From finger foods to forks, here’s how to encourage your baby to take control of his own mealtimes
By 10 to 12 months, your baby is likely to be turning into a more accomplished eater. He’s now able to sit comfortably in his high chair and will be using his hands a lot more, having mastered the ‘pincer grasp:’ holding small items between finger and thumb. He may also have started reaching for the spoon to help you get the food in faster. But with this newfound independence and skill comes the ability to say ‘no’, or at least throw the whole lovingly-prepared offering on the floor.
Although this can be a challenging stage, it’s an important feeding milestone, so encourage your baby to feed himself, either with his fingers or a spoon. It’ll be messy and he won’t always eat much, but you’ll be teaching him independent eating skills that will serve him well in the future.
When encouraging your baby to feed himself, it’s a good idea to use sticky foods like porridge or mashed potato that will cling to the spoon and make it easier for him to get a mouthful before it all slides off. You can also load the spoon and then offer it to him so he can put the food into his own mouth. His sense of achievement at feeding himself will far outweigh the inconvenience of scraping casserole off the wall, so try to relax; making a mess is an essential stage in learning to self-feed. If you’re concerned that he’s not managing to eat much, try using two spoons, one for him to hold and one for you to shovel the food in while he’s still trying to scrape a spoonful from the bowl.
When it comes to cutlery, the chunkier and clunkier the better – even if he doesn’t yet want to have a go at feeding himself, he will love to bang and chew his spoons. While you might prefer to use a long-handled spoon to feed him, a shorter spoon with an angled head will make it easier for him to find his mouth.
You’ll also need to choose child-friendly bowls for early self-feeding. A bowl with a sucker on the bottom will stick to the high chair tray and enable your baby to get at his food without having to chase the dish round. And as an added bonus, it also limits bowl-flinging opportunities when he gets bored!
Finger foods really come into their own at this point. Now your baby has more teeth and better fine motor skills, you can start to introduce a wider variety of tastes and textures. Crunchy foods, such as breadsticks, rice cakes, toast and dry breakfast cereals are all ideal finger foods. You can also try cucumber sticks, cubes of mild cheese, miniature meatballs, cooked pasta shapes and even fish fingers. As your baby gets better at feeding himself, you may be able to introduce a daily finger food meal of, for example, mini sandwiches, veggie sticks with hummous, chunks of cheese and some chopped grapes or apple.
Dental experts advise weaning your baby off bottles at around 12 months to avoid damaging his teeth, so at this stage, it’s a good idea to make sure your baby is at least trying to drink water or milk from a cup. There are plenty to choose from, with baby-friendly features such as built-in straws and chunky handles for little hands. You may need to experiment with a few different types before you find one that your baby can drink from easily; some spouted non-spill cups in particular can be difficult to use.
To encourage your baby to feed himself, try to eat as a family – or at least sit with him and have a light snack while he has a meal. This will give him a chance to see other people using cutlery and feeding themselves, and may inspire him to have a go and be just like Mummy/Daddy/his big brother. Sharing mealtimes should be fun, and babies are bound to pick up on what everyone else is doing and eating.
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