Until now, feeding your baby has been your job. But as your baby gets older, your little one will want to do this more and more on his or her own.
When babies begin feeding themselves — a new task most really enjoy — they'll find that they like trying new tastes and textures. No longer are baby purees and mushy cereals the only things on the menu.
By the time they're 9 months old, most babies have developed the fine motor skills — the small, precise movements — needed to pick up small pieces of food and feed themselves. You may notice that yours can take hold of food (and other small objects) between forefinger and thumb in a pincer grasp. The pincer grasp starts out a little clumsy, but with practice soon evolves into a masterful and efficient skill.
Allow your child to self-feed as much as possible, though you'll still be helping out by spoon-feeding cereal and other important dietary elements. Encouraging finger feeding helps your child develop independent, healthy eating habits.
Finger feeding — and using utensils a little later — gives babies a measure of control over what they eat and how much. Sometimes they'll eat the food, sometimes not, and that's all part of the process of learning self-regulation. Even little kids can tell when they're hungry or full, so let them learn to recognize and respond to these cues.
Now that they're joining the rest of the family for meals, older babies are ready — and often willing — to try more table foods.
This means more work for whoever is preparing the meals for the family, but dishes often can be adapted for the baby. For instance, your little one can have some of the zucchini you're making for dinner as long as you cook that portion just a bit longer — until it's soft — and cut it into pieces that are small enough for the baby to handle. Pieces of ripe banana, well-cooked pasta, and small pieces of chicken are other good choices.
Before presenting your child with a finger food, try a bite first and ask yourself:
If your child doesn't like a food, don't let that stop you from offering it at future meals. Kids are naturally slow to accept new tastes and textures. For example, some are more sensitive to texture and may reject coarse foods, such as meat. When introducing meat, it's helpful to start with well-cooked ground meats or shreds of thinly sliced deli meats, such as turkey.
Present your baby with a variety of foods, even some that he or she didn't seem to like the week before. Don't force your baby to eat, but realize that it can take 10 or more tries before a child will accept a new food.
Finger feeding is fun and rewarding for older babies, but it's important to avoid foods that can cause choking and those with little nutritional value.
Parents and caregivers can help prevent choking by supervising the baby during eating. Foods that are choking hazards include:
At first bite, your baby probably will love the taste of cookies, cake, and other sweets, but do not introduce them now. Your little one needs to eat nutrient-rich foods instead of consuming empty calories found in desserts and high-fat snacks, such as potato chips.
It's tempting to want to see the baby's reactions to some of these foods, but now is not the time. Grandparents and others may want to rush your baby into trying triple-chocolate cake or some other family favorite. Politely and firmly explain that the baby isn't ready for those foods. If grandma persists and says you had your first bite when you were an infant, blame this tough stance on your child's doctor — the doctor won't mind.
Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: June 2011
|National Center for Nutrition and Dietetics Offering nutrition information, resources, and access to registered dietitians.|
|American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) The AAP is committed to the health and well-being of infants, adolescents, and young adults. The website offers news articles and tips on health for families.|
|American Academy of Family Physicians This site, operated by the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), provides information on family physicians and health care, a directory of family physicians, and resources on health conditions.|
|Nutrition Guide for Toddlers While growth slows somewhat during the toddler years, it's a new era where kids will eat and drink more independently.|
|Strategies for Feeding a Preschooler During the preschool years, kids are more willing to cooperate. So it's a great time to teach them about healthy food choices in new and exciting ways.|
|Healthy Eating Good nutrition and a balanced diet help kids grow up healthy. Here's how to improve nutrition and encourage smart eating habits.|
|Food Allergies Food allergies can cause serious and even deadly reactions in kids, so it's important to know how to feed a child with food allergies and to prevent reactions.|
|Food Safety for Your Family Why is food safety important? And how can you be sure your kitchen and the foods you prepare in it are safe?|
|Household Safety: Preventing Choking Choking is usually caused by food, toys, and other small objects that can easily lodge in a child's small airway - anything that fits can be a danger. Read about how to protect kids from choking hazards.|
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