Early on in my parenting journey, I was very lucky to attend an amazing talk on infant nutrition given during the Parent and Infant Drop-in at the JBCC. The primary focus of this talk was the introduction of solid food, and I credit this talk with giving me the confidence to feed Z such a wide variety of foods and textures before he turned a year old. The thing that made the talk so incredible was the visual aids. The nurse who led the talk, Kit, brought in samples of food from her own fridge that she had prepared so that they were a suitable texture for a baby just starting to eat solid foods. The most helpful visual aid of all was the plate of banana prepared a variety of ways. It really helped me to visualize the ways I would need to prepare food for Z as he grew and became more adept at eating and feeding himself.
I made my own version of this banana plate and photographed it so that I could pass this information on to those parents out there who are wondering how and when to introduce chunkier foods to their wee ones. This knowledge made such a difference for me that I just couldn’t keep it to myself.
Please note, you don’t have to go through each of these steps using bananas. I simply chose banana so that you could easily compare the differences between the textures at various stages for yourself. But regardless of the food you choose to use, at every stage you should be using soft fruits, vegetables and grain products. Fruits and veggies should either be cooked until fork-tender or very ripe and soft. Grain products should either be soft or dissolve easily in the child’s mouth. When it comes to meat, you will probably want to mince or finely dice it for quite some time as it is difficult for babies without a lot of teeth to chew most cuts of meat.
And no matter what stage your baby is at and no matter how adept your baby becomes at eating, always make sure you watch your child throughout his meal and be sure to feed him in an upright seated position. Allowing your child to eat while playing or while riding in the car or stroller puts him at a far greater risk for choking than introducing chunkier food. As an extra precaution, I recommend you take St. John’s Ambulance’s Save That Child course or a similar course so that you will know exactly what to do should the worst case scenario arise.
STAGE ONE: Pureed Food
When you first introduce your baby to solids at around six months of age, you will want to stick to single ingredient purees and very runny baby cereal. This stage will last at least a couple weeks. Once your baby can remove food from the spoon well (i.e. more food ends up in baby’s mouth than on baby’s face/bib/hands/high chair/caregiver), move the food around in his mouth with his tongue and can swallow the food well, you can begin to introduce some texture to his food.
STAGE TWO: Mashed Food
At this point, your baby is probably 6.5 to 7 months old. You should still be feeding your baby single-ingredient foods and can continue to introduce a new food every two or three days. The easiest way to introduce lumpier textures is to mix thicker baby cereal and then move on to mashed fruits and veggies from there. Food prep gets a little easier here because foods that are already soft, like avocado and banana, can just be mashed with a fork–a lot less equipment to clean up than at the puree stage. Feeding your baby exclusively mashed foods need only last a few weeks as well. Once you have introduced enough foods to start mixing ingredients together, your baby is probably ready for small pieces of food though there will still be room for purees and mashes in baby’s diet. If you, as an adult, would normally eat that food pureed or mashed, that’s how you should feed it to your baby (e.g. mashed potatoes, apple sauce).
STAGE THREE: Finely Diced Food
We began this stage with Z when he was about 7 months old. During this stage, you will begin to feed baby small pieces of food so that she learns to chew it a bit before swallowing. If you’re worried that your baby will choke because she won’t be able to chew food without teeth, just put your finger in her mouth and let her bite it. I think you’ll quickly learn just how powerful baby gums can be. At this stage, you can begin mixing ingredients together (I loved making Z little fruit salads). Pieces of finely diced food should be no bigger than a kernel of corn. Smaller foods like rice, lentils, peas, etc. can be fed to your baby without any cutting. At this stage you can also offer your baby a few finger foods that are dry and easy to grasp like Cheerios, but don’t expect her to be able to feed herself full meals just yet. She’ll need lots of practice. During this stage, I would put a handful of Cheerios on the tray of Z’s high chair so that he could entertain himself while I got his meal together.
STAGE FOUR: Finger Food
Once your baby can handle chewing and has had a little practice with easy to grasp foods like Cheerios, he’s ready to start feeding himself at least part of his meal. For Z, this stage came in his seventh month. Soft ripe or well-cooked fruits and veggies cut into pieces about the size of a dime work well. You can also start giving your baby crackers, teething biscuits, small pasta, toast fingers and similar bread products. You will need to supplement finger foods with spoon-fed foods until your baby’s pincer grasp develops more fully. If you want some ideas on getting started with finger foods, check out this earlier post.
STAGE FIVE: Increased Self Feeding
This is the stage that Z is at now (he’s 9 months old). He can pick things up easily with his fingers and about 80% of what he picks up makes it to his mouth. At this stage, you still have to cut food into pieces smaller than what you would eat yourself in order to prevent choking, but your child can handle fairly large chunks of soft food. You still need to be careful to cut meat quite small as it is harder to chew, but there is less need to mince it. Chances are your baby’s appetite is increasing and you will be feeding her larger meals as well.
STAGE SIX: Table Food
This stage is what you are ultimately working towards: the time when your baby can eat exactly what the rest of the family eats. There is no longer a need to prepare special food or meals for your child. You will be teaching your child to feed himself with utensils at this stage and will still need to cut pieces a little smaller than you would for yourself. For most babies, this stage begins around their first birthday.