In my past posts, I have covered the types of food your infant should eat, factors that can affect variety in meals, the portion size and frequency of these meals. My focus in this post would be the texture of the food to give infants from 6 months.
Babies start their lives on a liquid diet and thus require the control of their swallowing reflexes. At 6 months, semi-solids should be introduced to your infant and then work her way up to solids as she grows. Semisolid foods are very soft and smooth in consistency. They require little mastication and are many times liquidized or pureed. They can be thick or more fluid depending on what it is being used for. Semi-solid foods for infants are expected to be nutrient dense (rich in nutrients) because just a small quantity is being required per meal; their stomachs are very small. Since they filled up quickly, it is best to give the infant something worthwhile at every meal and not just Paps with inadequate nutrients.
At 6 months:
Start with smooth nutrient dense gruels, cereals or even roots and tubers which have been pureed to become semi solids. Since the baby starts with a very liquid meal, you can try out making a more fluid semi-solid until she gets a hang of it and then you increase the thickness. The thickness should be such that the food can stretch out of the spoon to want to fall off but too thick to do so. It should not be runny at all. To achieve this texture, you can blend or mash the food till you achieve smoothness.
Your infant should be eating pureed or well mashed foods. Now that she is getting used to the texture and flavor of foods, you can explore different types of foods while still ensuring that the texture remains soft enough for easy consumption.
Your infant is older and would probably be spotting one tooth or two or even more. Finely chop some finger foods for them. These are foods that they can hold firmly and nibble on. You can also offer slice foods to them. Allowing your infant to feed herself can impacts positively on the development. While this can be time consuming if you are a very busy mother or caregiver, a rough blend of some foods can be fed to the child and then you can give the finger foods as extras knowing fully well that you have fed them adequately. The child can feel the lumps and bigger pieces of food that has been blended roughly and will try to break them down in their mouths before swallowing. They also learn how to chew when they do this.
We eat a lot of ‘swallow’ in Nigeria and some babies love them. The morsels are usually made soft so that the infants can masticate with their gums or teeth and swallow. Soup textures are also important here. Okra can be blended or prepared such a way that the little white seeds are not problem for them. Jutes Mallows (Ewedu) are very easy to prepare and are mucilaginous (they ‘draw’) like the okra and would help eating easier for the infant.
By the end of the first year towards the second, your infant can be transitioned to family foods. Your toddler should be able to eat what you eat. Of course softer versions of your foods and with less pepper or spices and salt should be given to them. So, all you have to do at this age is to accommodate them while making the family dinner. At this stage, they would be used to picking up their finger foods and food slices that they can enjoy as they play. Ensure that you monitor them while they move about.
On a final note, encourage your infant and toddlers to eat. The more attractive or colourful the foods are the more children are drawn to them. Foods cut into shapes can make meal times more exciting.
For children who do not like to eat or have a problem with eating, you can take a quick trip to a hospital to visit a Dietitian or Nutritionist. They have a wealth of experience attending to infants and children every day and they can advise you on what to do.
If you invest time and energy in your children’s nutrition, you would be investing something great into their lives.