When your baby is ready, you offer appropriate, nutritious finger foods and he/she chooses which and how much to eat. When babies are beginners, parent Jennifer Gaertner says food should be cut into the size and shape of a finger so they can easily grasp and gnaw on it. As they advance and their pincer grasp develops, food can be cut into small pieces to pick up.
Beginner foods should be whole, unprocessed foods without additives, says pediatrician Christopher Bolling of Pediatric Associates, PSC, in Northern Kentucky, like molded sticky brown rice, scrambled egg, cooked green beans, or a slice of avocado, chicken, or peeled zucchini. Breastmilk still makes up the majority of baby’s nutrition.
Parents don’t feed baby—and thus don’t force-feed a predetermined quantity. That aspect appealed to Gaertner: “The goal is learning and experiencing,” she says. Baby shares mealtime with the family, learns by imitation, and practices fine motor skills.
“We need to respect kids’ satiety cues,” says Bolling, who chairs the American Academy of Pediatric’s obesity section. Kids learn to listen to the body’s signals that they’re full. “If we introduce a variety of foods and textures early,” Bolling says, “they will fill their appetite with better variety and then have better nutrition.” This helps them accept new foods and avoid the food rut, says Bolling, eating only high-calorie foods like chicken tenders and mac-and-cheese.
“We do worry about choking,” Bolling says. Babies should always be monitored.
It’s common for babies to gag, which is different than choking. Some may find this unsettling. Gaertner eased fears by enrolling family and babysitters in CPR/Heimlich training and giving them baby-led weaning tip sheets.
Bolling recommends introducing a new food each day. If there’s going to be an allergic reaction, “kids will usually react pretty quickly,”he says.
Also, Gaertner finds it challenging to coordinate eating times with baby and also prepare healthy foods baby can eat. Her take-away?“We’re all eating a little healthier!”