Until now, feeding your baby has been your job. But as your baby gets older, your
little one will want to do this more and more on his or her own.
When babies begin feeding themselves — a new task most really enjoy —
they'll find that they like trying new tastes and textures. No longer are baby purees
and mushy cereals the only things on the menu.
By the time they're 9 months old, most babies have developed the fine motor skills
— the small, precise movements — needed to pick up small pieces of food
and feed themselves. You may notice that yours can take hold of food (and other small
objects) between forefinger and thumb in a pincer grasp. The pincer grasp starts out
a little clumsy, but with practice soon evolves into a masterful and efficient skill.
Allow your child to self-feed as much as possible, though you'll still be helping
out by spoon-feeding cereal and other important dietary elements. Encouraging finger
feeding helps your child develop independent, healthy eating habits.
Finger feeding — and using utensils a little later — gives babies a
measure of control over what they eat and how much. Sometimes they'll eat the food,
sometimes not, and that's all part of the process of learning self-regulation. Even
little kids can tell when they're hungry or full, so let them learn to recognize and
respond to these cues.
What Should a Baby Eat?
Now that they're joining the rest of the family for meals, older babies are ready
— and often willing — to try more table foods.
This means more work for whoever is preparing the meals for the family, but dishes
often can be adapted for the baby. For instance, your little one can have some of
the zucchini you're making for dinner as long as you cook that portion just a bit
longer — until it's soft — and cut it into pieces that are small enough
for the baby to handle. Pieces of ripe banana, well-cooked pasta, and small pieces
of chicken are other good choices.
Before presenting your child with a finger food, try a bite first and ask yourself:
Does it melt in the mouth? Some dry cereals and crackers that are light and flaky
will melt in the mouth.
Is it cooked enough so that it mushes easily? Well-cooked veggies and fruits will
mush easily, as will canned fruit and vegetables (choose ones without added sugar
Is it naturally soft? Cottage cheese, shredded cheese, and small pieces of tofu
are good examples.
Can it be gummed? Pieces of ripe banana and well-cooked pasta can be gummed.
Is it small enough? Food should be cut into small pieces. The sizes will vary
depending on the food's texture. A piece of chicken, for instance, needs to be smaller
than a piece of watermelon, which even a pair of baby gums will quickly smash.
If your child doesn't like a food, don't let that stop you from offering it at
future meals. Kids are naturally slow to accept new tastes and textures. For example,
some are more sensitive to texture and may reject coarse foods, such as meat. When
introducing meat, it's helpful to start with well-cooked ground meats or shreds of
thinly sliced deli meats, such as turkey.
Present your baby with a variety of foods, even some that he or she didn't seem
to like the week before. Don't force your baby to eat, but realize that it can take
10 or more tries before a child will accept a new food.
Finger Foods to Avoid
Finger feeding is fun and rewarding for older babies, but it's important to avoid
foods that can cause choking and those with little nutritional value.
Parents and caregivers can help prevent choking by supervising the baby during
eating. Foods that are choking hazards include:
pieces of raw vegetables or hard fruits
whole grapes, berries, cherry or grape tomatoes (instead, peel and slice or cut
raisins and other dried fruit
peanuts, nuts, and seeds
large scoops of peanut butter and other nut or seed butters (use only a thin layer)
whole hot dogs and kiddie sausages (peel and cut these in very small pieces)
untoasted bread, especially white bread that sticks together
popcorn, pretzels, corn chips, and other snack foods
Hold the Sweets
At first bite, your baby probably will love the taste of cookies, cake, and other
sweets, but do not introduce them now. Your little one needs to eat nutrient-rich
foods instead of consuming empty calories found in desserts and high-fat snacks, such
as potato chips.
It's tempting to want to see the baby's reactions to some of these foods, but now
is not the time. Grandparents and others may want to rush your baby into trying triple-chocolate
cake or some other family favorite. Politely and firmly explain that the baby isn't
ready for those foods. You can blame this tough love on your child's doctor —
the doctor won't mind.