This post is inspired by a mom I met at local gym recently who was feeding her cute 8 months old baby a puree with a spoon. We started chatting and when she found out I was a pediatric dietitian she asked, pointing to a puree pouch: ” So when to move on? To start feeding more textured food to my baby?”.
This post is for this mom and many others who have started their babies on purees and are interested in following a traditional approach to introduction of solids, slowly moving to more textured food.
If you are like many parents I know, you have invested into some kind of baby food equipment before introducing your baby to solids. I did the same with my first child and made sure my freezer was stocked with dozens of healthy and colorful purees….
Which I eventually turned into soups for the whole family or added to pasta sauces.
Why? Because the puree stage does not last that long if you pay attention to your baby’s readiness for food with more texture and finger foods!
It can take literally just a few day or maybe weeks for your baby to start eating mashed foods, tolerate lumps and start picking up finger foods. In fact, it is possible to use both purees and finger foods right from the start.
IMPORTANT: your baby’s readiness for textured food or for solids in general should be determined by signs of readiness rather than biological age.
But if you prefer to follow a more traditional sequence of texture upgrades, make sure to keep your eyes open for these signs of readiness for more advanced textures.
The most important sign your baby is ready for more textured food:
– You baby tolerates thick smooth purees without any problem.
Two other signs you may notice if you give your baby a taste of rough puree or puree with lumps:
– He is starting to move the food around in his mouth using his tongue
– You notice the first chewing movements
Note that you may need to actually GIVE your baby some food to chew in order to see the last 2 signs (moving food in the mouth and chewing). When babies are ready for a texture upgrade, purees become too easy for them and they do need to manipulate them in their mouth.
Why is it important to not miss these signs of readiness for more textured food?
Because it may affect how your child is eating waaaay down the road. This study saw a link between late introduction of lumps (at 9 months and later) and food acceptance at 7 years of age.
Another study looked at the connection between feeding difficulties and last introduction of lumps. Here is what researches observed:
Those infants who were introduced to lumpy solids at the earliest ages consumed a greater variety of family foods at the age of 6 months, while those introduced at 10 months or later had been given fewer solids of all types by 6 months of age and at 15 months were significantly less likely to be having family foods when compared to those introduced between 6 and 9 months. At each age, those introduced late (10 months or older) to lumps were more difficult to feed and had more definite likes and dislikes.
A significant difference was observed in the variety of foods given to infants at both 6 and 15 months according to the age at which they began to have lumps in their food, and feeding difficulties were more likely to occur when lumps were introduced at or after 10 months of age.
Transitiong to more complex textures also means that your baby will join you at the family table eating the same foods as you sooner.
Ellyn Satter, an internationally recognized child feeding specialist, said in one of her books: “The goal of feeding your baby is to have him join you at the table…not for you to join him at the high chair.”
Of course, some babies may show the signs of readiness for more texture at 6-7 months, while others, especially premature babies and those with developmental delays, may need to wait for a few more weeks. But it is very important for parents to be able to recognize these signs and upgrade the texture of their food appropriately.
How to move on to textured food if your baby is stuck on purees:
Step 1. Mash it with a fork. Yes, it is as simple as this. Instead of using a blender, just smash the food until you have a coarse puree. See above a picture of a mango mashed with a fork vs mango blended in a puree.
Step 2. Give your baby some dissolvable or very soft finger foods. Examples are cereal puffs or pieces of very soft cooked vegetables, fruit and soft meats or fish. You can bring the food to your baby’s mouth for him to eat or (better!) let him practice the gross motor skills and try to pick them up.
Step 3. Give your baby bigger pieces of finger foods that he can hold himself and take small bites from. Here is a list of finger foods that are both easy and nutritious.
Again, every baby is different and your baby may dislike the lumps but enjoy finger foods or the other way around. The best strategy is to keep exposing to a variety of textures as soon as your baby is eating purees with no problem. Remember that the goal is to have your baby at a family table by eating foods of different textures as soon as he is ready for it.
What are your concerns?
1. Baby will start eating less. It is not uncommon for babies to cut down on the amount of food temporarily as they are mastering a new texture. It is a very normal reaction. It also may take longer for them to eat the same amount of food.
But you do not need to worry about because at this age a big part of calories and nutrition are still coming from formula or breast milk. So a temporary decrease in intake of solids is not likely to impact your baby’s nutrition.
It is hard to let go of control over how much baby eats but this will also prepare you for the toddler stage when appetite may reduce dramatically and desire for independence may grow ten fold.
2. Baby will gag. Gagging is a sign that babies are learning to handle a new texture. It is a safety reflex that helps them get rid of the food that is still too challenging.
If your baby gags but then happily continues eating and learning to manage the food, great. Just keep doing what you were doing, slowly upgrading the texture.
If your baby gags continuously, vomits frequently and is generally upset at mealtimes, it is best to consult an occupational therapist with experience in child feeding or a speech language pathologist to rule out potential underlying issues.
3. It is messy. Of course, spoon feeding is a relatively mess-free way to feed a baby. But it is important for your baby to learn how to eat independently. There is no way around it, unfortunately.
So consider a few weeks of a terrible mess as an investment in your baby’s long-term good eating habits and interest in food and eating.
Share your experience with texture upgrades for your baby. At what age was he/she ready? What were/are your main concerns?
Your baby is unique.
So why copy how everyone else is starting solids? Learn the safe and responsive way to start solids using both finger foods and purees.