There are many stages of feeding that toddlers go through. Some are still on baby food, while others eat table food with a limited variety. Some parents say their toddlers won’t eat what they eat, and others say they are afraid to offer table food for fear of choking. There’s a lot of nutrition education that still needs to happen for parents of young children, especially in the area of advancing to solid foods.
Babies and young toddlers have a fast learning curve when it comes to eating solid foods. From ages 6 months to 1 year, babies move from pureed food to table food. They also learn to feed themselves and drink from a cup. That’s a lot of learning in 6 months!
If a parent holds a baby back from advancing along the solid food spectrum, several things may happen: baby may tire of the daily food offering;, show more signs of pickiness for longer periods of time; or be disinterested in eating. One study even showed that parents who held off on upgrading textures — waiting to introduce lumpy foods until after nine months — had children with more feeding problems at age seven than those parents who introduced lumpy solids between 6-9 months.
How do you know if your child is ready for more challenges in the food department? Here are some of the telltale signs it’s time to move on (and never look back):
By six months of age, most babies are ready to begin eating pureed food. This typically consists of an iron-rich food such as iron-fortified baby cereal or pureed meat, as well as pureed vegetables and fruit. Around 8 months, many babies can use the pincer grasp to pick up food, and eats small pieces of solid food, along with mashed foods. During the last quarter of the first year, babies master self-feeding, chewing and swallowing. The second year showcases a mixed diet, mastering utensils, and a leap in food variety.
While all of these age milestones matter, so do the developmental skills that babies can demonstrate. For example, around 6 months, most babies have good head control and can sit with support, which helps keep them safe from choking. Between 5-9 months, baby can sit alone and may start crawling. The pincer grasp, or the ability to pick up objects with the thumb and forefinger, emerges at this time as well. From eight months on, babies transfer objects (not always food!) to their mouths.
While babies can be the right age and at the right point in their development to move along with more challenging foods, you’ll also want to see some interest in doing so from them. For example, a baby who eyes their parent’s food is demonstrating interest in trying it. The young toddler who reaches for mom’s plate, cup, or food is showing signs of readiness to explore and try something new.
Once babies are mobile — they crawl, scoot, or cruise around furniture — they become increasingly independent in their ability and desire to explore the world around them. Your baby may want to hold his or her own spoon or cup, demonstrating signs of feed himself or herself. Or, when your baby mouths and manipulates toys in his or her mouth, he or she is exploring the sensory nature of objects, which informs your child about different textures. Mouthing also helps develop the muscles for chewing more complex foods.
As you move with your baby through the first year of life, remember to watch for these signs and move along with your baby.
- Coulthard et al
- Delayed introduction of lumpy foods to children druing complementary feeding period affects child’s food acceptance and feeding at 7 years of age
- Maternal & Child Nutrition
- 2009; 5, 75-85.
Castle JL and Jacobsen MT
- Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School
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