University of Illinois Extension



Bibs and bottles, messy faces, spitting up, and food on the floor are all part of feeding a baby. Yet it can also be a fun time with the child.

If you have never fed a baby, visit the parents prior to babysiting and see how they do it. Put the baby in a safe place while you are gathering everything you need. When feeding the baby, relax. A baby can sense if you are nervous. Do not give the baby a food that is different from what the parents have told you to feed her.

Make sure you ask the parents to show you where everything is and how appliances work before they leave. Find the favorite bibs, plates, cups, spoons, and bottles.

Bottle Feeding

Many babies drink formula for their regular feeding. Never substitute milk or formula without the parent's directions. On hot days, the baby can be given water or juice between meals but ask for the parent's approval first.

Check with the parents to see if they warm the bottle. If so, ask them how they do it. Some use microwave ovens, others use hot water in a pan to heat it, and others give the bottle directly out of the refrigerator. Also find out how much formula the baby will take at each feeding.

If heating the formula, always check the temperature of the formula before giving it to the baby. If you have used a microwave, always shake the bottle to avoid hot spots. Shake the bottle so all formula is an even temperature and drip a few drops on the inside of your wrist. If it's comfortably warm (you can't feel cold or hot), it should be okay for the baby.

Find a comfortable chair and hold the baby with his head supported in your arm. His head needs to be higher than the rest of his body. Relax and talk to him while he is eating. Tip the bottle to make sure the nipple is always filled with liquid. This prevents air from getting into the baby's stomach. If it seems the child is having trouble sucking, loosen the lid slightly. If he seems to be drinking too fast, tighten the lid a little.

Make sure to burp the baby during and after the feeding. This helps get out the air that has built up in his stomach. Put a cloth diaper or towel over your shoulder. Lift the baby against your shoulder or sit the infant on your lap. Gently but firmly pat the infant's back to get up the air bubbles. The infant may spit-up some formula. That is okay, don't worry.

Feeding Solid Foods

Rice cereal is usually the first solid food that a baby eats. After a baby can eat cereal, then she usually starts eating a fruit, fruit juice, or a vegetable. Parents will introduce one new food at a time to test for any allergies.

When baby is ready for food that takes more chewing, she might eat cooked fruits and vegetables (mashed with a fork), dry cereals and bread/crackers in one-bite pieces.

Hold baby in a sitting position or put her in a highchair. Use a small, skinny spoon to fit the baby's mouth. Put a little food on the spoon. Put the food toward the back of the baby's mouth The baby may spit out the food. This is because he may not know how to chew it. Give the baby another bite even if she spits out the first bite. If the baby will not eat something, do not force him. Wait and try feeding him the food later.

Older infants or toddlers will grab for the spoon. This is the time that the child learns to feed himself. If a child can feed himself, be prepared for a mess!


Before feeding a toddler, check with the parents to find out how well the child can chew food and to learn what kind of foods the child usually eats. Toddlers enjoy finger foods because they have limited ability to use utensils. When you do give a toddler utensils, make sure that the utensils are child size.

All children are messy eaters, and they spill often. Learning table manners and how to use forks and spoons neatly takes time. Use child size plastic cups, plates and bowls to prevent broken dishes.

Toddlers can eat three meals a day plus healthy snacks in between so that they eat every two or three hours. Make sure that all food is cut into bite-size pieces for easy chewing. You will also want to make sure that a toddler sits still while eating to prevent choking hazards.

Preschoolers and School-Age Children

Children differ in their needs for food and their feelings about it. Some are hearty eaters, while others are very picky. Some children always eat big meals; others eat small amounts often throughout the day. Given the chance, most children do a good job of eating the food they need.

Serve child-size portions that the child can finish before getting too full. A good rule is one level tablespoon of food for each year of age. For example, a three-year-old would get three tablespoons each of several different healthy foods. If in doubt, always start small, you can always give a second helping if he eats the first.

Do not force a child to eat if she does not seem hungry. A child who is going through a time of slow growth or who has been inactive or ill may not be hungry.

Be a good example. Children are great imitators, and they watch what you do-so eat your carrots!

Be aware that even with your best efforts, there may be times when the child just doesn't eat. This is not unusual for preschoolers and school-age children. If it only happens from time to time, then you need not worry.