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Foods for Helping Babies Learn to Chew

As a pediatric feeding specialist, I often teach parents what safe foods they can provide for baby that will help to develop chewing skills. Purees, safe-start solids like avocado and meltable teethers are perfect first foods for baby to learn how to move his tongue from side to side. In turn, he’ll begin to develop a chewing pattern that will eventually lead to chomping into more advanced foods as a toddler, like apple slices.

Purees have a purpose! Speech pathologists who specialize in feeding don’t typically recommend avoiding purees, even for baby self-feeding. The beauty of starting with a variety of purees is it offers baby first tastes of all sorts of flavors and plenty of opportunities to practice comfortable swallowing with pre-mashed food before having to chew.

Thicker purees, introduced just a few days after thin, promote early chewing skills and tongue lateralization. It’s that side-to-side movement that leads to chewing and consequently, developing the facial muscles that helps baby with chewier textures in the future. Learn more on techniques and the important tongue movements that help with chewing by reading this article on early feeding development.

It’s so easy to thicken vegetable, meat and fruit purees with Healthy Times Organic Baby Cereals. Be sure to vary the cereal flavor, whether it be by mixing in a bit of barley, brown rice or oatmeal for those babies who aren’t quite 6 months of age. (Healthy Times Organic Mixed Grain Baby Cereal is another wonderful addition once baby reaches 6 months of age.)

The more variety, the more opportunities to expand baby’s flavor palate! Research has shown that a “flavor window” exists in humans when they first start solids at 4 to 6 months of age, up till 18 months of age. When the window opens, it’s the parent’s opportunity to offer a wide variety of flavors and textures. As kids approach the “terrific twos,” the window slowly begins to close, and the natural, brief stage of finicky eating begins. Experiencing a wide range of flavor and texture in the mouth also promotes tongue movement. This in turn promotes jaw movement, which leads to developing more mature chewing skills.

Vegetable and fruit purees are essentially a thickened liquid, which allows baby to transition with ease from knowing how to swallow thinner formula or breast milk to a slightly thicker liquid, before mastering chewing. Organic baby cereals provide the extra iron and vitamins that babies need at this stage. When babies are only offered hand-held solids, they may not always consume enough food to meet the daily nutritional requirements, especially for iron.

Purees on baby’s fingers provide three types of sensory feedback that helps develop feeding and chewing skills: First, the brain detects the feel of the puree on the finger. Second, the brain recognizes the same puree on the tongue and gum lines. Third, the brain gets feedback from baby’s fingers, and that signals the tongue and jaw to begin to move. Yes, it’s a bit messy! But that’s how kids learn!

Safe-start solids refer to soft, squishable foods that baby mashes between his gums, like slices of ripe avocado or steamed strips of vegetables. At first, when baby grasps the food in his little fist, he’ll practice biting with the front of his mouth and likely push the food out immediately. But with practice and your encouragement, baby will learn to move the food to the side of his mouth, where one day he’ll have molars. Now, he’s ready to smash the food between his gums, and his tongue will sense the food on the side of his mouth. The tongue moves toward the food, helping to keep the food in place for more mashing. That tongue movement causes the jaw to shift, and like magic, baby is beginning to develop a munching pattern — the earliest chewing pattern and a milestone in early feeding skills! With more exposure to a variety of safe-start solids, like toast strips spread with puree, steamed baby carrots or baked apple strips, baby will gain the practice he needs to develop a more rotary chew.

Be sure to offer both strips of safe-start solids to elicit the tongue movement and smaller pea-sized cubes of the same food for baby to rake up off his plate and try to place in his mouth. Although most of the cubes will spill out of his mouth, a few will remain and he’ll learn to move them to the gums with his tongue, hold them there, and chew before swallowing. But if he misses the gums and accidentally swallows, the small size of the solid food won’t be a choking hazard. If he gags, don’t be alarmed! The occasional gag is part of the process and helps baby move the food back to the front of his mouth to start again. Learn more about the important gag reflex and how you can keep your baby safe as he learns to chew by reading this article.

The long strip of safe-start solids is duplicated in Healthy Times Organic Baby Teethers. The shape is easy for baby to grasp, decreasing frustration during self-feeding. The ridged exterior helps baby’s tongue find the food and provides input to the gumline to encourage biting and chewing. As baby gnaws on the teether, pieces begin to melt and mix with saliva for easier swallowing. Whether baby is cutting new teeth or not (and it seems like they are always cutting teeth!), a meltable teether is a fabulous first food to help baby develop a mature chewing pattern. Learn how to crumble, dip and chop Healthy Times Organic Baby Teethers in this article, to further boost your baby’s chewing skills.

Disclaimer: I am proud to partner with Healthy Times. All opinions in this blog post are my own.


About the Author: Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP, is an international speaker on the topic of feeding babies, toddlers and school-age kids. She is the co-author of the award-winning Raising a Healthy Happy Eater: A Stage-by-Stage Guide to Setting Your Child on the Path to Adventurous Eating (2015) and Baby Self-Feeding: Solutions for Introducing Purees and Solids to Create Lifelong Healthy Eating Habits (2016). The tips in her latest book, Adventures in Veggieland: Help Your Kids Learn to Love Vegetables with 100 Easy Activities and Recipes (2018) are based on the latest research and Melanie’s 20 years of success as a pediatric feeding therapist. Melanie’s advice has been shared in a variety of television and print media, including The New York Times, CNN.com, Huffington Post and Parents Magazine. Visit her at www.MelaniePotock.com for more articles, professional tips, and helpful videos to raise your adventurous eater!

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DISCLAIMER

The content provided in this article is intended for informational purposes only. It is not recommended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem without consulting a qualified healthcare professional. Always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare professional regarding any medical questions or concerns. See additional information.