Once you have a baby, it becomes abundantly clear that no one bothered to mention that life was about to get REALLY HARD, really fast (or maybe they did, but you thought pulling an all-nighter in school was a reasonable estimate for how tired you might be... If only I could be as well-rested as that!) After all, there was all this preparation for labor, delivery and birth and not so much for parenting and daily life with a baby (where are those classes?!...psst, right here :).
The idea of starting solids reminds me of this. We focus so much on the immediate transition ("labor/delivery" or "starting solids") and not about the long-term parts (like parenting or building a strong foundation for healthy eating ). Because when we start to take the long view with something like starting solids, we start to realize that food isn't just about eating...is about culture and community as well. And when we take stock of this and consider the foundations our child is building, it informs a lot of our choices: from the tools we use, the food we eat and the way we share space with each other. So let's consider some alternatives to conventional baby gear to help you get on your way with starting solids with the child and the community in mind!
#1 The High Chair
Most high chairs are not built to come up to the table, but rather have a tray built in for the child is eat off to the side. You can see that once we consider the social element of food how impactful that idea is. We are literally not inviting them to the community table! So instead of a conventional high chair, consider a trayless adjustable high chair! These high chairs will last until the child is able to use a standard chair as the ledges adjust down as the child grows (so you don't need to buy another seat) and they come right up to the table (so the child can be part of the meal from the start)!
#2 The Placemat
Ok, so now we have the child at the table without a tray and what we can replace that with is a placemat! Some families prefer a plastic cutting board, others a cloth placemat, but whatever you choose should be something that looks similar to what the adults at the table use. You might wonder, "but why even bother with a placemat at all?" If we introduce this tool when the child orients to solids, it just become part of the food experience and not a novelty to mess around with later (and it helps contain the mess!). But more so, it's another way to show the child that their food experience is just like our food experience which will pay dividends to them feeling included and tightly connected to the social part of the meal.
#3 The Plate
The plate is similar to the placemat where parents will often delay its introduction until toddlerhood and it becomes a novelty that they aren't used to using. Instead, you can introduce a plate along with the start of solids and it just becomes part of their food experience. This is yet another opportunity to include the child in the community experience by having tools that look just like everyone else's.
#4 The Utensils
Most utensils are made for the adult to feed the child (instead of the child to feed themselves). Not only are the tools often non-functional for the child (so the child has a hard time learning how to use them), but they look very different than everyone else's tools (again, socially isolating!). When we give them tools that are meant for their hands instead of ours and we find things that look similar to what we use, we protect the child's space at the community meal. Self-feeding is about practice: the more they do it (this is the messy part), they more skilled they are (when it stops getting so messy)!
#5 The Cup
Most parents start infants off with a "sippy cup" or some kind of closed-lidded cup to prevent the child from spilling. These cups, however, look very different from the adult's cups and are not helping the child learn how a cup works (you have to tip it only so far otherwise everything will spill out). Not only are open cups better for the child's self-regulation, but you don't have to buy six different kinds of cups throughout infancy and toddlerhood just to "graduate" to an open cup. Just with any tool, when the tool they use fits their hands, they have a lot more skill with it! For your sake, though, just pour as much water as you are willing to clean up!