Feeding Strategies for Infants and Toddlers

Mealtime Strategies

Tips for Breast and Bottle-Feeding

  • It is important to maintain a proper alignment when breast and bottle-feeding. There are a variety of different positions to try. Research what works best for you and your infant. 

    • If your child is having difficulty taking the breast or bottle, consult your pediatrician and/or occupational therapist on your child's team. 

  • Hold your infant close to your body, using as much skin-to-skin contact as possible and holding eye contact. A calm environment is best if possible. 

  • Once your child is able to hold their own bottle, they should be in a semi-reclined or upright position, with or without support (based on their developmental skill level). One way to determine this is by checking to see if the child's ear is more elevated than their mouth.  This is to ensure proper alignment for safe swallowing, as well as to avoid illnesses, such as ear infections. 

  • It is still important to include your infant in family mealtimes. Try some of these strategies to include your child during family mealtimes 

    • Safely place them near the table where the family is eating so they can feel as though they are a part of the activity.

    • Give them something to mouth, such as a baby-safe chew toy. This can help them recognize mealtime as a time to use their hands and mouth! 

    • Let them play with spoons, bowls, and cups while they sit and watch you eat. Associating these items with mealtime will make for an easier transition when they are ready to start solids. 

    • Consider turning off all electronics during mealtime now and again. This can help a child focus more on you and your family!

Tips for Starting Solids

Feeding Babes: Starting Solid Foods from Kaiser Permanente

Starting Solids: 

  • Once your infant is approved for solids by your pediatrician, gradually begin to introduce foods in the order suggested by your pediatrician. This is typically around 4-6 months of age and may also depend on if your child is able to sit upright and alone on a stable surface. 

  • Allow your child to get the food on their hands and bring to their mouths themselves, so they can prepare for its smell and taste. 

  • Ensure proper alignment with head support, good head/trunk control, with their hips and knees at right angles. 

  • Encourage your child to mouth a variety of infant-safe objects to prepare their mouths for chewing. 

  • Provide your child with 2 or 3 spoons or toys at a time to scoop food and play/eat with to make mealtime exciting! You can use one and they can try to self-feed or play with the others. 

  • Some children prefer to have small portion sizes on their tray or table in front of them at one time. They can always have more! 

  • Expose your child to a variety of smells. If your child is already sensitive to smells, learn what they prefer/avoid, and help them cope with that smell by introducing it slowly. 

Positioning is KEY! 

Blog to learn more about How to choose the best high seat for your toddler! 

References: 

Henry, D. A., Kane-Wineland, M., & Swindeman, S. (2015). Tools for Infants: Sensory-Based Strategies for Parents, Caregivers, and Early Intervention Providers. Glendale, AZ: Henry OT.

Tips for Self-Feeding

Incorporate some of the following play activities to help your child with self-feeding skills: 

  • Dump and pour activities using measuring cups, spoons, bowls, cups, etc. 

  • Finger painting (see our "Sensory Strategies" page for safe ways to finger paint with a toddler).

  • Blocks - increase hand-eye coordination and grasp.

  • Velcro play food - build strength and pretend play skills by putting velcro on pretend food items! 

  • Have a picnic! Pretend to feed your child's stuffed animals using a spoon or cup.

  • Color using crayons, marker, chalk, etc. This is great to help use one hand at a time.

Expect Mess! Strategies for Mealtime (recommend supervision at all times)

Finger-feeding 
  • Be aware of safe finger foods for infants and toddlers. Click on the link to this website to learn more about Finger Foods.

  • Beginner finger foods should easily melt in a child's mouth. Cut these foods in a long strips or a variety of larger shapes and sizes to help your child learn more about different ways to hold their food. Your child may hold on to a food for a long time at first, sucking more than chewing. Your child is still learning how to release objects from their hands. 

  • Provide child with 1-2 foods at a time. They can always have more! It is sometimes overwhelming for a child to see so much food on their plate or tray. If you'd like to work on your child using their index finger and thumb together by picking up a cheerio or yogurt melt, provide them with a few spread out at a time. Otherwise, they may try to scoop them all up at once! 

Spoon feeding 
  • Introduce the spoon as a play object during mealtimes as early as possible. Let your child explore this object before you try to put it in their mouths. 

  • You may need to help guide your child to their mouth by helping to hold the spoon. Try to help them first by scooping the food out of the bowl, and then letting them bring to their mouth by themselves. As they progress, you can gradually let them scoop their own food. 

  • You may need to hold onto the spoon at the same time as your child to help them self-feed in the beginning stages. Once the spoon is in their hand, place your own hand underneath theirs and guide them in the feeding process. Some children are hesitant of "hand over hand" feeding, meaning you place your hand over and around their own. By placing your hand under their hand with the spoon, they can feel more confident and independent!

  • If your child can scoop food and bring to their mouth but needs a little bit of help, try supporting at the elbow. 

Cup drinking
  • Parents often purchase sippy cups with spouts as a child's "first cup." Although these cups work for some children, drinking from open cups, straw cups, or cups with a flat lid (360 cups) are best. 

  • Read this article to learn more about what cup might work best for your child: Sippy Cups.

  • You may need to support more at first until your child understand how to drink from a cup. You can fill the cup up halfway instead of filling it to the top. 

  • If your child has difficulty drinking when the liquid pours too quickly, try using a water-down smoothie, yogurt, or other pureed food first. Slower flow rates are easier to manage than water or milk.