Your baby’s needs for texture and consistency change as she develops and grows. She explores the world with her mouth, so you can offer a range of textures once she has developed her ability to swallow. Three transitional stages of learning to eat coincide with different consistency needs. These three basic stages and textures of food are: creamy and smooth (6 to 12 months), crunchy and crispy (12 to 18 months), and chewy (18 months to 2 years+).
Creamy and smooth (6 to 12 months): The first transition is from liquid food, whether breast milk or formula, to cooked foods. A blender is essential to get a smooth, liquid puree that is soupy for your baby’s first few months of eating. During this first stage, she can experiment with new tastes and consistencies such as soft foods with smooth and creamy textures, and gradually shift to a thicker puree that uses less water in cooking, and then to foods that are dense with a lumpy texture.
A food mill or grinding bowl is sufficient for this thicker consistency. By the time she is one year old, she can learn how to swallow foods and eat for nutrition. As she begins to feed herself, she can enjoy finger foods that she can pick up—soft pieces of steamed or boiled vegetables, chunks of tofu, noodles, and soft raw foods, such as avocados and bananas, that become smooth as she gums and swallows them. Her digestive system is still underdeveloped, so it is necessary to introduce foods slowly and watch for reactions.
Crunchy and crispy (12 to 18 months): The second transition is learning to eat foods that require chewing, such as lightly steamed vegetables, dry cereals, breads, muffins, and crackers. She can eat larger pieces of finger foods and small portions of some adult foods. After her first birthday, her digestive system is more developed and she can gradually try many foods that were previously avoided.
As you introduce new foods, observe her reactions to make sure she is not allergic. At this age, she can feed herself and participate in family meals. As her teeth come in, you can serve crispy pea-size chunks or sticks of vegetables and fruits that are lightly cooked or raw, baked vegetables, and flour products, such as bread, crackers, cookies, and puffed grains.
Chewy (18 months to 2 years+): The third transition is eating food that is similar to adult food, and at this stage she can add chewy textures. At 18 months old, she probably has most of her baby teeth, and she can chew most things, although she still may need help with some foods cut into small pieces, such as fish or poultry, rice crispy treats, whole nuts, and dried fruits.
By now, your toddler probably has developed her personal tastes and preferences. At this stage, it is easy to integrate cooking for your toddler with that of the rest of the family. Use mild seasonings while cooking, and then family members can add condiments at the table.
Temperature of Food
Bob Flaws, the traditional Chinese doctor and author of A Handbook of TCM Pediatrics, says that for digestion to take place in your baby’s stomach the temperature needs to be 100ºF, which is near her body temperature. He says that digestion is a process that needs warm chi, or energy, and that cold, chilled, or frozen foods can weaken the digestive system, because it has to work harder to warm up the foods so that the nutrients can be assimilated.
You can heat food that has been frozen to kill bacteria or pathogens and to make it warm. Then it needs to cool to body temperature before serving. Eating cold food by itself or mixed with warm food can be upsetting to your baby’s digestive system. Warming food in a stainless steel, silicone, or glass heat-resistant steamer over a pan of hot water is an easy and safe way to prepare food that has been refrigerated or frozen. Test the food after stirring to make sure the temperature is about 100ºF before serving.