transitioning baby's eating

I’ve gotten a lot of questions lately regarding introducing chunky & textured solids, offering finger foods and when to transition away from purees entirely.  Below is an update on Olivia’s eating habits as well as some common questions answered in regard to each of these topics, plus a layout of the common stages of food progression for reference.

Update on Olivia’s Eating Habits
Olivia got her first teeth around 10.5 months and they all came at once. She went from 0 to 4 teeth in a matter of two weeks. Until then, I hesitated to introduce finger foods and I had difficulty with encouraging her to feed herself because she still couldn’t chew anything unless it was extremely soft. Once her teeth came in, around 11 months, we really amped up the amount of chunky solids she received and began the process of transitioning away from purees and toward all solids and finger foods.

I couldn’t expect Olivia to eat bites of chicken and other meats that required chewing if she didn’t have any teeth to break the food down with, so I waited until I felt confident in her abilities because adequate protein is so critical in a baby's diet. And although this meant baby purees longer than I initially anticipated, it also saved us a lot of frustration because when I did introduce  diced food and finger foods, since Olivia was actually able to mash thicker textures and begin feeding herself, chewing & eating everything I offered. Around 9-10 months, I started offering purees with chunkier textures and around 11 months I began offering finger foods and Olivia began to feed herself independently.

>> Olivia’s Timeline <<

6 months: Introduced Solids [Stage 1]

8 months: Began introducing mashed foods [Stage 2[

9 months: Introduced Sippy Cup + Water

10 months: Amped up chunky solids which required Olivia to mash food using her gums [before she had any teeth] and added in some finely diced food [Stage 3]

11 months: Olivia went from 0-4 teeth [2 top + 2 bottom] & I began transitioning away from purees while simultaneously introducing finger foods, 60% chunky purees +  40% finger foods // I also introduced a straw using our favorite Lollacup [Stage 3-4]

12 months: Olivia got two more teeth [on top] and perfected her pincer grasp, so we moved to about 70% finger foods + 30% chunky purees [Stage 4]

Where We’re At Now: At nearly 13 months old, Olivia loves to feed herself finger foods and hold a spoon. I still offer some chunky purees [with cod, salmon, chicken and turkey] because self-feeding and chewing meat has been tricky for her and I want to be sure she is getting adequate protein. Meats are the most difficult part for her to chew because she hasn’t gotten her first molars in yet. 80% finger foods/self feeding + 20% chunky purees [Stage 5]

Chunky Solids & Finger Foods

On average, most parents introduce chunky solids when their babies reach 8-9 months, but it all depends on how many teeth a baby has and how they are tolerating their smooth purees. 
[Note: If you are doing Baby Led Weaning, the process is entirely different].

Finger foods may be introduced in conjunction with chunkier solids, around 8-9 months, but some parents choose to wait until 10-12 months. The only real answer? There is no “right” time or age to introduce either, because every baby is different. If only there was a clear cut solution, right?

The natural progression of solids is:
Stage 1: Pureed Food // Often single ingredients, given around 6 months of age
[Pureed sweet potato, pureed avocado, any pureed fruit or vegetable]

Stage 2: Mashed Food // 1-3 ingredients after you have established no allergies, often 6.5-7 months of age
[An example of this would be avocado + egg yolk + banana mashed together for a baby’s breakfast]

Stage 3: Finely Diced Food // Often 8-10 months of age depending on the baby
[Any soft food diced into tiny pieces that are no larger than a kernel of corn]

Stage 4: Finger Food // 9-12 months of age depending on your baby
[Any soft food cut into pieces about the size of a dime]

Stage 5: Increased Self Feeding // Reached after a baby has successfully accomplished finger foods, considered when about 80% of a baby’s diet comes from what they feed themselves rather than what is fed to them
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 solid food; you still may need 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 him or her larger meals

Stage 6: Table Food // This is what you are ultimately working toward: when your baby can eat exactly what the rest of the family eats and there is no longer a need to prepare special meals for your child.
At this stage, you will be teaching your child to feed him- or herself with utensils & for most babies, this stage begins between 12 and 15 months.

Chunky & Textured Solids
 [Chunky or textured solids = purees that are not completely smooth and that have larger pieces of soft food in them that require a baby to mash before swallowing or foods that are mashed into chunks but are not a smooth consistency]

When to Introduce Chunky + Textured Solids
1.     When your baby has been eating smooth purees for 2-3 months and tolerating it well
2.     When your baby is showing interest in eating something beyond purees whether by watching adults eat, reaching for table food, etc.

The How To:
Once you child shows the beginning of up and down chewing movement, mashed foods can be introduced, either directly into purees or separately. Increase the amount of chunky foods gradually; you can either use a fork to mash the food or a quick run in a food processor but leaving texture

Keep in Mind…
Babies don’t necessarily have to have a lot of teeth to tolerate more texture in their foods since they can often gum soft foods very well

When transitioning from smooth purees to chunky purees, the chunks of food should still be very soft

The first teeth a baby gets are not made for chewing, they are just for biting [which makes sense that they are at the front of the mouth and not the back]

There is often a window of opportunity [around 9-12 months] in which it will be much easier for your baby to learn to accept different textures

Finger Foods
 [Finger Foods = Bite-size foods that require a baby pick up and feed him- or herself and fully chew before swallowing]

When to Introduce Finger Foods

1.     When your baby shows they want to feed themselves by doing such things as grabbing a spoon or reaching for food off an adult plate
2.     When your baby has established an adequate Pincer Grasp
3.     Once your baby can handle chewing finely diced food [see above] and has had some practice with easy to grasp foods like rice puffs or cheerios

The How To:
Simply scatter a few pieces of finger food onto your baby’s highchair tray or plate. Let them figure it out by picking up food and bringing it to their mouth. If they aren’t sure what to do, try showing them. For awhile, I mimicked the motion while Olivia sat and watched. 

Keep in mind…
Baby Finger Foods should be “mash-able” between the gums

At first, babies “rake” food into their hand (and its pretty much the cutest thing ever!) but soon after they develop the Pincer Grasp, which allows them to pick up small objects between their thumb and forefinger. At that point, your baby can become a pro at self-feeding!

When starting out, finger foods will merely supplement your baby’s diet as he/she figures out the mechanics of self-feeding; some babies start out by just holding food in their fist and don’t actually move it to their mouth. Others place their hand flat against their mouth or put their food down and pick it up again with more food exposed.

Always supervise your baby when offering finger foods and still be sure to cut pieces small enough that they do not present a choking hazard

Self-feeding is often messy but because it is a learned skill, as a parent you must give your baby room to explore and enjoy it // To make it easier, use a proper high chair in a relaxed environment with no distractions

Try introducing finger foods once a day at first [1 meal] and then move to every meal. As adults, we forget the amount of energy, thinking and work that goes into self-feeding finger foods and if your baby is tired, sick, or teething, they may hesitate or fuss. I notice on certain days or certain times of the day, Olivia fusses and would rather eat a puree. It is often when she is extra tired and feeding herself seems like too much work.

Be flexible and let your baby learn at his or her own pace. If the first few times it isn’t successful, keep trying. I remember offering finger foods to Olivia around 8 months and she had no interest. I tried again at 9 months and again, no interest. I waited a few weeks and tried a third time and it was so natural for her and she loved it. It is all about trial and error!

As with any milestone in your baby’s life, it is less about when they accomplish it and more about successfully accomplishing the previous stage before moving onto the next. If a baby isn’t tolerating chunky foods well, even at 11 months, don’t move onto finger foods solely because of their age. Give them time to accomplish the stage they are in before moving onto the next one. It will set them up for maximum success and save you a lot of stress! Every baby is different and every stage is fun!

Stay tuned for posts coming soon all about When to Introduce a Sippy Cup, Our Favorite Finger Foods and an upcoming series on Toddler Meals kicking off in August as part of the Fall Showcase!

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