Starting your little one on solids can be an intimidating prospect. For first-time mums, the thought of baby having a solid piece of food in their mouth can be scary. Who hasn’t heard the tale about a baby choking on a grape? And before you ask: yes, grapes are one of the top risky foods for choking!
But while starting on solids can certainly be challenging – especially when you have other little ones to feed and time is an issue – it is also a lot of fun. And as the weeks turn to months, what a relief when finally your little one is able to handle food and gobble down bits of food themselves!
So, I hear you ask, how can you overcome this hurdle safely? How can both you and your baby manage the transition from runny food to finger foods? Don’t worry: try these tips below; they are aimed at helping you to make this move – even to enjoy it – and encourage you to set up healthy eating habits for your baby which will then take them into their toddler years and beyond.
It is important that your baby is eating chunky food by nine months. Chunky food is important for your baby’s dentition and it seems to have a preventative effect on the development of fussy eating habits a little later on. Try not to fall into the habit of providing soft foods for too long or you may find you have dug a rather large hole you can’t get out of.
Finger foods commonly start around this time, although some babies start self-feeding earlier, and this is fine too. Remember, baby is your best guide. In fact, some babies refuse food unless they can feed it to themselves, the spoon becomes temporarily redundant and this new-found freedom is enjoyed with gusto.
Your baby may also start to show some clear preferences – and dislikes – for certain foods. Keep offering a good variety of foods, even if they have been rejected before. Just because baby said no today doesn’t mean they won’t want to have a nibble of it tomorrow. Rotating food so that you offer a variety of vegetables, fruit, breads, cereals, crackers, pastas etc. is a great way of spreading the selection of nutrients, making baby’s diet interesting and varied.
Infants and young children don’t have back teeth which we use to chew and grind food down to make smaller pieces. Combined with their still-developing eating methods, this puts them at risk of choking.
Most babies will gag quite often while eating; this is caused by food sitting at the back of the tongue and is most commonly a mechanical issue of moving food around the mouth. Nevertheless, despite there being no cause for alarm, most parents find it a little unsettling. It’s worth noting that this is quite different from choking where the airways are blocked by a food or object.
Always supervise babies and children while eating. Too many toddlers and preschoolers think of eating as an inconvenience in a day that is otherwise filled with play. A common tendency is to take large mouthfuls of food and get it down as fast as possible. (Of course there are others who have a complete lack of interest, but that’s a different story.)
The age groups most at risk from food-related choking:
What foods are the most common offenders?
Baby-feeding meshes are a recent product on the market, replacing the home-made version using muslin. They are plastic holders with a mesh bag to hold food that baby can then chew on. They are fantastic for teething and safely introducing finger foods; for example, a wide range of fruit, veggies and other foods. A great invention.
Food should be a positive experience, so be prepared for some “messes”. The highchair will get a working over so check those cracks and crevices before the insects go for leftovers. Placing your little one’s highchair on a plastic floor-covering or a position in the room that can be cleaned easily can be helpful. Always be prepared and have a ready supply of baby wipes or a damp face washer, as once your toddler is done with food they won’t hang about. And keep up with the bibs. Remember, colour match to the food if necessary to hide some of those hard-to-remove stains.
So now you are both out and about more and you are finding that you need portable foods to ensure that baby gets their three or more meals a day. Some ideas for portable foods include:
Try cubing and lightly steaming harder vegies and fruit and freezing into snack-size containers. You could do the same for noodles and pasta (rice is considered a hazardous food in terms of bacteria so offer it fresh). Then all you need to do is grab one as you walk out the door and they will stay cool and fresh until ready to be eaten.
Keeping up the pace with food variety can be a stretch at times so here are few handy snack ideas.
It is common for babies to appear to go off their food as they begin walking. This new-found independence and mastery of the world may get in the way of eating for a period of time, but most will emerge from this phase. Just stick with how you have been doing things. Picky eating tends to hit around 18 months.
All bubs are born with preferences for certain tastes (namely sweet and salty) but there are ways these preferences can be influenced (positively, in the perfect world). We know that early exposure to a variety of foods and food textures has a beneficial influence on eating patterns. Of course, other influences include role models, TV, culture and religion, books, peers, food rules, and even the family structure.
But by far the most influential factor on your little one’s early preferences is you. Parents’ attitudes towards food and mealtimes – along with the actual foods they themselves consume – will help to shape their child’s eating habits from a very early age. So while of course baby’s own personality will influence what they eat, it is the combination of this inherent aspect with their environment that determines the outcome.
It’s all starting to sound a little hard, but really, just keep in mind you ultimately have control over the environment (you as a role model, your values towards food and meals) and your child has control over what they choose to eat. Offer healthy foods, leave the junk for outside the home, and you will be doing great!
So what are some tips to keep in mind when trying to foster healthy eating habits?
The following summary points are taken from “Parents as Teachers”.
Cited in Parents as Teachers, Department of Education and Training, Manly Village Public School, Manly, May 2004, Community Nutrition Unit Tasmania
This information has been provided by Leanne Cooper from Sneakys baby and child nutrition. Leanne is a qualified nutritionist and mother of two very active boys.