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A Solid Foundation

Follow the Food Cues

Finger Food ... and Finger Play

When baby is old enough to start grasping objects between his fingers -- usually about 9 or 10 months -- that's a good time to introduce finger foods. Start with foods that dissolve easily, such as crackers or Cheerios, small pieces of ripe banana, or small bits of cheese.

Consider safety. Avoid slick, round foods like hot dogs, processed meats, hard candy, popcorn, peanuts, grapes, apple chunks, and anything that can get lodged in the throat. Babies face significant risks of choking when they begin eating table food.

Encourage self-feeding by giving him his own spoon and a covered cup. It may be a messy ordeal, but the activity will help him work on fine-motor coordination, like holding things between thumb and forefinger. You may still need to feed him at the same time, but playing with his own utensils will also keep him happy and occupied.

As she squishes those potatoes in her hands or pours milk on her tray, try to remember that she's not doing it to irk you but to learn about different textures, temperatures, colors and other characteristics of her world. A large plastic bib and plastic drop cloth should help, and, as Hurlbut discovered, dogs are better at sucking up spills than any vacuum or sponge.

The transition from liquids to solids takes time. "By 12 to 15 months, they're eating basically the same foods that their parents are eating," says Kessler. "Feeding is a social occasion. Kids should understand that it's part of being a big kid -- it's part of the social fabric of the family."

Above all, keep mealtimes an enjoyable, shared event that sets a standard for family meals to come.

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