Independent Feeding

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“Mashed potato & EMR is OK! So let me introduce you to the most autonomous feeding possible for your baby" That's how @daroniefoodclub opens her account, and the very funny Manon, speech therapist in Marseille. She came to facilitate an EMR workshop at the Mom Sweet Home a few weeks ago, followed by Marion Guérin, food diversification coach... well a few months, but we are so late that we pretend that it is not the case..


It is a moment, in the first year of the baby, when you say to yourself: ok little one, you are 6 months old (or more) and all your teeth (well soon)... It's time to teach you to eat by yourself (more or less). 👶🏼

Child-led diversification, also called self-feeding, is an approach that emphasizes the child's discovery of solid foods, rather than purees and compotes fed by spoon from the parents (without abandoning it completely either).

For your child, it's quite an experience: up until then used to milk, which will remain the basis of their diet for the first year, they discover new textures, new tastes, new smells... 

For you, it is also an adventure, which implies to have confidence in your ability to manage on your own... And not to be afraid to have food all over the floor... 🧹

▹ How will I know if my baby is ready?

While independent feeding usually begins around 5-6 months of age, it is important to remember that age should not be the primary indicator.

If you want to know if your baby is ready to eat on their own, there are several things to look for: 

‣ Maintain the sitting position: without having to stand up straight, your baby should be able to sit up on their own or with a little help in their high chair, without straps around their shoulders. The purpose is to check that he/she is sufficiently toned, muscularly speaking, to tackle the discovery of food. 

‣ Grabbing objects and bringing them to the mouth: when the palm of the hand closes on the object voluntarily grabbed, and he/she brings it easily to his mouth, it is win!

‣ Show an interest in food: for this, you can get him/her used to it from a young age by putting him/her at the table with you or when you cook... If you see that he/she opens his/her eyes wide to your food or that he/she drools, it's a good sign!

To summarize, to begin child-led diversification, you need:

‣ A baby with clean hands 👌🏼

‣ A food item with a safe size and texture ⚠️

‣ A high chair (and a large tablecloth on the floor) 🧺

▹ What is your role ? 

The best time is not the same for every parent; you have to try. Julie Longy, IBCLC lactation consultant shares her recommendations:

‣ Make sure your baby isn't too tired or hungry: lunch is often the ideal time to start independent feeding.

‣ Offer 2 or 3 foods (healthy and varied) per meal to start, in small quantities, on a tray in front of them or directly in their hand.

‣ Give them time: the first meals can last about forty minutes (time to let them digest, to become full...).

‣ Explain what they are eating, colors, textures, names...

‣ Don't hesitate to accompany them... it won't be 100% independent from the start and that's okay! If your baby starts to get frustrated, offer milk and/or a nap.

‣ At the end of the meal, check to see if any food has stuck to the roof of their mouth or in their cheeks

‣ Be prepared to have it all over the floor!

▹ What foods can I start EMR with?

The goal is to choose foods that are adapted to the development of your baby and what they know how to do from a motor point of view (catching, chewing...), so that they are successful. 

Melt-in-the-mouth textures 

Raw and crunchy foods are obviously to be avoided. Melting textures should be preferred. Chewing is a process that takes time to acquire, considered mature between 4 and 6 years of age.
To check that the texture is the right one, by putting the food in your mouth: if it crushes easily by pressing the tongue on the palate, it's perfect (it also allows you to check the temperature)

The right size 

It should fit in the palm of the hand to be well maintained and should not be smaller than the diameter of an adult finger, to avoid the risk of choking.

On the list of perfect foods to start EMR, includes:

Banana. 🍌

Avocado 🥑

Watermelon and melon. 🍉

Steamed green vegetables (broccoli, zucchini...). 🥦

Ripe peach wedges. 🍑

Well-cooked chicken breast. 🍗

Sweet potato or well-cooked carrot. 🥕

Well-cooked pasta. 🍝

Foods to avoid or divert until age 4-6:

‣ To avoid choking hazard: nuts, peanuts 🥜, whole or dry grapes 🍇, seeds, raw carrot or apple pieces 🍏

‣ To avoid nausea risks: raw lettuce leaves 🥬, bread crumbs 🍞, pureed oilseeds spread in thick layer 🌰

‣ To avoid bacteriological risks: honey up to 1 year 🍯, raw meat and fish 🍣, raw eggs and milk 🥛

‣ For sugar/fat/salt content: chocolate 🍫, fast food 🍔 or fruit juice... 🧃

▹ Allergens: to be checked little by little

In France, 14 food allergens are acknowledged (eggs, cow's milk, peanuts, gluten...). To reduce the risk of future allergies, it is recommended to introduce them before your child is 12 months old.

The best way to "validate" an allergen, i.e. to verify that your child is not reactive, is to follow the following schedule:

‣ Introduce a first allergen in small quantities (half a nail minimum), 3 consecutive days

‣ Take a break for 2 days (without allergens) to check that there are no skin, digestive or respiratory signs  

If there are no signs, he or she is not allergic. You can move on to the next allergen.

If you have any questions or doubts, consult a pediatrician or allergist. 

▹ Various nutrients

It is important to give your baby a varied diet from the beginning, paying attention to the nutritional qualities of each food. A complete meal (once the EMR is well established), should include foods from each food group, including:

‣ one (or more) vegetable(s) 🥦

‣ a starch (bread, pasta, potato, etc.) 🥖

‣ meat, fish, eggs, legumes, etc. (especially for iron intake) 🍗

‣ a dairy product 🥛

‣ a fruit 🍌

‣ a fat🧈

IRON: a nutrient at the forefront 

Between 0 and 6 months, your child uses his iron reserves for his growth. Except that suddenly, from 6/7 months, his reserves are exhausted and his needs are exponential. To avoid an iron deficiency (which is increased from 6 months), you can therefore prioritize animal proteins (well-cooked fish, meat or eggs) from the beginning. Little tip: To maximize iron absorption, you can add a source of vitamin C to the meal, such as fruit.

PROTEINS and LIPIDS: strength to grow

Younger children need more fat and more protein than older children, because the caloric requirements for their growth peak are greater. (Higher caloric needs). Omega 3 is also important for the brain. 

Steaming is the best way to preserve the nutrients in your food. If you don't have time to shop, choose frozen vegetables over canned.

Trust your children: they eat according to their needs. When you give them a choice of different foods, they will, for example, eat more fat when they are in growth spurts, more sugars when they are recovering from an illness, or fat when it is cold.

▹ What about the gag reflex?

One of the main fears parents have - and it's normal - when starting EMR is choking. If you follow the correct recommendations for food size/texture and don't leave your child to eat on their own (unsupervised), everything will be fine! 

If you observe your baby having GAGs (gag reflexes), do not panic! Gagging and choking are 2 completely different mechanisms:

‣ Choking (in the throat) is an emergency situation, indicating that the airway is blocked. Signs of choking may include wheezing, crying or holding your hand to your throat...For reassurance, find out about first aid measures to perform in case of a wrong way and/or, if it happens, call the emergency number (15 in France).

‣ the gag reflex (in the mouth) is, on the contrary, safe and temporary. It allows the child to protect his airways from choking when he puts a food too far into his mouth. If it happens, don't panic, reassure your baby that everything is fine. 

How can we help them to reverse this reflex?

‣ Let them put their fingers in their mouths and become desensitized

‣ Choose teething toys that have spikes

‣ Desensitize their palate by sliding your pinky finger over it, little by little.

Bon appétit Fam'! 👋🏼

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