From 6 to 12 months your baby will begin to accept more solid foods and start to learn to feed him/herself. It is very exciting when your child starts to show interest in what you are eating. Feeding is a developmental process that babies follow at their own pace. It’s more important to consider your child’s developmental readiness rather than offering textures based on his/her age. This especially applies to children with developmental delays and medical issues which may impact their readiness. Here are some guidelines to help you navigate your way down the path of food textures.
In the months leading up to introducing solid foods, encourage your baby to explore different textures and sensations with his/her mouth. Mouthing or oral stimulation with toys, hands, teethers, and mouth brushes helps to pave the way toward solid foods. Oral exploration helps to move the gag reflex back in your child’s mouth and provides opportunities for him/her to get used to feeling different sensations inside the mouth.
When: Baby is demonstrating readiness to start solid foods (see above).
What: Babies first food should be a smooth, thin puree that slides off the spoon. It should not contain any lumps or pieces of food.
Where: First tastes of puree can be given while baby is held in arms in a supportive, elevated position or in an infant chair.
How: Babies can have their first tastes of puree from the feeder’s finger, a mouth brush/teether, or from an infant spoon.
Examples: Smooth pureed applesauce, pureed sweet potato, rice/oat cereal.
• This is also a great time to introduce self-feeding and independence.
• Try introducing a silicone or mesh fresh food feeder to allow independence, encourage mouthing, and introduce chewing. Try placing firm foods like apple, carrot, pear, or frozen berries in the feeder.
• You can dip your little one’s hands/fingers into purees and encourage hand-to-mouth tasting and exploration.
When: Baby has become successful and comfortable with thin purees.
What: Try a slightly thicker consistency that holds it shape when scooped, but still slides off the spoon. The food should not contain any chunks of food that require chewing. Finely chop/mince small pieces of family foods into purees.
Where: Your child should begin to routinely sit in a supportive feeding chair with the straps in place.
How: Once your child has mastered thin purees, the texture can be gradually increased. Small amounts of infant cereal or mashed/minced food can be added to thin purees to create a thicker, more textured consistency that teaches baby about chewing and tongue coordination.
Examples: Cottage cheese, small well-cooked pasta (pastina/stars), soft moist minced meats.
• “Crumbing” (see link in references) is a great way to introduce a new texture and thicken foods. Crumbs are much better tolerated than lumps. You can make crumbs from crackers, teething biscuits, baby puffs, and cereal. Grind these foods with your fingers to create crumbs. You can sprinkle crumbs on your child’s tray, add them to purees, and/or dip your finger or your child’s fingers and let your child suck and lick off the crumbs. As your child becomes more skillful, you can gradually increase the size of and texture of the crumbs and work toward chewing.
• Avoid double/mixed consistencies. Examples include chicken noodle soup, yogurt with pieces of fruit, or cereal floating in milk. Babies often find it difficult to manage more than one consistency in their mouth at the same time. Babies may try to swallow all of the food at once without moving the pieces to the side for chewing. This can lead to gagging and food refusal. Offer each consistency individually and not mixed together.
When: Baby is tolerating thicker purees well.
What: At this stage, babies are often able to manage a thicker, coarser consistency that contains small pieces and/or holds onto the spoon when the spoon is turned upside down. This thicker consistency engages the child’s mouth muscles and introduces the early munching/chewing movements.
How: Mash, chop, or grate fruits/vegetables and soft minced meats to help your child get used to feeling increased food texture in his/her mouth. This food should not contain any large lumps/chunks that require chewing; however, your child will begin to show more mouth and chewing movements when eating this texture.
Example: Chopped soft cooked carrots, ground meat, grated apple/cheese.
Around 8 months you can introduce "Hard Munchables". These foods are not for eating or swallowing and should not break apart in your child's mouth. Hard Munchables are long, firm, rod-shaped foods that your baby can hold and place in his/her mouth (e.g., peeled carrot, celery stick, dried mango). Hard Munchables are used for oral development like increasing tongue movements and moving the gag reflex back in the mouth. They can offered on their own or dipped in purees to encourage self-feeding and independence.
Remember to always provide direct supervision when your child is eating. Choking is silent, so it's important that you are watching your child during feedings. If hard munchables are breaking apart and pieces are coming off in your child's mouth, it's time to take the food away and replace it with a new piece or discontinue hard munchables if you child has teeth and can bite pieces off.
When: Your child is able to manage mashed/chopped foods well without gagging.
What: Pea-sized pieces or strips of soft, chewable foods that your child can hold in their hand. The food should easily squish and break apart when squeezed between 2 fingers or when pressed with the back of a fork.
How: It’s helpful to hold food toward you baby’s mouth. Offer small cubes or strips of soft food to your child with your fingers. If your child opens his/her to indicate “yes”, then bring the food toward your child’s mouth. You can try placing the food in-between your child’s chewing surfaces at the side of his/her mouth. Note: your child does not have to have teeth to begin learning to munch and chew. Place pieces of food on the tray so your baby can start using their pincer grasp (thumb and index finger) to pick-up pieces of the food from his/her feeding tray.
Examples: Soft cooked vegetables, ripe fruit, ground meat, muffins/toast, egg, cheese.
• Some gagging is normal when your child is learning to eat. It’s a reflexive safety mechanism; however, if your child is frequently gagging when eating, he/she may not be ready for the texture being offered. Try downgrading to an easier consistency until your child is more ready and demonstrates less gagging.
• Avoid round-shaped and hard foods likes grapes, olives, or marshmallows, or hot dogs and hard foods like raw carrots/celery and other hard veggies, raisins, whole nuts, gummy candy, and popcorn.
• Also avoid thick, pasty, sticky foods like nut butters by spoon. Spread these foods on a soft cracker or toast. Always cut round foods into pea-sized pieces.
• You can use kitchen tools like a blender, grinder, grater, fork, or potato masher to modify foods into different consistencies.
• If a food texture is too thick (e.g., your child is gagging frequently) try adding breastmilk, formula, water, milk, or broth to create a thinner consistency.
• Food textures are not determined by age. These steps are guidelines. Remember that every child develops and progresses with textures at their own pace. If your child has mastered one step in the texture progression, then try the next stage. If your child is frequently gagging or demonstrating difficulty, he/she may not be ready for the next step yet. Just allow some more time for practice, then try again. With ongoing daily practice, your child’s chewing skills and ability to tolerate increased food texture will improve.
• How much? Let your baby decide by always following his/her feeding cues. Just start with a couple of spoonfuls and gradual increase as your child demonstrates more interest.
• Research has demonstrated that babies need to taste new foods multiple times before they know if they like it. Remember to repeat the same foods many times and don’t give up when introducing new foods, flavours, and textures. Repeated exposure works!
• Always follow your baby’s feeding cues. Do not push or force your child to eat. If your child is closing his/her mouth and turning away from the spoon this means “no”. If you child is opening his/her mouth and leaning toward the spoon, this means “yes”. The more you follow your baby’s and develop trust, the better your child’s feeding will get over time.
• Relax, enjoy and eat with your child. Introduce Family Meals at a young age. You are their number one role model! If you are calm and positive at mealtimes your child will feel the same way.
SickKids: About Kids Heath: Introducing New Food Textures to Your Baby: https://www.aboutkidshealth.ca/article?contentid=1458&language=English
Canadian Pediatric Society: Caring For Kids: Introducing Solid Foods: https://www.caringforkids.cps.ca/handouts/feeding_your_baby_in_the_first_year
World Health Organization: Complementary Feeding: https://www.who.int/health-topics/complementary-feeding#tab=tab_1
Marsha Dunn Klein OTR: The Art of Crumbing: The Art of Crumbing - Get Permission Approach