Advice for feeding solid foods to a baby

March 27, 2012

Q.My 9-month-old son is a healthy, active and happy baby who babbles, cruises and says a couple of words. But he had some frightening feeding problems when he was an infant, and my fears come back every time he pushes his bottle away. I try to act warm and casual, however, and we’ve moved on, with shared excitement, to solid foods.

I make most of them myself, and now my son eats many orange and green vegetables, meats, grains and yogurt with great enthusiasm. He enjoys a variety of herbs and spices and loves bananas, the only fruit he will eat.

I have heard that some babies will try coarser textures and perhaps even some finger foods at 9 months. Is that developmentally appropriate for my son? He can feed himself Cheerios and baby rice puffs, but he’s not that great at gumming them. He can eat coarsely ground food, but he eats it slowly, as if he is feeling the texture of each little lump inside his mouth. One time, he gagged on a couple of tiny but very soft broccoli sprigs, which brought up some of his breakfast and brought up some scary memories for me as well.

Should I help my son move to the next stage of eating anyway? Should we let him try to feed himself with a spoon first? And since he doesn’t like bottles too much, should we give him his formula in a sippy cup? He does drink water from an open cup, with help, so perhaps he could master it.

I don’t want to pressure my son to do anything before he is ready, but I also don’t want to let my fears hold him back.


(Hadley Hooper/For The Washington Post)

A.Relax and enjoy your little boy. You’re doing a great job with him. He just needs you to keep making as much of his food as you can; to use pure, organic ingredients whenever possible; to keep sugar, dyes and preservatives to a minimum; and to let him try each new food for five days in a row, to make sure he isn’t allergic to it.

Your son also needs to smell the spices and herbs as you cook and to keep trying new foods. Shredded tuna or sardines, mashed avocados, hummus, and cheese on tiny pieces of well-cooked pasta should please him, even though it may take a while for him to get used to some textures.

A variety of foods may keep your child from asking for chicken nuggets and mac-and-cheese when his appetite drops next year, and it may keep you from giving in just because you want him to eat something. If your son’s diet is restricted to a few foods, however, he won’t get all of the vitamins and minerals he needs. And if he’s allowed to choose these foods, he may think that he’s in charge. A child is not the king of the family, and the kitchen is not a food court.

Instead, you and your husband will need to serve him the foods you eat, have a calm and contented table, and read his cues with care. Although you tell your child what he can eat — simply by deciding what foods you will serve — his body English will tell you when he wants more and when he’s had enough. If you respect his choices, he’ll respect yours.

If your 9-month-old decides to feed himself, as many babies do at this age, let him use his fingers, rather than a spoon. He can safely put pea-size pieces of a potato or a banana into his mouth, one by one, but his hand-eye coordination probably won’t be good enough to handle a spoon for a few more months.

You’ll know your son is ready to do that when he grabs for the spoon that you’re holding and then looks quite pleased if he gets the food into his mouth. Don’t be disappointed when he dumps the food on his head after the first few bites. It’s hard for a baby to learn how to feed himself, but this skill is necessary — and so, alas, is the cleanup. Such is the price parents pay for loving their child, and really, it’s a small one. Hair can be washed; floors can be swept.

To learn more about feeding babies, read “The Toddler Bistro” by Christina Schmidt (Bull Publishing, 2009, $17), which is packed with nutrition advice; “Mommy Made and Daddy Too!” by Martha and David Kimmel with Suzanne Goldenson (Bantam, 2000, $18); and “Super Foods for Children” by Michael van Straten and Barbara Griggs (DK, 2006). The last book is out of print, but it’s worth looking for because it’s so complete. The 130 recommended superfoods are supposed to make your child healthier — and smarter — than he already is.

Questions? Send them to advice@margueritekelly.com.

Also at washingtonpost.com Join Kelly on Thursday at 1 p.m. for a live Q&A, rescheduled from last week, at washingtonpost.com/advice , where you can also read previous Family Almanac columns.

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