Progressing food texture safely

Summary
  • Baby progressing food textures between 6 and 12 months is REALLY IMPORTANT  
  • Start textures baby is comfortable with and then let them guide their progress.
  • Give your baby time to explore, eat and learn to like new texture at their own pace.
  • Each baby is different and will prefer different textures.
  • You can make food safe and easy for baby to learn to manage 
  • It is common for babies to gag, cough or splutter when they’re learning to eat.

Learning to eat new textures safely

‘Food texture’ is how we describe what is felt in our mouths when we eat or when touching food with our hands. Learning different textures is an important stage of child development.

Until 6 months, a baby has only experienced drinking breastmilk (or infant formula), so eating is a whole new experience! If starting baby on solids before 6 months, they may not have the skills for finger foods and prefer pureed food. baby holding cucumber slice

Your baby will learn to chew food by progressing from soft food to lumpy and finger foods over time. Some babies will manage new textures more quickly than others. It is important to focus only on you and your baby’s progress and not compare your baby to others.  

If baby is introduced to a variety of textures between 6 and 12 months, they are less likely to be fussy eaters later on. They’ll have had lots of exposure to new foods and lots of opportunity for practice. By around 12 months of age, they can manage to eat a wide variety of family foods.

The research says if chewy foods are introduced there is less fussiness, feeding problems eating less vegetables and family foods.

To eat solid foods safely, baby is learning…

  • to control their head and neck.
  • to move food from the front to back of their mouth.
  • to close their lips around a spoon.
  • to bite, chew and grind food into smaller pieces before swallowing
  • to safely spit out the food if is too large or too small.

Each baby will progress texture differently

Focus on what your baby ‘can do’, rather than focusing on what they ‘should do’ based on their age. Your baby will guide you…

  • some may prefer pureed foods.
  • others may prefer semi-solid or finger foods. 
  • some may prefer a combination of puree and soft finger foods
  • some may use a spoon to eat.
  • others may use their fingers. 

Puree silky smooth texture and no lumps, image of 3 puree foods.

Image of 3 semi solid foods lumpy and mushy texture.Image of 4 finger foods avocado, cucumber, sweet, potato, mango easy for baby to pick up in whole hand.Provide a variety of food textures as baby needs to become comfortable with all of them. You can combine different textures at meals. For example, if you are doing baby led weaning, giving a puree with meals lets them learn about all textures.

If baby prefers one texture in particular, still provide other textures to help them learn. Even if they prefer finger foods, they still need to learn to manage purees.

Food texture, shape and size for safety and learning 

Over time, your baby’s eating and swallowing skills will improve. But until then, we need to consider the shapes, sizes and texture of food. 

Make it soft
When starting out, make sure the food is soft enough to fall apart. Foods should squish easily between your thumb and forefinger. When food is soft it is likely to fall apart when gently held in a hand or smooshed with gums. It will then be safer when it moves to the back of the throat.

Squished capsicum between fingers to demonstrate softness of food required for infants.

 

Making food easy for baby to pick up and eat

Examples of palmer grasp, food in whole hand and pincer grips, holding food in index finger and thumb.

Until baby can chew well, give large pieces that they can suck on easily. Small, round or oval foods, like grapes, berries and cherry tomatoes, should be cut lengthways to avoid being caught in the throat.

Cutting food for babies

How to cut avocado for babies. 6-8 months big if ripe and soft, small bit after 9 months.

How to cut strawberries for babies 6-8 months big if ripe and soft, 9 months plus sliced.

How to cut broccoli for babies whole 6-9 months and then bite size 9 months plus

How to cut banana for babies. 6-8 months big if ripe and soft. 9 months plus sliced.

How to cut tomato for babies. 6-9 months, large wedge, 9 months plus quartered cherry tomatoes or bite sized pieces.

 

Preparing food to make safer and easier for baby

  • Boiling, steaming to make food soft. 
  • Slicing finely, cutting into quarters, lengthways.
  • Mashing, shredding, grating.
  • Slow cooking: tenderises meats, pulled meat etc.
  • Remove membranes from food (stringy bits in orange).
  • Peeling so only the soft part of the food remains. 
  • Grinding: whole nuts or seeds.
  • Squashing: whole round foods like beans and chickpeas.
  • Mix sticky foods, such as peanut butter, into yoghurt or spread thinly on toast.
  • Slippery foods, like mango, banana and avocado: roll into baby cereal, ground flax seeds or shredded coconut for an easy grip.
  • Chop chewy sticky foods like dried fruit into smaller pieces or give in large enough pieces so the child can still hold onto the piece of food while it is inside the mouth.

Progressing texture and age… A video example 

You may feel more comfortable with a guide that includes specific ages: 

Training foods for baby’s tongue and gag

Training foods or ‘Hard Munchables’ can be used by baby as a learning tool from around 7-8 months. These foods are not soft, in fact they are hard enough that there is no chance that they break off. These foods for training the tongue rather than eating

They help baby learn how far back food can go, and help the tongue learn how to move. 

  • They need to be hard enough for a piece not to break off when chewed or swallowed.
  • They need to be thick, and twice as long as the baby’s fist.
  • If a piece breaks off in their mouth, stay calm and get them to sit forward and spit it out.

Two babies with celery and asparagus

 

Gagging 

Gagging is a normal part of learning to eat chewable foods

Gagging can be normal and may happen when learning a new texture. The gag reflex is natural, your baby is born with it. It helps prevent objects from blocking the airway. When the gag-reflex gets touched it makes babies cough and that pushes the item to the front of the mouth. From around 6 months of age and with more food learning practice, their gag reflex will gradually fade to the back of the tongue (where an adults’ is).

What does Gagging look like? 

 

Let them cough it forward and give them gentle reassurance it’s ok. This will prevent them becoming scared of solid foods. Letting baby practice self-feeding and explore training foods (hard munchables) will help them.

Remaining calm when a baby gags, encourages them to also stay calm and not learn to be scared of solid foods.

Other points on gagging:

  • gagging is a normal part of learning to eat.
  • it sounds like coughing or like a retch and baby might become red in the face.
  • gagging will happen less as chewing skills improve, baby learns to handle new textures and how much food they can swallow.
  • if gagging is frequent, they might be biting off more than they can chew (excuse the pun!) Reconsider the size of food. offered to baby, and make sure they are sitting well.

 

Choking 

Always be there with baby when they are eating and drinking

  • Choking is very different from gagging.
  • It happens when a small object blocks the airway, making it hard to breathe.
  • The child is usually silent and has a shocked expression on their face.
  • The child can turn blue due to lack of oxygen.
  • You need to assist the child to remove the blockage

Visit here for additional choking and first aid information

Minimise the risk of choking by:

  • always supervising baby when eating or drinking.
  • never force-feeding a baby/child.
  • making sure your baby is seated, supported and stable while eating.
  • not giving baby food when running, playing, laughing or crying.
  • support baby to eat slowly and chew well.
  • making sure food pieces are small and soft until baby can chew well. 
  • changing the texture of hard foods like fruit and veggies to make them soft and smooth.
  • avoid the ‘high-risk choking foods’ listed below. 

Some foods can’t be made a low choking risk and should be avoided, such as…

  • whole nuts.
  • rice or corn cakes.
  • corn chips (or other things that can break into sharp edges).
  • hard crackers that don’t dissolve in water or saliva.
  • hard chewy lollies.
  • marshmallow lollies.
  • chewing gum.
  • *raw or undercooked pieces of hard fruit and vegetables.
  • popcorn.
  • cocktail frankfurts.
  • small whole foods such as blueberries, grapes or cherry tomatoes unless cut into quarters lengthwise.
  • hard foods that can easily break up into smaller pieces.

    * As mentioned earlier training foods like raw fruit and vegetables offered around 7-8 months are the exception, as these are used to learn and not to be chewed and swallowed.