Many parents are super nervous when it comes to trying new food textures. They often wonder when baby should stop eating purees completely. When it comes to textures during weaning, there isn’t one single way to approach it. And HOW you offer your baby their first foods will really depend on how confident you are and also how your baby takes to weaning.
It’s completely understandable that some families are a little nervous when it comes to offering thicker and lumpy textures to baby. Up until we start offering solid foods, most babies have consumed nothing except for milk – a liquid with no lumps. Once solids begin to be introduced, whatever method of weaning you choose, it’s a whole different ball game.
When can my baby eat textured foods
When it comes to starting solid foods, you don’t have to start with a super thin puree. A mash is fine if baby is ready for solid foods. Or you can go straight in with finger foods if you prefer, as per Baby Led Weaning. However, if you do start with a thin puree as a first food texture, it’s important to move on fairly quickly.
Importance of textures
Ultimately, moving on from purees is essential if we want children to enjoy a wide and varied diet, similar to that of adults. Also if we want babies to develop the skills needed to eat foods safely and effectively. Weaning is all about the gradual transition to family foods. This of course includes a gradual transition through textures. e.g. purees, to mashed foods to lumpy foods to solid foods.
There isn’t a huge amount of research looking at textures. The research that is available suggests that introducing baby to textures earlier rather than later is associated with higher dietary variety. Plus more willingness to accept foods (SACN, 2018).
One study found that the longer the experience an infant had with textured foods, the better they were accepted at 1 year. Additionally it seems that delaying the introduction of textures could lead to a higher number of feeding problems, compared with infants introduced to lumps and textures earlier (SACN, 2018).
Of course this makes sense. It’s a similar principle to the idea that you need to expose children to the same vegetables multiple times before they like them. Familiarity is once again key for encouraging acceptance, including when it comes to textures.
The latest guidance from the UK Government in their Feeding in the First Year of Life report says:
“Skills such as munching and chewing can only be acquired with experience and exposure to progressively firmer food textures. There is insufficient evidence to give detailed guidance on the speed of progression of solid food textures, but observational evidence suggests that exposure to lumpy foods before 9 months may be beneficial.”
Baby Led Weaning
The Baby Led Weaning (BLW) approach (where you let baby take the reins and feed themselves from the very start) is a very popular method of weaning. This approach is great for many reasons. It certainly helps children cope with a wide variety of textures and more solid finger foods early on in the weaning journey.
However, a mixture of both traditional weaning (foods from a spoon) and BLW is still beneficial. Both to help encourage a variety of foods and also to allow your baby to practise multiple eating methods. It’s helpful to teach babies how to take food from a spoon and even eat runny foods that include lumps. A mixed approach can also be a slightly more gentle transition in the first few days/weeks of weaning.
Interestingly only 1/3 of parents who choose the BLW approach do so exclusively. With the majority offering some foods from a spoon as well.
So how do we start with introducing textures?
I’ve always talked to parents about the actual “puree” stage of feeding baby being very short. Essentially, you want a nice smooth runny puree that runs off the spoon like soup for your first few tastes. Then you want to think about moving the texture up a notch to continue baby’s progress.
You can do this easily when making purees by adding less milk/water. Blending a little less each time you blend up baby’s foods.
The image below shows a nice gradual progression through textures over the first few weeks or months of introducing solids…
Remember it’s a gradual progression. It’s good to go at baby’s own pace with a nudge from you to continue moving forwards. Between the first two pots in the image above, you’d want to move from a very thin soup texture to more of a texture that falls off the spoon in a few small dollops fairly quickly (a week or so of weaning, ideally).
The next two pots would be when baby is accepting foods well. When they are more than capable of swallowing non-liquidy food from a spoon. It would also be good to offer soft finger foods alongside all of these textures too. This will help baby to develop the skills needed for chewing pieces of food (see section below).
By doing it this way you are allowing baby to gradually get used to thicker textures rather than them all of a sudden finding lumps in their foods. Which they might not be happy to deal with right away. Gradually mashing foods less and less and introducing soft lumps over time, as well as offering a variety of other textures in their food can help with this progress. This is also likely to reduce the chances of baby rejecting foods due to unknown textures. Also it may reduce the risk of feeding troubles later on.
The image below shows an example of the progression you might want to follow over the course of a year. Thin puree, to mashed, to minced and then gradually move that to chopped foods…
Here is an easy infographic showing how you might move through textures for a baby during weaning from puree to mash to minced and then chopped.
Finger Foods are important
I’ve written before about the importance of finger foods as well as what finger food options are great to start with. Offering finger foods regularly at mealtimes can also help children to accept a variety of textures. Finger foods help babies learn how to bite off chunks of food, deal with lumps in their mouth and chew/swallow larger pieces of food.
It’s often been advice to parents to focus on finger foods if you’re struggling to get baby to take textured food off a spoon. I’d normally recommend, once a parent and baby is confident with the initial solids and spoon feeding, to try to offer some finger foods at most mealtimes.
But what about choking?
Interestingly, some research suggests that a higher choking risk is often found in children who have finger foods least often. So offering appropriate finger food options alongside a gradual transition through different textures may actually be setting your baby up to deal with lumpy foods much more efficiently.
Always sit with your baby when you are feeding them, especially when it comes to offering finger foods. Please check out my detailed blog on Gagging vs Choking if you’re nervous!
How do I get my baby to eat textured food
Gagging is completely normal and in early infancy (and at the start of weaning). A baby’s gag reflex is in the middle area of the tongue/mouth. As baby is exposed to new food textures during their weaning journey the gag reflex starts to move further towards the back of the tongue. Therefore gagging usually happens less as baby gets more experienced with food. If you’re finding this isn’t the case, check out my blog on Gagging and the Tongue Thrust Reflux Difficulties.
There are actually four types of feeding behaviours that infants use when eating:
Suckling and sucking are innate but munching and chewing are learned as a result of offering baby a wide variety of food textures. That’s why it is SO important to offer babies smooth, mashed AND lumpy textures, as well as an array of different finger foods during their weaning journey.
Early munching behaviours are seen between 4-7 months of age. Chewing usually starts to occur from around 7 months of age – when baby’s tongue starts to be able to move foods around the mouth more effectively.
The process of chewing & also dealing with firmer & more textured foods becomes more efficient throughout the first few years of life.
So, ultimately, it’s important to offer lumps & finger foods to baby, even from early on during weaning. Then keep progressing to firmer lumps/textures and finger foods to help baby cope and to develop the skills needed for eating.
I’m planning on writing another blog talking about good foods and recipes for texture development. Let me know if this is something you’d like to hear more about! As always, do let me know if you have any questions.
For more information you can see my blogs here on the topic of baby nutrition.
Don’t forget that my book How to Wean Your Baby covers this. Plus SO much more to give you all the detail you need to know when offering solid foods to your baby.