Right when you think you have it down with purees, it’ll be time to start your baby on finger foods. But how will you know your child is ready?
Watch the baby, not the clock
The American Academy of Pediatrics and World Health Organization encourage parents to practice responsive feeding, a fancy term for feeding using your baby’s cues. They’re not only learning to eat, they’re learning about their relationship with food. Here are the cues you should look for:
Can tolerate thick purees
Shows signs of chewing
Around 8 to 9 months, the inferior pincer grasp begins to develop, when the sides of their index finger can touch the thumb, but are unable to lift their forearm off a surface. Any toys or activities that train them to pick up small objects will help them develop the pincer grasp more fully. Around 10 to 12 months, you’ll find a baby will fully develop the pincer grasp and they’ll be able to pinch small objects using the tips of their fingers versus the sides of their fingers. This is the moment to you can start introducing to finger foods.
The first step is to transition your baby to thick, smooth purees for a couple weeks before moving on to finger foods. This helps them become accustomed to chewing and prepares them for swallowing larger bites of food.
To start with finger foods, offer a couple cubes during mealtime alongside the thicker purees. The best first finger foods are soft, diced foods, like sweet potato or carrot served as soft cubes. At first, your baby will likely spend most of their time playing with the food. You can help them move the food into their mouths, but don’t force it. This is a very delicate stage, because for the first time, they’re choosing to eat on their own volition. A negative experience can create negative associations with food and food aversion.
Once your baby has a hold (no pun intended) of soft, diced foods, you can start to lessen the amount of purees they’re consuming while you add in foods of other textures, such as crunchy foods or mixed foods like quinoa bowls. At this point, you can also introduce utensils to teach them to how to eat table foods. Eventually, your baby will be eating enough table foods and finger foods that you can minimize the amount of purees, though you will still probably continue to offer it on the sides to help them get a healthy dose of nutrition (e.g., veggie dips, soups and smoothies).
The big picture
Like every learned experience, eating takes practice. Unlike what we’ve been told in the past, the best way to teach a child to have a healthy relationship with food is to play with food. And brace yourself, because even if you do everything right, your baby may still experience a picky period in which they’ll refuse certain foods. It takes on average 15 tries for a child to accept a new food. Most bouts of picky eating will fade by 2 years of age, but what will remain the food experiences they cultivated, their food preferences and the relationship they have with food.