Many parents don't realize that It is recommended to avoid or modify choking hazards until your child is 4 - that’s about the age when most kids have adequate oral-motor strength to properly handle these foods. Choking hazard foods are either very hard so difficult to chew, or they're round and juicy like grapes, cherries and cherry tomatoes, which more easily slide to the back of the mouth.
Even if your baby is eating anything and everything well, it's still need to avoid choking hazards. Of course, you as the parent have to decide which foods are best for your child - we just share the info so you are aware of the potential risks.
The most uncommonly known choking hazards are raw carrots and raw apples. We recommend cooking or shredding them with a cheese grater to make them safer.
A short list of choking hazards is below. A complete list with thorough safety explanations and precautions can be found in both of our online courses in a handy dandy printable.
Did you know that all of these “protein” foods are appropriate for 6 month olds who show readiness signs to eat?
Many protein foods like beef, poultry and fish are very high in heme (absorbable) iron and are recommended as a first food by the World Health Organization, American Academy of Pediatrics and Health Canada. Yes, babies without teeth can chew softly cooked meats - the trick is to use moisture while cooking! The Instant Pot and crockpot will be your friend - try cooking with low-sodium broth to keep the meat soft.
Yes, babies can digest meats despite some saying that they can’t. In fact, most current digestive health protocols for adults like the GAPS diet and AIP recommend meat as a first food. There’s a reason it’s recommended for babies too! Of course, not everyone eats meat - see vegetarian notes below.
Eggs aren’t high in absorbable iron but are a highly nutritive food that happen to be an allergen. Early, frequent exposure to allergens like eggs, shellfish and finned fish is critical for allergy prevention according to current recommendations. If your child has a higher risk for allergies due to family history, eczema or breast milk/formula tolerance issues, talk to your pediatrician or allergist first.
Vegetarian/vegan? Many non-animal foods like beans, lentils, whole grains and leafy greens are good sources of iron too. You’ll have to decide if you want to introduce seafood, eggs and dairy - all allergens - due to the importance of early and frequent exposure.
Are you lost on what to feed your baby? Are you interested in BLW, or infant self-feeding? Join the thousands of families worldwide who have taken our infant feeding course, which provides expert help from two feeding professionals who have a combined 45+ years of experience. We offer practical, non-judgmental, non-rigid tips that can help this work for you. Plus, we teach you how to set your baby up for competent eating for life (with elements of eating disorder prevention)! As a client you will gain access to our private Facebook group, and your course doesn’t expire as long as we are selling it! Use it for your next baby too!
Keep it simple, friends.
What did you have for breakfast today? One of our go-to’s is “egg in a hole” (and holy smokes, there are so many different names for this delightful meal!). Basically, cook an egg inside a buttered piece of bread and serve it with some fruit. Filling, balanced, and wholesome, but also absolutely delicious. Here’s how we make it:
Spices are recommended for babies.
For decades parents were advised to serve babies plain, unseasoned foods. Dietitians and feeding professionals are now realizing that in order for children to learn to enjoy a variety of flavors, we have to serve them a variety of flavors!
Of course, it's important to go easy on salt - we do recommend avoiding salting baby’s food until after 12 months when possible, as their kidneys are immature. A little salt is OK - they’ll likely get sodium in naturally salty foods or restaurant/packaged foods anyway. However, all other safe spices are fair game!
Does that mean baby can have spicy food too? Yes, but start small. Some babies love spicy food and will take to it well, while others may not enjoy it for months or years to come.
Spices aren’t just for flavor - they have health benefits too! Cinnamon may improve blood sugar, and turmeric has potent anti-inflammatory effects! We love pumpkin pie spice, which is a blend of cinnamon, ginger, lemon peel, nutmeg, cloves and cardamom, usually available during the holiday season (but we use it year-round). It’s awesome in oatmeal, yogurt, muffins, quick breads and coffee for you!
Raising adventurous eaters involves offering all types of safe textures, food shapes, and flavors. That means serving food both with and without spices/herbs, cooking it in various ways, and presenting it differently as often as you can. If you have our online course for infants, make sure to check out the Baby-led Weaning Grocery List for all the ways to safely serve foods from all food groups!
An easy way to get variety.
The salad bar can be your best friend in a pinch! This trick works for eaters of all ages too!
(If you’re unsure about how to let your baby feed themselves foods in their whole form like this, please check out our online Infant Course.)
Ideally, we serve ourselves (and thus our babies) a variety of foods every day, but sometimes life gets in the way and we end up eating the same things over and over again. One hack that has helped many of our clients is utilizing the salad bar to add variety to meals. Foods are already washed and pre-cut, and even though you pay more per pound, you may save money in the long run if you only need a few pieces.
This also works well for foods you need in small quantities for a recipe or for packing your older kiddo’s lunch in a hurry. We use the Whole Foods salad bar all the time!
Since babies new to Baby-led Weaning (infant self-feeding) need larger pieces of food that they can hold with their strong palmar grasp, you’ll have to find salad bar options that are cut into big enough pieces. We recommend starting around 6 months, when baby shows readiness signs including great sitting skills. As they get older and their pincer grasp refines, they’ll be able to manipulate smaller foods like peas, beans, chopped beets, etc. Make sure food is soft enough to pass the “squish test,” where it easily squishes between your fingers or cuts with a fork.
Baby-led Weaning, or Infant Self-feeding, is an option that many families choose when they start solids foods. Oftentimes they are met with resistance by friends and family members who don't know why parents would choose letting their baby self-feed. This printable is a resource for people who might be confused about BLW or might want to better understand its benefits.
If you're peeked around our website or followed us on Instagram, you're well aware that we love Baby-led Weaning (BLW) when it's appropriate for a family. Megan has been teaching it since 2013 to thousands of families in the Phoenix, Arizona area, and she and Judy released an online version of the course in 2017 utilizing feeding therapy and nutrition therapy techniques. Read what our clients are saying about our courses here.
With that being said, BLW is not appropriate for all families. If your baby has developmental, medical or special nutritional needs, or if BLW doesn't work for you, that's OK! What matters is promoting self-feeding as much as possible. If you're doing pureed food on spoons, let the baby bring the spoon to their own mouth when possible. Try to transition to other textures besides purees by no later than 9 months. Work with your doctor if feeding doesn't seem to be going well.
And don't forget, our infant course is full of tips and troubleshooting no matter if you started with BLW or you started with spoon-feeding and want to transition to self-feeding.
Click the link below for a PDF version of this downloadable!
Many parents who follow Feeding Littles utilize the concept of Baby-led Weaning (BLW), which means that babies feed themselves whole foods from the start. (Don't worry - it doesn't mean that baby weans early from the breast or bottle - the term weaning is the European use of the word, meaning introduction of solid foods.)
With BLW, parents don't spoon food into a baby's mouth. While this approach can be great for many families, it doesn't fit everyone, and many parents choose the "Traditional Weaning/Feeding" (TW) route where babies are spoon fed purees and gradually eat other textures, building up to self-feeding all foods. The goal of either approach is for a baby to learn how to eat all safe textures; BLW babies get there faster, but TW works well for many families too.
With spoon-feeding, parents are sometimes coached on what to feed baby and how much to offer, but nobody tells them how to actually do it. Turns out, most of us don't do it correctly from a developmental and motor perspective. Since Feeding Littles supports all ways of feeding babies (as long as they're fed!), we want to give you some pointers on how best to spoon feed a baby. Even if you plan to do BLW, keep reading - these tips apply to feeding kids in general, and some of these concepts may be completely new to you!
Remember: we share this information to educate and help you have your best feeding experience possible. We never intend to offend or shame anyone into thinking they have "done it all wrong" - we simply want to provide information that most people don't learn anywhere else. In the end - your child, your choice. Do what's best for your family.
#1: Starting too early - remember, "solids" refers to anything but breast milk or formula.
Parents hear that most governing bodies, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization, recommend waiting until around 6 months to start solid foods. Some interpret this to mean that purees should be started earlier and whole, more "solid" foods can start at 6 months. This 6 month recommendation is meant to apply to all "complementary foods," which means anything but breast milk or formula, not just food that is in whole form. Your baby's baby's gut and immune system are more ready for food around 6 months and when baby is showing readiness signs - see below. For some babies, this is earlier than 6 months, and for others it's later. We don't recommend starting much later than 7 months for allergen exposure reasons.
From an Occupational Therapist's perspective, additional cognitive signs are important to watch for when assessing readiness for any food. Before starting spoon-feeding (or any complementary food feeding), make sure to ask yourself these questions:
Here are some additional things Judy looks for when evaluating whether her clients are ready for solids:
Starting food too soon may not only cause digestive upset (including constipation!), but for some babies it can be a negative experience when they're truly not ready. Watch your baby and look for these cues that they're ready for food!
#2 Force feeding, holding down baby's hands, and tricking baby to eat.
As parents we have a lot of things to accomplish on any given day. Sometimes feeding seems to be just another item on our endless to-do list. Try to remember that your child's feeding journey is important in establishing great feeding dynamics into adulthood. We want our kids to know how to eat when they're hungry, stop eating when they're full, and fill their tummies with foods that help them feel their best. That process starts the moment your child is born, as you learn your baby's hunger and fullness cues. It intensifies as you begin your solid food journey. Below are a few tips to help you honor your baby's cues and help them listen to what their body - not the clock or an external rule - has to say:
When spoon=feeding, most of us put the spoon toward the top of a baby's mouth and then scrape the food off the top lip or hard palate so it's comes off the spoon. Watch this video for an example of what this looks like, and notice how baby is also being fed quickly and without much time to open his mouth or respond to the spoon. See how he leans away and looks a little overwhelmed:
Furthermore, as baby gets messy and their face becomes covered in food, we usually like to scrape it off with the spoon. Here is an example of face scraping:
Depositing food at the top of a baby's mouth makes them an inactive member of the feeding process and doesn't teach them where food should go when they eventually bring it to their mouth herself. We want babies to be an active participant in the experience!
Face scraping seems practical, but it can be uncomfortable for babies. Plus, we want them to be A-OK with food remaining on their face as they eat. As they get older, if they can't handle some food on their face it will make it difficult for them to eat foods like a sandwich or a big watermelon slice.
Here are some tips for spoon-feeding without the scrape:
#4 Staying on purees for too long.
Pureed food is a great option for families who feel uncomfortable starting with finger foods. However, if a baby isn't introduced to other textures relatively quickly, they can struggle to graduate off of purees. One study suggests that if babies aren't fed lumpy foods by 9 months, their risk of feeding difficulty later in life might increase. Babies aren't meant to be on pureed food for life - the goal for all babies is to eventually chew real food.
Once you feel confident in your baby's eating abilities with purees, play around with lumpier foods like mashed fruit or veggies, soft finger foods like cooked green beans, or ground meat. Spoon-feeding pureed food should be a short stage in your baby's eating experience. Your baby won't be able to pick up small pieces of food until they have their pincer grasp, but they can get longer, strip-shaped foods starting at 6 months.
Side note: keep in mind that baby food pouches are still pureed food, and they don't offer a sensory experience for the eater like chewing real food. However, for many families they can have a place. If you want to use pouches, make sure that your baby is also exposed to those foods in their whole form.
#5 Spoon or hand-feeding your toddler.
Barring developmental or medical challenges, most toddlers should self feed without being hand or spoon fed by a parent by 12-14 months. Some parents of older toddlers hand-feed them regularly in order to "get them to eat," and we completely understand the fear behind trusting that your child will, in fact, eat when they're hungry. However, keep this in mind: hand-feeding toddlers doesn't allow them to decide how much to eat and can start to interfere with their hunger and fullness cues. It also prevents your toddler from practicing age-appropriate feeding skills. if they're not feeding themselves, barring medical or developmental issues, they might be missing out on sensory and motor-development experiences. If you need strategies to help with your picky toddler, check out our online course.
When spoon-feeding an infant who starts to grab for the spoon, instead of getting frustrated, try to celebrate this huge developmental milestone! Your baby is showing you that they want to start feeding themself - remember, that's the goal! Check out this video of a parent appropriately responding to her baby's desire to self-feed:
In this next video, watch how mom hands baby a loaded NumNum GOOtensil, which is designed to encourage babies to self feed. The center of the GOOtensil is hollow and allows purees or other smooth textures to be captured without worrying about which side of the utensil is "up," and the handle is short - perfect for baby's hands.
Need more help feeding your baby? Check out our online Infant Course ($59), and get practical, professional help letting your baby learn to feed themself!