Developing chewing and swallowing skills

The age you introduce solid foods, and when to offer different types and textures of foods, depends on your child’s individual development. You need to balance safety concerns about the risk of choking with your child’s need to develop their ability to chew and move food around in their mouths.

Introducing different food textures: 6 to 7 months

In general babies are ready for solids around 6 months. First foods need to be smooth, soft and plain (puréed foods).

Your pēpi is ready to start solid food if they:

  • can hold their head up
  • sit with less help
  • often put their hands in their mouths
  • easily open their mouth when a spoon touches their lip, or as food approaches
  • have no tongue extrusion reflex (the tongue does not come out when a spoon touches their lip) and instead the tongue moves gently back and forth as food enters mouth
  • can keep food in their mouth and then swallow it, instead of spitting the food out
  • show signs of chewing movements.

First foods 

Examples of appropriate first foods are:

  • iron-fortified infant cereal or baby rice
  • cooked and puréed beef, lamb, pork, chicken, fish or legumes
  • puréed fruit without skins, pips or seeds, for example apples, pears, mango — cook to soften if needed
  • cooked and puréed vegetables without skins, for example, kūmara, kamokamo, cassava, tapioca, pumpkin, potato
  • puréed plain cooked rice or congee
  • age-appropriate commercial baby foods.

Introducing different food textures: 7 to 8 months

At this age, you can introduce slightly more textured soft foods and soft lumps. You can also offer some soft finger foods.

Your pēpi is ready for mashed foods, finger foods and new flavours if they:

  • can sit without support
  • probably have some teeth
  • lean towards food or spoon
  • learn to keep thick purées in mouth
  • are learning to chew and bite
  • are interested in finger foods
  • can pick up and bring food to the mouth.

Spoon foods

Examples of appropriate spoon foods are:

  • age-appropriate infant cereals
  • continue to purée meats and fish
  • mashed rather than puréed vegetables and fruits, for example stewed apple, mashed banana, mashed pumpkin, kūmara
  • mashed beans and lentils
  • yoghurts, custards and soft cheeses such as cottage cheese
  • mashed cooked eggs
  • mashed tofu and tempeh.

Finger foods

You should cut these to a size that can be easily held and eaten by your pēpi. Examples of appropriate finger foods are:

  • very soft pieces of vegetables and fruit, for example, slightly overcooked pumpkin, potato, kūmara, ripe banana, avocado
  • toast fingers
  • thin slices of cheese.

Introducing different food textures: 8 to 12 months

At this age, add more texture to mashed foods to support the development of chewing skills.

Your pēpi is ready for more textures and lumpy foods if they:

  • are learning to crawl and may pull themselves up to stand
  • are interested in a wider range of food and varied texture
  • still needs some help to eat
  • can bite well and can chew soft lumps.

Spoon foods

Examples of appropriate spoon foods are:

  • mashed food with minced or finely chopped meat, chicken, kaimoana (seafood) or egg, slightly mashed legumes, chopped noodles or pasta, rice
  • breakfast cereals — make sure they do not contain nuts, large seeds, dried fruits or other small hard foods
  • yoghurt or custard with chopped soft fruit.

Finger foods

Introduce slightly firmer finger foods, such as:

  • ripe fruit such as kiwifruit, orange, avocado, peach, apricot, pear or cooked apple
  • cooked pumpkin, kamokamo, cassava, taro and kūmara
  • finely grated raw apple and carrot
  • toast fingers
  • puffed crispbread
  • grated or thin slices of cheese.

Introducing different food textures: 1 to 3 years

By around one year of age, your child should be eating more of the family foods on offer in the home, chopped up as needed.

It is important to be aware of choking risks, and minimise these when necessary by changing the size or texture of some foods.

Your toddler is ready for many different spoon and finger foods if they:

  • can hold cup with 2 hands and drink from it
  • have molar teeth (used to mash and grind food) coming through — this starts between 12 to 18 months and they are fully erupted and functioning from two and a half years of age
  • can easily use their hands and fingers to feed themselves
  • are more skilful at chewing (have a rotary chewing movement where food is moved in a circle pattern around the mouth)
  • bite through a variety of textures.

Examples of appropriate foods

  • All previously provided foods are still appropriate.
  • Pieces of soft fruit and vegetables.
  • Hard fruit and vegetables, for example, apple or carrot, should be cooked, or grated if raw.
  • Cook meats until tender and chop finely. Add chopped meat to mashed food if desired. Finely chopped meat gives children opportunity to develop chewing skills while remaining safe
  • Bread, for example, sliced wholemeal, rēwena, chapatti, buns and rolls, cut to a size your toddler can easily hold and eat.
  • Pasta or noodles.
  • Sandwiches should be thin and cut to a size small hands can easily hold. Use thinly sliced or moist spreadable ingredients, finely shred or chop salad leaves and avoid whole salad leaves.
  • Puffed crispbread.
  • Corn chips softened with meat sauce.
  • Over time introduce harder crackers with caution.
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