Navigating a baby’s feeding stages can be exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time. It’s a joy watching your little one’s eyes light up with delight when she tastes apple sauce for the first time, but transitioning from baby food to table food can also feel terrifying in the beginning. When you introduce a new food, you want to feel sure she is really ready to handle that choice.
Knowing the signs that indicate your baby’s readiness to transition from breastmilk or formula to baby purees, then to finger food, and eventually to table food, can help guide you as your little one explores a thrilling new world of tastes and textures.
Starting Solids With Purees
Around four to six months of age, your baby—who has had breastmilk or formula as his only source of nutrition so far—will typically be ready to start adding pureed food to his diet. The right time to start introducing solid foods is based on your baby’s developmental milestones, like sitting upright without support, showing interest in food when a caregiver is eating, and growing out of the tongue-thrust reflex (which pushes unfamiliar foods out of the mouth to protect from choking). Babies usually enjoy pureed baby food or very soft foods like yogurt as their first solid mouthfuls.
To feed your baby, sit him upright, move a spoonful of puree to his lips, and make sure your camera is ready to capture the adorably Instagrammable moment.
Transitioning From Baby Food to Finger Food
As your baby becomes more independent, she will want to have more control over her feeding. While it may be frustrating to have little hands grabbing at the spoon while you’re trying to feed, this is a sign that your baby is growing up and is ready to start playing a more active role at mealtime. Once your baby starts using her pincer grasp–the ability to grab objects using the pad of her thumb and index finger—she should be ready to self-feed with foods like beans, puffs and certain cereals. Generally speaking, a good time to start introducing table food is around eight months of age.
To help with the transition from eating only baby food to self-feeding with finger food, your little one can start off with a silicone self-feeder, which makes it easy to practice eating foods like orange slices and frozen berries. If offering an array of items, present them on a suction plate. This will keep your baby from accidentally turning the plate upside down–and ending up with the food all over his lap instead of in his belly. Caregivers can coat slippery foods like avocado and banana with crushed graham crackers to offer more traction for the baby’s grasp.
Introducing Table Food and Self-Feeding Utensils
Once your toddler has mastered self-feeding finger food, she may be ready to use utensils. The start of this transition begins with many feeding attempts that won’t quite make it to the baby’s mouth, but those tries are an important step to conquering the spoon and fork. Most babies don’t have the fine motor skills to feed themselves effectively using utensils until they’re around 15 to 18 months old.
To start transitioning your baby to table food and utensils, begin by modeling the action of scooping food onto a spoon and then bringing it to your mouth. Choose food options that will stay on the spoon if the baby turns it upside down–think mashed potatoes and oatmeal.
Then, show your baby how to do the same movement herself. Help your baby hold a silicone spoon, then guide her hand as she scoops up the food, and help her move it to her mouth. Finally, let your baby try the maneuver on her own over and over (and over and over) again.
As your baby is learning how to use utensils, know that the process can get messy. Dishes of food can land on the floor when your baby accidentally spills everything or throws a tantrum. Instead of using a standard plate, serving your baby her meal in a silicone bowl or on a plate with a weighted base and contoured walls can help keep the food where it’s meant to be—and ensure that those delicious bites end up in your baby’s mouth.
Looking for more ways to make mealtime less messy with a toddler? Check out these tips so you can avoid scrubbing your dining room down after every meal.