Learning to Eat: The importance of “HARD MUNCHABLES”

It seems that only feeding therapists understand the term “hard munchables” unequivocally.

Our parents offered hard munchables to us without thinking twice.  And they didn’t label them as a food category.  Now, our generation of parents has choking risk drilled into our heads and it seems far too scary to offer a baby hard foods willy nilly.

A “hard munchable” is a food item (stick) that a baby can hold independently and bring to her mouth for gumming and munching  without any risk of a piece breaking off.   The goal is NOT TO EAT the  food, only to explore it.  Babies can experience different tastes and textures without the risk!  Additionally, it helps the tongue learn how to move and strengthens the jaw to support chewing in the future.  It helps to move the gag reflex towards the back of the mouth.  Mouthing toys and hard munchable foods will help your baby learn to accommodate for the size and shape of the incoming object. She needs practice to learn how wide her jaw needs to open and how to move her tongue separately from her jaw.   Who knew drooling and eating toys was such an important stage?!

Hard munchables are ideal  to introduce when your baby:

  • loves to mouth toys independently
  • has had some experience with smooth purees, perhaps thicker purees and venturing into the lumpy realm
  • has trunk and head control to sit on her own or nearly sit on her own

The number of teeth your baby has will certainly  influence your hard munchable choice.  It is ideal when they have little to no teeth.

Hard munchables include things like:

  • raw carrot stick
  • raw celery stick (this will compress and if child has teeth, they may be able to pull shreds off after a prolonged period of munching)
  • beef jerky strip
  • hardened pizza crust
  • rib bone without meat on it
  • Healthy Times Teething Biscuits (I have found any other teething biscuit to break with a minimal amount of pressure.  Healthy Times will become soggy and break into larger pieces after prolonged munching and drooling but are the best commercial biscuit as a hard munchable)
  • Hardened Turkey Bites sausage  (not small pieces, but the whole sausage.  Leave one uncovered to harden)
  • Jicama spears
  • Large pretzel rods (not the skinny tiny ones)
  • frozen pancakes/waffles (these will become soggy as they thaw so watch carefully)

As with any eating, hard munchable practice is safest in a supported position.  Seat your baby on your lap or in a high chair.   Adult supervision is necessary.  Skills can change quickly; one day your baby may not have been able to gnaw a small strip off and after a few weeks of practice she’ll surprise you!

Offer hard munchables in the appropriate developmental stage.  Eventually your baby will be eating these same foods for consumption.  Hard munchables are typically no longer appropriate beyond 12 months, when your child has his/her molars and the jaw strength to bite into these things.

Have fun!

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2 thoughts on “Learning to Eat: The importance of “HARD MUNCHABLES”

  1. Patricia lugo says:

    How old does your infant have to be to start munchables? My son has 4 teeth and is 7 months old

    • melissabw says:

      I’d suggest starting hard munchables when your son is able to grasp and mouth toys, and has well developed head and trunk control that allows him to sit independently. Remember the goal with hard munchables is experience, not consumption. You want to offer him things that he cannot break off with those teeth (ie. raw carrot stick, beef jerky etc). Hope that helps!

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