Ask any parent of a baby transitioning to solids, and they’ll tell you what an “adventure” it is to teach a tiny human how to get food from the plate to their cute, little mouths. I would liken the parental stress and anxiety that comes with this feat to playing Jenga with toothpicks while wearing oven mitts. No matter how many times you show them, you wait with fainted breath to see if they can get all the peas and carrots into their mouth on the first try. Just when you think they’ve got it, they tip the spoon and spill everything they just worked so hard to scoop onto the spoon. Sound familiar? If this is something you’re experiencing at home right now, read on for some tips to make it a little more fun.

- Hold off on traditional utensils.

Let your child start exploring flavors and textures with what we call “hard munchables” dipped in thick sauces and dips. A hard munchable is anything that your child can mouth around on and NOT bite a piece off of. Examples of a hard munchable would be a peeled carrot, jicama stick, peeled parsnip, a soft baked pretzel stick, hand tossed pizza crust, celery stick, or a frozen waffle stick. By allowing your child to experience these different tastes and textures, they’ll also learn to lateralize their tongue from side to side as they follow the hard munchable. Not ready to introduce the hard munchable? Use a baby toothbrush, Nuk brush, or any stick shaped rubery item that they can hold and dip.

- Work on self feeding when you have time to devote to getting messy.

This may only be once or twice a week in the beginning but remember, learning new skills take time and patience for both you and your child. Go ahead and strip your little nugget down to their diaper and set them up in their high chair ready to make a mess. Messy play is such a sensory rich experience for kids as they feel the food squishing between their finger, toes, and in their nose. They’ll also get to practice bringing their hands to their mouths to lick tasty foods off their fingers, thus reinforcing that motor movement pattern that is similar to bringing utensils to their mouths.

- Start out with thicker, more cohesive foods to practice on the spoon.

Since mixed combination textures (e.g., fruit cocktail, peas, rice) are like level: ninja for novice self feeders, be sure to start with a food like yogurt, pudding, hummus, or even guacamole that is super thick and sticks together. This way you are setting your child up for more successful attempts and hopefully ensuring that they’ll want to keep trying this new skill, no matter how difficult it is.

Thanks for listening!

If you have any questions or comments, we are all ears. 

-ODPT