How to start solids and introduce your child to finger foods safely

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Starting solids is a milestone that provides huge opportunities for your child. It’s not only about nourishment, creating healthy eating habits or trying a range of tastes and textures, learning to eat provides crucial building blocks for future development such as learning to chew, to speak, non-verbal communication cues and hand-eye coordination.

But tackling anything new (when you’re often not getting a full night's sleep) is overwhelming for most of us. All that mess, hours stuck in the kitchen preparing food, fussy eaters, or worrying what to do if your baby chokes? We’re passionate about great nutrition, healthy whole foods and empowering parents - below we discuss some points to consider when starting solids with your child.

Is your baby ready to start eating?

You might have heard some of the myths around readiness to start solids: your baby is waking in the night so they must be hungry; your baby is small for their age so they need to start solids earlier or they’re watching you eat so they must be hungry.

Both the World Health Organisation and Plunket agree that six months is a good age to introduce your baby to food. This ties in nicely with the maturation of your child's immune and digestive systems and their increasing energy needs as they start to roll or crawl.

So how do you tell if your six month old is food-ready? Are they reaching for things, gnawing on toys or making chewing movements? The biggest tell-tale sign is if they’re strong enough to sit up and move food to their mouths - for once a clear sign!

How do I start my baby on solids and what about finger foods?

Plunket recommends that from six months, you puree your baby’s first foods by boiling/steaming food then mashing/blending until smooth and spoon-feeding your baby. From eight months, Plunket’s advice is to give your baby solids before their milk feed - remembering that cows or plant milks shouldn’t be introduced until your baby is one. This is also a great time to introduce finger foods to your baby. Finger foods are more challenging foods prepared into shapes your child can safely manage by themselves.

Finger food ideas

  • Healthy whole foods such as steamed green beans, baby corn, florets of broccoli and cauliflower

  • Steamed, roasted or stir-fried sticks of carrot, potato, eggplant, sweet potato, parsnip, pumpkin, zucchini

  • Slices of avocado

  • Sticks of firm cheese

  • Breadsticks

  • Chicken (warm or cold), cut into either a strip or a leg bone

  • Thin strips of beef, lamb or pork

  • Fruit – pear, apple, banana, nectarine, mango in sticks or grated

  • Rice or corn cakes

  • Hummus

  • Homemade meatballs or falafels

  • Lentil patties

  • Rice balls (made with sushi rice)

  • Pasta twists are easy to grip, offer without sauce at first.

What kind of feeding equipment do I need at home?

No matter which method you choose, starting solids can get messy. Embrace the chaos with these essentials:

Somewhere to sit

A portable lobster-style seat means your child can get amongst the action at your breakfast bar, dining table or a friend’s place. Some families opt to have a lobster-style seat at their bench and a high chair at their dining table.

Protect your floor

Ditch the expensive plastic drop sheet and grab an old towel or two to place under your baby’s high chair to catch dropped food. Shake it out after meals on the lawn (the birds will love you) or into the bin. Once it’s really yuck, simply chuck it in the wash.

Bibs

Protect your baby’s clothes with bibs like these with little catchers at the bottom. These apron style bibs are handy for messy yoghurt or porridge sessions.

Extras

Don’t waste money on special crockery or bizarre food tools. When your child is first starting, use their high chair tray and let them work with their fingers. If you’re feeding purees then you’ll need a couple of spoons that your baby can easily suck food from.

Once you’ve got everything you need, choose one meal time to eat with your baby, making sure they are well-supported in their chair by using a rolled up towel as a prop if needed. Up until eight months old, babies should continue to have their milk feed before solids.

Gagging, choking and keeping safe

Many parents confuse gagging with choking - the two reactions are related but not the same. A baby’s gag reflex is much further forward in their mouths than ours, meaning they will gag more easily – nature’s way of keeping them safe. Most, if not all, babies will gag while eating but continue on unphased once the food has cleared.

If you notice your baby is gagging, remain calm and let them clear the food themselves. If they’re having trouble you can calmly intervene. Some believe that babies who have had the chance to feed themselves learn more quickly (through their gag reflex) how to manage their food.

To put your mind at ease, take a first aid course and learn what to do if your baby (or anyone else) chokes. Plunket has some guidelines to prevent choking but it’s always prudent to have your child seated, well-supported and working with food that’s cut into shapes they can manage.

Avoid nuts (whole or large pieces) until your child is three years old. Remove the stones from fruits such as cherries and cut them in half (same with small fruits such as cherry tomatoes and grapes). Take care with any meal that has hard pieces in it and meats such as fish (bones).

Feeling frustrated?

It’s easy to let other people’s opinions or comments affect your confidence when your baby’s going through any milestone. Do your research and follow your gut - you know your child best.

Equally it’s easy to feel frustrated with your child at meal times. Is your baby throwing everything on the floor or refusing food altogether? We’ve all been there! The calmer and less unphased you remain during these times, the more likely this phase will pass.

Child-friendly family recipes
We’ve selected a couple of our favourite recipes for you to try: Chicken Pasta Bake Family Friendly Loaded with Vegetables and Zucchini Banana Bread from mykidslickthebowl.com.

At New Shoots, we know healthy whole foods and a full belly contributes to your child’s growth, development and contentment. Check out our New Shoots menus here.

Like to find out more about how things work at New Shoots? Our website is a great place to start. You can:

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