Messy Play with Food

As early as 4 months of age, Pediatricians are encouraging parents to expose children to baby foods. This milestone is pivotal in staging the rest of the child’s feeding experience. The main goal of this exposure is not for ingestion, as calories are still predominantly from breastmilk or formula, but for exploration.

Encourage your child to get messy! Show them how to smash their food, touch it with both hands, and smear it on their highchair tray. Is in in their hair? No problem! What you are encouraging is learning about the foods! Is it soft or hard? Can it break? Is it warm or cool? Does it have a big flavor or a small one? How can the child manipulate the food? Provide opportunities for children to use their fingers, a tool (such as an infant spoon), or a celery rod. The opportunity to be creative are endless!

Suggestions for messy play at home:

  • Mix baby cereal with preferred breastmilk/formula
    • Can be mixed with more or less milk to alter the consistency
    • Can mix with water as an alternative
    • Can be warmed in the microwave
    • Can be cold from fridge milk
    • Can put in freezer for a few minutes before serving
  • Stage 1 purees (can mix different flavors once introduced one at a time and checked for allergic reaction- consult your Pediatrician before mixing textures)
  • Smashed banana
  • Smashed avocado
  • Smashed sweet potato
  • Celery rod (at least 6 inches long)
  • Carrot rod (at least 6 inches long)
  • Cooked then pureed squash (Acorn squash, Butternut Squash)

Learning to Eat with “Hard Munchables”

What are Hard Munchables?

Hard Munchables are rod shaped food items that a child can hold independently and when inserted into the child’s mouth, it does not break apart and is long enough that a portion of the food remains outside of the mouth. The goal of hard munchables is NOT to eat, but for the child to explore the inner surfaces of their mouth and learn about this food texture. Exploring hard munchables is extra important for teaching the tongue to put foods to the back of a child’s mouth, thus enabling the child to eat more complex foods in the future, such as steak and baby carrots. Hard munchables are also useful in moving the gag reflex towards the back of the mouth as well as teaching the mouth how to accommodate for different size food objects.

When to introduce hard munchables?

– Child is mouthing toys without prompting.

– Child has neck and head control to sit independently.

– Number of teeth are not a prerequisite….. it is preferred to introduce hard munchables BEFORE children have teeth!

What are examples of hard munchables?

– Raw carrot rod

– Raw celery rod

– Raw jicama rod

– Beef jerky stick

– Hardened pizza crust/bread stick

– Hardened Twizzler stick

– Rib without meat on it

– Frozen French toast sticks

As always, only expose your child to foods under direct and constant supervision. Feeding skills vary and change frequently, so be mindful that one day a celery stick does not break apart and a few weeks later, the child is shredding pieces off!

Once your child’s molars protrude and jaw strength increases, the hard munchables are no longer used for exploration and become a food for ingestion purposes.

Happy Exploring!