Your baby’s first year is one of the most exciting, adventurous periods for you both. On the menu of skills your baby will learn is how to eat solid foods. While much of the way your child develops is up to mother nature, some of it is up to, well, mother—you!
To make sure your baby’s early feeding experiences go smoothly, it’s important to have strategies for introducing solids and helping your baby bite, chew and swallow safely. But you’ll also want to help expand your baby’s palate, right from the beginning. Try these expert- and mom-approved tips on the best first foods for your baby, and start growing an enthusiastic little foodie in the very first year.
In order for your baby to enjoy mealtime and eat safely, he needs to be able to sit upright comfortably for at least a short time, in a position that allows for good head control. “Fine motor skills like biting, chewing and swallowing or self-feeding require baby’s trunk to be stable and secure in the high chair,” says Melanie Potock, a Colorado-based pediatric feeding specialist and speech-language pathologist. Since the ideal time to start solids is at four to six months, a time when babies come in all sizes and grow quickly, she recommends a high chair that grows with your baby, like the Sprout Chair.
Choosing the right spoon is important when introducing your baby to her first foods and developing her eating skills. Potock recommends a spoon that’s not only the right size for her mouth, but also holds just enough — and not too much — food in each bite, like a spoon with a soft silicone coating. Hold the spoon in your baby’s mouth, even for just a second or two, to allow her lips to close down fully around it, which will help develop the muscles in the mouth.
Offer Realistic Food Portions
It’s not uncommon for parents to wonder how to introduce new foods to their babies. Initially, when your baby is trying a new food, he probably isn’t going to eat that much of it. Abby Daniels, a mom of two in Southern California, has learned not to expect her kids to eat any specific amount that meets a “guideline.” Instead, her go-to move is to give her kids an amount that looks and feels like a victory (i.e. one blueberry, instead of an intimidating handful). “When they’re ready, they’ll ask for more of what they like,” she says.
Serve a Variety of Flavors and Safe Foods
For babies learning to self-feed, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends soft, squishable foods, like slices of ripe avocado or soft steamed vegetables that a baby can hold in her little fist or mouth. Offer your baby a mix of sweet and savory options accompanied by a variety of herbs and subtle spices, to help develop her interest in flavors. A Silicone Self-Feeder can be a big help. It can soothe your baby when she’s teething and help her start to explore harder-to-eat foods, like strawberries, bananas or pieces of frozen fruit.
Monkey see, monkey do. If you want your little one to chow down food like a pro (aka his mommy or daddy), you have to show him how it’s done. During the first year, it’s crucial for your baby to develop imitation skills around language, speech and motor advancement, Potock says. Watching adults eat is key. Eat with your little one so he can see you bite, chew and swallow foods. And don’t forget to smile and show how much you’re enjoying the flavors.
Embrace the Mess
Some foods are messier to eat than others, and that’s definitely the case when your six-month-old is figuring out how to insert them into his mouth. A Roll-Up Bib helps keep food off the table, the floor and your baby’s clothes — but at the end of the day, babies are babies. Relax and embrace the glorious mess, whether your baby is self- or spoon-feeding. “Feeling the texture of smashed sweet potato on his cheeks and between his fingers helps him learn what that texture will feel like in his mouth,” says Potock.
Never Give Up
While it can be frustrating to deal with your baby’s picky palate, don’t give up on expanding what your child eats. Remember, your child’s tastes don’t just evolve over time; they can change day to day. Daniels’s strategy is to keep offering, and keep trying. “One day, suddenly you’ll pick them up from school and they won’t want to leave because they’re too busy eating apples,” she says, “even though they hated them up until that moment—true story!”
Check out OXO’s blog for lots more tips and advice on feeding baby new foods.