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Our son has been supplementing his formula with solid food for several months now. We started him on simple cereals (rice cereal, oatmeal, etc.), then added basic jarred baby food. Now he's eating blended jarred baby food, and we've been giving him selected "adult" food off our plates on occasion.

Toast and french fries/potato wedges appear to be his favorite foods, mostly because he can easily grip them and enjoy them for 5-10 minutes at a time (before they become too mushy and disintegrate or he drops them). He has no problem ripping off small pieces to chew (well, mostly gum; he has his 2 front bottom teeth, with his 2 top front teeth just coming in), but sometimes the pieces he gets are much bigger.

My wife constantly worries about him choking, and starts whacking on his back any time he shows any difficulties. What information I could find on the subject (for example) seems to indicate "easy to grip" is a good criteria for baby led weaning, and that gagging is "their way of moving food around in the mouth and don’t panic". That site in particular highlights a variety of photos of very young children eating adult-sized portions of everything ranging from broccoli to pork chops.

I've seen other sites that state that babies should only be fed solid food if it is in tiny pieces, to avoid choking.

How big should solid foods be? Is toast a choking hazard?

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Just wanted to mention that hitting anybody on the back while they are coughing up food actually increases their chance of choking. This is because it loosens the food and then gravity pulls it down farther (as I learned in a CPR and First Aid class). It is recommended to stand by closely, but not touch the person and let them cough it up themselves (the body does a pretty good job itself). For the baby, once the food is back in their mouth then you can take it out. –  Caterpillar's Leaf Aug 3 '11 at 21:48
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Caterpillar's advice about letting them cough it up themselves is correct. However, I feel it should be emphasized that if the baby is not getting air past the food, please see here and here. –  Beofett Aug 4 '11 at 0:17
    
For actual choking (when no air can get through, the baby is turning blue, and the baby is making no sounds at all), that is correct. When the baby is coughing, meaning that some air is getting through (this is not actual choking), hitting them on the back will cause choking. If you notice, when they are hitting the baby on the back when it is choking, they turn the baby upside down so the food won't fall farther down. –  Caterpillar's Leaf Aug 4 '11 at 4:31
    
@Caterpillar Fair point, and a definite mis-read on my part. Its an important distinction to note whether or not air is getting through (our pediatrician told us the very same thing). I've corrected my previous comment, as nothing you said was incorrect. Please accept my apology for the mistake. –  Beofett Aug 4 '11 at 12:15
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6 Answers

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I am not sure about toast - we give our 10 month old slightly toasted bread with plenty of butter to keep it soft. It's soft enough that can rip it apart with her little fingers. We usually take the crust off because that requires a lot more effort for her to chew.

As for other foods, all the veggies and fruits we give her are steamed enough to be fairly soft. We normally cut things into pieces that are small enough for her to chew on but big enough for her to pick up and put in her mouth. When we don't cut things into small pieces (tried this with watermelon), she tries to shove the whole thing in her mouth (which she spits out, eventually).

There are times when she isn't able to chew on something easily even if it is small enough. For example, we gave her a slice of mandarin once - but even the overly thin skin on the mandarin slice makes it hard for her to chew it. She had trouble with that and was our only "almost choked" incidence. We peel it from now on. On the other hand, we give her a much bigger sized whole-wheat cookie to chew on all the time and she has never choked on it, or even come close. Reason being because it melts and becomes mush in her mouth almost instantly.

So, in all, I think the size of the food you give your little one depends on how easily and quickly it can become mush in her mouth. If it requires a lot of chewing (vegetables take a while), give it in small pieces. If it becomes mush easily (bananas, avocadoes, etc.), you can get away with a bigger piece.

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To add to this, regarding choking. The rule of thumb is that the baby (and anyone, for that matter) is coughing, s/he is breathing and you can let them cough it up themselves (I've found it's also a good way for them to learn how not to choke), and intervening may even cause more harm than good. If they appear to be choking, but aren't coughing and/or are turning blue, then it's time to intervene, because they can't breathe. –  Shauna Jun 14 '11 at 20:16
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The biggest thing to worry about are foods that they can "compress" with their jaws, but will expand in their throats upon swallowing. Hot dogs are one example.

Beyond that, as long as he has the concept of "chewing" down, even if he's lacking the teeth for it, and the food can get mushed up that way, he should be fine with most foods.

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The esophagus of a child is about the diameter of a hot dog or a grape. So, as a guide, make the pieces smaller than that. We quartered our hot dogs.

Choking is a problem if children stuff their mouths with food and if they are moving around with food in their mouths.

We were late starting the rule not to leave the table until your mouth is empty, having learned that from a babysitter.

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+1 for that empty mouth thing, I should institute that along with no leaving the table until you ask. I have a rule that certain rooms, bedrooms and bathrooms, are NOT to be entered if you have food in your mouth. This is more to avoid messes than anything else, and make my kids understand food is for the table and not to wander around the house. –  MichaelF Jun 15 '11 at 12:36
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We've always made the food small, depending on age and size we've expanded the food from about the size of a pinky (small finger) nail up to "kid bite-size". It also depends on if the child knows how to chew, or can break up the food in their mouth. Toast was good for us since it was grippable, and the toast begins to break up in the mouth, fries and similar items were the same. We've given steamed rice, my wife is Chinese so it's with most every meal, as well as small pieces of chicken, even BBQ since the meat tends to be very tender and breaks up nicely; strangely my son loved BBQ from when he could eat at the table.

I concur with the "choking" comments, my son has done the same thing but so long as he is breathing we've left him alone and tend to give him some water right after, that tends to help him swallow.

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We moved from breast milk to oatmeal and small bits of food fairly early - we were advised against blended or bottled baby food as it would actually take longer for the child to learn to chew and swallow properly without choking. The advice we were given was to include as much texture as possible so we went straight from breast milk to breastmilk supplimented with everything from bits of avocado to blueberries, steamed asparagus, chicken etc. Our daughter loved experiencing new tastes and textures and as a result she's become a willing and cooperative eater.

Everything we fed her after about 4-5 months, as a rule, was cut into bits which could not block her even if she did forget to chew - about the size of 1/4 of a seedless grape (another one she was fond of). We did this until she was over 12 months and gradually increased the bite size but we still don't get any bigger than we think she can handle.

We were also told that the choke reaction was perfectly natural and very important for a baby to learn for their own safety. So don't be alarmed if they gag or cough a few times along the way. It's part of learning how to eat.

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I found this site very helpful in matching a child's motor skills to their readiness for various food consistencies. http://www.babycenter.com/0_age-by-age-guide-to-feeding-your-baby_1400680.bc

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