Because I want to give you a complete step by step plan, this post is part 1 of 2, in it you’ll learn when and how to start introducing table foods to your baby.
In part 2 of transitioning babies to table foods you’ll learn how to fully get your baby eating table foods without needing baby food any longer. As well as some helpful examples of a baby and toddler’s feeding schedule once they’re eating table foods. Lastly, you’ll find out what to do if your baby won’t eat table or finger foods.
You Need Patience for Transitioning from Baby Food to Table Food
As a mom, each time I had to transition my boys onto table foods, I was frustrated and overwhelmed even though I’m a feeding therapist that had helped many families through it before. It’s different when you’re the mom living it day in and day out.
Experiencing that as a mom showed me how challenging it can be. The little baby food 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 know exactly how much they’ve 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 serving table foods and to focus baby food because you know how much they’re eating – but there’s a problem with that as you’ll learn shortly.
This process does require some patience because your baby is learning a new skill, something I had to remind myself of quite often.
My best advice as a mom and OT is to take heart and know it’s 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 it’s 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 Do Babies Start Eating Table Food?
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.
If you’re nervous about how to handle gagging or your baby is gagging a lot on foods, head to Everything You Need to Know About Baby Gagging.
For other babies, they may start eating table foods 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 critical word of caution is to NOT wait too long to start transitioning to table foods. Babies will instinctively chew from 7-8 months to around 11 months old, which means the transition will come easier. Check out this Weekly Meal Plan of Table Foods For Your Baby or Toddler to help give you ideas.
Waiting past 10 months unless your child has developmental delays, a diagnosis, swallowing difficulties, or was born prematurely can make transitioning to table foods even harder when they’re a toddler. See this chart as a quick reference:
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Step #1: Transitioning to Table foods
Some signs your baby is ready for this transition are:
- Looking at or grabbing your food
- Making a chewing motion with their mouth when they watch you eat
- Picking up small objects
- Are 8-9 months old. See 9 Month Old Baby Food + Table Food Ideas.
Remember, you want to start this by 10 months, even if you aren’t seeing some of these signs as long as they don’t have any of the reasons listed in the previous section to delay the start of 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’re making your own baby food (get the DIY here), then add less water or liquid when pureeing. Use stage 2 baby food if you’re buying premade baby food.
Beware that some stage 3 type foods are great because they are thicker, but many of the jarred varieties 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, it’s crucial to stick with smooth purees, gradually increasing their thickness, as your baby tolerates it. NO CHUNKS.
The mixed in chunks can cause gagging and a negative experience. It’s actually harder for babies to eat than table foods. Babies that eat chunks in their baby food well are just swallowing it all without chewing.
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: Eating Table Foods to Teach Your Baby
Once you start thickening their baby food, it would also be great to start eating at the same time you feed your baby, 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. It may take finding the right moment to get their attention, but this will help pique their interest in table foods, as well as teach them what they should do when you hold that piece of food up to them for the first time.
The Best First Table Food for Babies
Before we move on, you need to know what table food to offer your baby. A great place to start, and the best choice for a lot of babies first table food is a meltable puff. I’ve used Gerber puffs many times, but there are so many brands just test whatever type of puff you buy by letting it sit in your mouth and seeing how quickly it dissolves.
The dissolving factor is important because if your baby doesn’t chew the puff, it will dissolve in their saliva.
Puffs are perfect because they are hard and crunchy initially, which helps babies realize there is something in their mouth. That crunchy texture also helps them find it and maneuver it around in their mouth.
It may seem to make sense to start with a soft table food 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 if needed. And, babies can pick them up easily! Read more in when can babies eat cheerios and puffs? (Cheerios are much later, they don’t dissolve)
Step #3: Introducing Table Foods to Your Baby
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 can give them your full attention.
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 table food 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 may need some more help.
If they aren’t putting the table food into their mouth, 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. Or, if they’re holding the food gently guide their hand towards their mouth for them as you smile reassuringly.
If they munch up and down and swallow, you can offer more bites.
However, on the first attempt, some babies cough or gag. Other babies will spit it out. Be encouraging, peaceful (they will sense your stress, fake it if you have to), 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.
If your baby turns their head or pushes your arm away when you try to put the food in their mouth then respect that and don’t force it. They may need some more exploration with the food first.
Step #4: Transitioning Baby to Table Foods
Continue to offer puffs for a few days to a week at every meal alongside their pureed food, 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 can help them put the puffs in the mouth as long as they’re willingly opening their mouth. Find baby feeding schedules for 8, 9, and 10 month olds here and 11-14 months here.
Once your baby is 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, Baby Cheese Puffs, rice husks, and other stage 1 table foods you find in the baby aisle at the grocery store.
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: 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.
When your baby is eating several cracker like foods and several soft foods, you can pull back from giving as much baby food and perhaps skip the baby food at some meals. As they eat more and more of the table foods you’ll serve less and less baby food, skipping it more and more until you no longer need it.
To learn more about helping your baby or toddler transition to table foods completely, while avoiding some common pitfalls, grab a free seat in my online workshop (I’ll email you the link of where to watch) by click below:
Important Tips for Transitioning Baby to Table Foods Easily
- Once you begin introducing table foods, offer one table food 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.
Free Printable: Learn How to Eat Table Foods Cheat Sheet!!
Want to have all these steps in your hands so you can reference them in a heartbeat? We’ve got you covered you’ll find all the steps for transitioning your baby or toddler to table foods in this handy free printable:
More on Transitioning Baby to Table Foods from Your Kid’s Table
Alisha Grogan is a licensed occupational therapist and founder of Your Kid’s Table. She has over 18 years experience with expertise in sensory processing and feeding development in babies, toddlers, and children. Alisha also has 3 boys of her own at home. Learn more about her here.