By the time your baby hits the seven month mark, chances are he'll be more than ready to start trying a variety of new foods. What's more, he may even want to try his tiny hand at feeding himself, which could mean some seriously messy meals!
Around this time, little ones start to develop a case of the "stubborns" and insist they do things for themselves, says pediatrician Dr. William Sears. In other words, don't be surprised if your baby tries to grab that tiny feeding spoon right out of your hand. He may actually find his mouth or decide instead to fling that spoonful of food right across the room. Be prepared; wear your grubbiest clothes or an apron when feeding your budding epicure.
If you've started your tot out on cereals between months four and six, you're both probably bored of such plain fare. It's time to mix it up! By offering new tastes, textures and food groups, you'll help his tiny palate adjust to delicious food, and may even prevent picky eating down the road.
- Modified adult grub. Take a tiny portion of whatever the rest of the family's having and mash it up with a fork, blender or food processor. Pasta dishes are easily converted to baby food, as are soups, stews, and most types of cooked vegetables. Just make sure what you give your little one has cooled off adequately before you offer that first spoonful; a painful first bite can hurt his appetite and decrease his curiosity about new foods in the future.
- Naturally soft foods. Since your child's windpipe is so tiny, there's always a risk of choking, but you can't go wrong with foods that are naturally soft and easy to swallow. Babies love toying with the tiny curds that make up cottage cheese. Yogurt is another soft option, and it's usually safe to begin with this around six months. Mashed cooked egg yolks are also a safe bet, although you should probably hold off on egg whites until he's at least a year old.
- Raw vs. cooked. While cooking fruit is usually a safe, easy option to feed your budding foodie, there are certain raw fruits that are soft and safe enough for your baby to munch on. Good choices include blueberries, grapes (peeled and cut in quarters), mashed bananas, peaches, pears, plums and finely grated apples (try stirring these into cereal or yogurt). Keep in mind that riper fruits are softer, so opt for the freshest produce you can find at the farmer's market.
- Introducing meats. Between 6 to 9 months of age, your baby's iron stores may begin to deplete, so it's a good idea to introduce iron-rich foods such as meat into his diet. Cooked, mashed chicken and turkey are usually good starter meats, as they're soft and don't have a strong taste. If your little eater takes well to these, offer him small portions of bite-sized or puréed beef, lamb and fish.
- High chair distraction. Sitting strapped in a high chair can get pretty boring, which is why your baby may start to fuss as he waits for his meal. Distract him with a selection of toys on his tray before mealtime begins, and be sure to choose soft ones (such as stuffed animals) in case he decides to express his displeasure by hurling one across the room.
- Sippy cup 101. Seven months old is a good time for you to introduce your tiny tot to the joys of the sippy cup. If you have been bottle feeding him, the earlier you make the transition, the easier it will be. If you've been breastfeeding but would like to introduce juice or water, its best to skip the bottle altogether and start off with a cup. When you're choosing a cup, Atlanta-based registered dietitian Rachel Brandeis suggests you look for one with a spout and two handles rather than one where there's nothing for little hands to grab. Shaky legs often lead to falls, so keep your baby free from harm by only serving a sippy cup while he's sitting or laying down.
- Three square meals. Dr. Tom Collins, pediatrician and founder of askdrtom.com, suggests feeding your child three times a day, to establish healthy eating habits early in life. However, don't force food down the throat of your disinterested little one: he has an ingrown drive to develop and to thrive, so allow him to test out his new eating skills and delectable dishes at his own pace.
Enough is enough. How do you know when your baby's had enough to eat? If he starts swatting at or turning his head from the spoon, won't open his mouth to take another bite, or spits the food out as soon as you pop it in, it's time to give it (and you) a rest. Pediatric nutrition expert Marilyn Tanner-Blasiar, MHS, RD, says that babies are born knowing how to regulate their own food intake, but it's your job to respect your child's instincts.
Okay, got your spoons, bowls, bibs and high chair? Ready, set, feed! Once you and your little one settle into a comfortable routine, you may find that mealtime becomes a favorite, if somewhat messy, part of your day as well as his. Just don't forget that apron, perhaps a few rubber mats, maybe even a large dog to eat up any stray leftovers.