Our 11 month old doesn’t have much interest in eating table foods except for cheerios, crackers and the like. She will pick up pieces of food with her pincher fingers and put them to her lips to taste them. Sometimes she will eat a few bites very slowly and deliberately. We occasionally have days at a time where she will eat something like a bunch of blueberries or peas, but that last a couple of days and then she stops eating them. Mostly she just breaks apart the veggies, fruits, meats, cheeses, and beans we try to give her. We always offer her table foods first at every meal, but then end up feeding her with a spoon. She eats stage 3 baby foods or other chunky pureed food we make with no problems and pretty much anything off of a spoon. But, feeding herself doesn’t seem to interest her. How do we transition to more table foods?
Your baby is at the age where she is ready to explore new tastes and textures with foods, and is also continuing to develop her fine motor and oral motor skills to do so. Many babies at this age “play” with food, as you described, breaking it apart, scattering it on their tray, putting it to their lips to taste and possibly spitting it out. I am glad to hear she is doing fine with and adult spoon feeding her and is not having trouble tolerating stage 3 foods or chunky purees (as these are a problem for many kids of this age). Keep in mind children need to taste something or be presented a new food as many as 17 times before they will actually eat it. So even though she may refuse a new food on one or two occasions, don’t assume she will not eventually eat it, and continue to re-present new foods daily or weekly. It’s great that you are offering her the table foods at every meal and you should continue to do so. Offer her bite sized pieces of whatever you are having for lunch or dinner. Praise her for all attempts at self-feeding, even if it is only touching the food and bringing it to her lips. Continue to be good eating role models for her and let her watch you pick up food from her tray and take a bite, exaggerate your chewing, etc. to encourage her to imitate you.
Let her hold her own spoon during all meals, and expect and allow messiness. Help her dip her own spoon into foods that will stick to it, such as yogurts, puddings, mashed veggies, potatoes, etc. and encourage her to self feed using her own spoon…she may be able to do her stage 3 jarred foods this way. It sounds like she is ok with picking up and self-feeding “crunchies” like Cheerios, crackers, etc., but is balking at self-feeding foods of a more slippery or slimey texture (veggies, fruits, meats). This could be because fine motor wise it is more difficult and challenging for her to pick up and bring the more slippery small cut table foods to her mouth, or perhaps she does not like the feel of those foods on her hands & fingers. Since she has eaten blueberries and even peas for you before from her tray, continue to present these foods every now and again.
Also, do not put too many foods on her tray at one time, this can be overwhelming for young toddlers and it gives them that opportunity to just scatter the foods or sweep them on the floor, which at this age is fun and a game for them. Try cutting toast or crackers into long strips and allowing her to dip them into hummus or gaucamole. If she has a favorite toy that she chews on or will bring to her mouth, you can let her dip that toy into foods as well. You can use one of the Nubby feeder mesh bags to place foods into, which will allow her to hold and chew foods and experience new flavors without the risk of choking. If you daughter is healthy and gaining weight adequately, then many of these self-feeding skills will continue to develop with time and practice. Be sure to always keep meals positive and pleasant and never show displeasure if she does not eat something.
During play time, work on fine motor skill development by letting her drop Cheerios into an empty bottle with a small opening (such as cleaned out trial size shampoo bottle), or place one Cheerio into each section of an empty egg carton and encourage her to use her neat pincer grasp to reach in and remove each Cheerio. In the bathtub and sandbox (or an inside rice or bean table) use large spoons and cups/buckets to encourage the scooping method needed for self feeding with a spoon. If you are continuing to present table foods daily and allowing her to old her own spoon at meals and you are not seeing progress in another 1-2 months, or you are noticing her having any defensiveness with textures of food (either on her hands, face or in her mouth), you may want to contact your local early intervention provider to request a feeding evaluation from a pediatric occupational or speech therapist who can give you more suggestions for the development of self-feeding skills. Anyone (a parent, doctor, caregiver, teacher, or friend) can make a referral by calling 1-800-905-TIES and asking for a listing of certified Early Intervention Programs serving a particular city or town. Referrals are made directly to a certified program.