaker on moving forward. You’ll want to offer the puffs at every meal they eat, along side their baby food. Find baby feeding schedules for 8, 9, and 10 month olds here and 11-14 months here.
Once you and your baby are enjoying puffs, you’ll want to try small pieces of other foods that dissolve really quickly. Some examples are: Town House Crackers (not Ritz, this texture actually requires more chewing), Graham Crackers, Teething Wafers, 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 a finger food is safe, do a taste test yourself. How quickly does it dissolve compared to a puff? How much do you need to chew it?
Step #5 to Transitioning from Baby Food to Table Food
As your child eats a variety of crunchy but melt-able foods well, then you can start with soft foods like bananas, noodles, cheese, breads, and overly cooked veggies in a cube shape. You can also try these cubed “jellies” or little frittatas, that are perfect for this stage too. It may take a few days or weeks before you’re ready to move onto these soft foods.
When your baby is eating several cracker like foods and several soft foods you can pull back from giving as much baby food and even not offer at all some meals. We’ll talk more about this in Part 2 of Transitioning Your Baby to Table Food!
Important Tips for Transitioning Easily to Table Foods
- 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. I love using a magic bullet for this!
- 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.