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For parents, getting a toddler to chew food is one of the strangest challenges they might have to encounter. An act that seems natural to us might not be the same for the little ones who are just getting used to the concept of solid food items. Therefore, it is necessary to know the best ways of guiding kids in the act of chewing food items effectively.
What is Chewing?
In the simplest terms, the act of breaking down the food in the mouth by crushing and grinding it, as a way to stimulate the digestive process, is termed as chewing.
When Can a Baby Start Chewing Food
Babies already experiment with their mouth by using their fingers and other toys. The act of chewing mainly begins when they are close to completing a year. This is precisely why most parents are advised to introduce new food items in this phase, to encourage that chewing activity. The coordination of the tongue, jaws, and swallowing is the core part of the act of chewing food properly.
Can Babies Chew Food without Teeth?
Most of the chewing activity is conducted by the molar teeth in the jaw. While your little one might not have molars until he is around 1.5 years or so, the gums are healthy enough for light chewing activities. The chewing movement and technique are all that they need to learn now.
Why Is Chewing Food A Problem in Some Toddlers
No kid can start chewing food right away. Every child has his own learning curve and most kids pick it up by the time they are old toddlers. At times, a few kids can pose numerous problems around it, which are primarily due to a few significant reasons.
1. Lack of Interest in Food
Some children might be exposed to a meal plan that has similar food items repeating quite often. At times, they also have an affinity for easy to chew foods making them lose their interest in attempting to experiment with different tastes and textures.
2. An Absence of Lumpy Foods in Early Stages
By the time your child is nearly a year old, it is recommended that different tastes and textures of foods are introduced to him. For a child purely dependent on breastfeeding through this phase, chewing can be quite a difficult task to handle later in life.
3. Delayed Introduction to Solid Foods
Chewing is a skill that needs development pretty early in life. If you choose to introduce solids only after he has grown up, the kid might have difficulty in accepting such food items and would prefer to drink milk all the time.
Tips to Teach A Child to Chew Food
Your child may have some difficulty in chewing his food as he begins to learn it initially and it is normal. With a few tips, you can make that more comfortable for him as well as peaceful for you, too.
1. Keep Yourself Calm
Before you even attempt to start teaching your little one how to chew, there needs to exist an atmosphere of peace and calm. This can get difficult rather quickly and if the mood of the child is already disturbed, it is not going to make things easier for either of you. Your own stress can counteract the appetite of the child and prevent him from any attempts at chewing his food. Keep the mood happy and let chewing turn into an interesting activity.
2. Pick Appropriate Food Items
While it is essential that your child has a variety of food items that provide him with multiple nutrients, the key aspect at this stage is to ensure that he chews his food properly no matter what. Giving him grapes or even popcorn might not be a great choice if he can’t chew them well. The risk of foods being lodged in his throat and causing him to choke is quite real.
3. Give Him Food Only When He’s Hungry
Children find chewing to be a needless activity and would do everything they can to avoid it. A child with his stomach full will barely even touch any food item that requires chewing. Therefore, turn the tables by offering those items when your child’s hunger is at its peak. He might resist initially but the hunger will soon take over and leave him no choice but to eat the food by chewing it well.
4. Allow Him to Feed Himself
Children that refuse to chew are usually very self-driven and want to do things their way. You can use this quality to your advantage as well. Set up his mealtime with the foods in a bowl and give him a small plastic spoon. He will do everything he can to use the spoon properly, even if it involves eating foods that require him to chew them properly. Don’t fret if he manages only a few bites. That’s a pretty good start on its own.
5. Opt for A Fruit Feeder
Fruits are quite essential for toddlers but it can get difficult for kids to chew them well. Some might slurp on them to get the flavour and leave the fruit as it is. In such cases, use a fruit feeder. These are mesh bags that hold the fruit pieces together. Since they are FDA approved, kids can use them to lick and feel the fruit, as well as bite them comfortably.
6. Prepare Small Food Items That Are Soft
Your child will inevitably mature to a stage where he’d be able to eat food items of all textures easily. But the initial stages need to be easy on him. This can be done by preparing tiny finger foods that can be easily eaten. Choose those that don’t take much effort to chew down and even start melting once they are in the mouth.
7. Allow Your Child to Use A Grabber Toy
Apart from chewing on foods, children also take their time in understanding how to use their hands to feed themselves. With a variety of food textures, there will be instances where they fail to pick up a fruit from the plate or let it slip out of their hands. These grabber toys can help in stimulating their motor senses and give them the confidence to experiment with chewing, too.
Word of Caution
Even if your child shows rapid progress, it is important to keep away from hard food items like chocolates or salads until he can learn to chew fully. These can even harm the gums, at times, let alone the choking hazard they pose.
Once you know how to teach your baby to chew food, the rest of the progress is only a matter of time. Before you know it, your little one would be picking out food from your plate and enjoying it happily.
Also Read: When Do Infants Start Teething?