If you are traditionally spoon weaning your baby, you will get to a point where your baby can easily manage thick purées, some finger foods and is even coping with soft lumps.
Now you need to turn up the textures a notch to provide more challenging foods which is the final step before your baby is joining in with normal family meals.
When does stage 3 weaning start?
It’s usually around 9-10 months or so, and is often a gradual process rather than a hard stop with stage 2 baby foods.
By 12 months, we want your baby to be eating the same meals as you and the rest of the family. 5
What are Stage 3 foods for babies?
Stage 3 foods include foods that have mixed textures such as chopped family meals.
Examples include beef bolognese with pasta shapes, chicken curry and rice, boiled eggs and toast soldiers or even a mini roast dinner.
It also means offering hard finger foods like raw apple slices or vegetable sticks like raw carrots and peppers and hard dry foods that splinter like crackers. 1 This may fill you with fear because these foods were always deemed a choking risk earlier on in weaning. However if your baby has molar teeth (the big ones at the back) they should be able to chew well enough to manage hard foods safely, and these foods are a texture your baby needs to learn to eat so that they aren’t picky as they get older.
What is the milk and food schedule at stage 3?
It is recommended that your baby should be having 3 meals per day with smaller milk feeds mid morning, mid afternoon and bedtime. The milk on waking will likely have stopped and they definitely don’t need milk through the night.7
Meals probably now consist of two courses, a savoury main course followed by a dessert.
But snacks aren’t needed yet, these come in after your little ones first birthday.
Why are stage 3 baby foods needed?
Stage 3 baby foods are the next level in terms of challenging textures and are needed for your baby’s development of their eating skills. If this miss this and stay on soft textures and purees too long, they will struggle to cope with family foods later on. 2
They also need to learn how to move firmly textured food around their mouth in a circular action, chew it and swallow it successfully 3.
It’s also crucial at this stage that milk feeds decrease so that appetite is learned.
As milk feeds go down, nutrition must come from food which means that planning your baby’s meals becomes even more important.
Did you know that as the challenging textures progress babies work the muscles that are involved with the development of speech? 6
Your baby’s development at this stage
Your baby at this stage will likely be showing a clear interest in food by getting excited and pointing to things they like, and you will be able to recognise when they’re hungry and ready to eat.
Your baby will now be able to self feed, and they’ll be pretty good at not spilling food from the spoon, and they are super proficient at eating with their hands. Dipping will be a novelty so try breadsticks and hummus or a boiled egg and soldiers.
They will even be able to pick up small food items like peas or sweetcorn.
They may start to indicate ‘no’ with a shake of their head or drop food over the side of the highchair when they’re done.
They will also be able to pick up a two handled lidded cup to drink from. 2
What is the difference between stage 2 and stage 3 baby food?
Stage 3 foods are no longer puréed or mashed. They are simply just chopped family foods and harder finger foods. Stage 2 foods include thick purées, mashed foods with lumps and softer finger foods.
If you’re not sure which stage your baby is at you can take a look at my blog post about Stage 2 weaning here.
Clues your baby is ready to start stage 3 foods
Moving on to stage 3 can be such a smooth process that it may have already happened and you didn’t even notice! There isn’t one big sign to watch out for so just spend a little bit of time watching your little one at feeding times.
If you are bottle feeding you may have noticed that these have reduced through the day and if you’re breastfeeding you might have noticed that your baby’s feeds are shorter.
If you watch your baby closely, you should see that they are chewing foods and are able to move the food around their mouth. This is a good sign that they’re capable of eating chopped and minced textures rather than purees and mashed foods.
Your baby will have mastered the pincer grip now which will help them be able to pick up smaller pieces of food between their thumb and forefinger. They may even have some teeth to help them manage crunchier textures.
What are stage 3 food examples for babies?
Below are examples of Stage 3 meals that are great for your little one!
Raw fruit and vegetable sticks, hummus and pitta
Scrambled egg and buttered toast triangles,
Mini tuna mayo sandwiches and cucumber sticks
Pasta shapes with a bolognese sauce
Breadsticks with bean dip
Mini burgers in mini buns
Chicken strips, homemade chips and peas
Boiled egg and soldiers
Chunky veg and lamb casserole with rice
Suitable desserts might be:
Chopped strawberries and full-fat plain yoghurt
Fresh fruit ice lolly
Tinned peaches in natural juice with custard
Frozen banana ice cream
How important is nutrition now?
Nutrition is of great importance now, the needs of your baby are increasing and the majority of your baby’s nutrients will be coming from food instead of milk.
Milk hasn’t been nutritionally enough for a while now but at this stage milk should complement your baby’s diet rather than it be the other way round.
But milk is easier to drink than food is to eat and so your baby may prefer to have more milk than food. Some babies therefore don’t drop feeds by themselves and so as their parent we have to help them.
If you are formula feeding try and cut milk down to 350-400ml (12-13oz) maximum in a 24 hour period or offer full breastfeeds mid morning, mid afternoon and bedtime and resist in between.
Babies who have too much milk at this stage are more likely to develop nutritional deficiencies, the most common one being iron deficiency, I had first hand experience of this with my first baby who loved his boob!
Because nutrition is so important, here’s how to ensure they get a good variety. Meals should incorporate all 5 food groups. 5
Fruits and vegetables
Starchy foods like potatoes, bread, pasta, cereals and rice
Protein including beans, pulses, meat, fish, eggs and tofu
Dairy like full-fat yoghurt and cheese
Healthy fats and oils
What are good finger food ideas for stage 3 baby food?
At this stage, your baby should already be familiar with having softer finger foods like omelette, cooked pasta and soft vegetable fingers and buttered toast. 8
Offering firmer finger foods is a great way to expose them to challenging textures and as a bonus can help to relieve any teething pains by gnawing and chewing. 2
Wait until molar teeth appear before you offer very hard food like raw carrot, beef jerky or apple slices as these could pose a choking risk.
How to safely transition from stage 2 to stage 3 baby foods
It’s simple, just gradually start adding more challenging textures to your baby’s diet.
This means that your baby has some foods they are comfortable and familiar with and some that are new and a bit more difficult to eat.
This graded approach ensures safety and at the same time encourages the development of skills in a way that isn’t too frustrating or taxing for your baby.
You can imagine, if they are hungry and faced with food they can’t easily eat, they are going to get quite cross!
Although we’ve talked a lot about texture, exposure to lots of different flavours is still really important at this stage so be brave and include foods that are spicy, fragrant and flavoursome, and repeat these often.
Herbs and spices such as cinnamon, cumin, coriander, garlic, ginger and even black pepper make really tasty options and will enhance the sensory experience for your baby. Yes you can use chilli but go gentle with this one.
What stage 3 foods to introduce first
There’s no right or wrong order of which foods to introduce first. Have a look at the meals that you’re already serving in your home and see how these can be adapted to suit your little one.
At this stage it might be that the food may need a bit more chopping up and some ingredients (such as salt, sugar or chilli powder) reduced but most foods can be suitable with a little bit of creativity.
Foods to avoid during stage 3
There are some foods that should be avoided for your baby during weaning, these are listed and explained below:
Salt should not be added to your baby’s food and naturally salty foods such as cheese, bacon and ham should be limited.
This is because their kidney function isn’t fully developed enough to process large amounts of salt. Babies under 1 years old should have less than 1g of salt.
This also shouldn’t be added to any food or drinks and sweet food like biscuits and cakes is best kept to a minimum till age 2 to prevent a preference for sweet foods developing.
Babies are born with a preference for sweet things to help them seek out the breast at birth.
If you need to sweeten foods (I understand, sometimes you just do), opt for fruits like bananas, or apples. 10
Raw/Lightly cooked shellfish:
Shellfish such as mussels, oysters and clams should not be given to babies as they can cause food poisoning. 11
Shark, swordfish, and marlin:
These fish have high amounts of mercury which can affect your baby’s nervous system and so it’s recommended they are avoided. 7
Whole nuts are a choking hazard for babies, choose nut butter or ground nuts so that your baby still benefits nutritionally. 12 Other foods like whole grapes, popcorn, cherry tomatoes and giant blueberries can also be a choking hazard and should be chopped into smaller sizes to make them safer.
Honey should not be given to babies under 1 years old due to the possible presence of botulinum, a food poisoning bacteria. 7
Mould ripened cheeses like brie, camembert, ripened goats milk cheese, and soft blue veined cheeses like Roquefort should be avoided and cheeses made from unpasteurised milk, again it’s because they may contain a type of bacteria that can cause food poisoning. 12
How to manage mealtimes at stage 3
It’s now more important than ever to sit and eat together as a family so that your baby can share the same meal experience as you. Experience is everything, this is how your little one learns their social skills and table manners.
At this stage it’s important not to provide ‘baby food’ as now is when babies need to learn to eat family food.
If you haven’t already, now is when the division of responsibility in feeding can be introduced fully. This outlines your role and your baby’s role in the feeding relationship.
Your role is to provide the nutritious food, to decide on where and when it will be served and then take a back seat.
Your baby’s role is to decide if to eat, how much and in what order. And importantly to decide on when they are finished. 9
What to do if food is rejected
If foods are refused, don’t make a big fuss. In fact I’d go as far as saying don’t even mention it.
And if they throw unwanted food on the floor, it’s quite alright to remind your baby what you want them to do instead, “food stays on the table” but keep any emotion out of your voice. Your baby will be looking for a response and if they get attention, they’ll likely do it again.
Sometimes certain flavours and textures can take a while to get used to. Just make sure that you offer those rejected foods as part of another meal on a different day so that your baby has the opportunity to learn and become familiar with them.
As they get older, they need more exposures to new food to learn to like them, so this can take time.
Should they self feed or should I spoon feed?
At this stage definitely avoid spoon feeding your baby and encourage them to get stuck in, feeding themselves and taking control of what foods to eat and in which order.
Give them cutlery but don’t insist they use it if they are doing a great job with their hands. Take a look at my blog all about encouraging your baby to self feed if they are reluctant.
30 Stage 3 baby food ideas
Here are some recipes perfect for Stage 3 weaning!
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