As babies transition from milk to solids, hard munchables are a great food to introduce around 8 months old, after purees and before crackers. Baby won’t actually swallow this beginner food, but will engage in oral motor play to prepare for chewing.
Hard munchables are firm foods, appropriately shaped into a stick form. They are long enough so that baby can easily grasp the food and reach the back of the gums. It’s important that the food be firm enough so that it won’t break, and thin enough so that it will fit between the gums. Also, it is crucial that the food is at least 5 inches long and that baby is supervised, in order to prevent choking. My favorites are carrots, celery, jicama, fruit leather, bell pepper strips and bagel strips. My sons always preferred their hard munchables cold from the refrigerator (probably felt good on their gums).
Placing objects in the mouth (in a safe manner of course) is a crucial preparatory activity for eating. Hard munchables encourage the gag reflex (which is present at the front of the tongue in newborns) to move to the back of the tongue and throat. They also inhibit tongue protrusion (movement pattern used for sucking at the nipple), promote tongue tracking (needed for managing solids) and support the emerging munching pattern.
Coordinating lip, tongue, jaw and throat muscles for eating is hard work for little ones. Providing hard muchables while introducing solids will help give your baby a good start.