The point when Baby is ready to transition from eating some form of baby-friendly food over to the same meals as the rest of the family is a developmental milestone, sure. But it’s also a sentimental rite of passage, and generally a pretty huge relief to their parents, who suddenly get to take a whole set of separate mealtimes off the table.
It’s not always a straightforward transition, though, and there are a variety of different ways that this transition can happen.
From homemade purees
Babies who are switching to table food from homemade purees might have just the tiniest bit of a head-start on others, because parents who make homemade purees often use the same ingredients they use to make the rest of the family’s meals in those purees, so those babies already have a familiarity with the flavors their families eat regularly. Because the transition is more to a new texture than to a new food entirely in this case, you can begin by making the same purees you have been and gradually, or not so gradually, if Baby seems receptive, blending them less and less, until you’re at the point where you’re just cutting up food from the regular dinner table for them. Normal table foods that work well during the transition include mashed potatoes, steamed vegetables that can be easily gummed or mashed up, beans, which are also easily mashed, noodles, or softer, more tender meats.
From commercial baby food
Commercial baby food companies make transitional foods which are generally increasingly chunkier versions of their purees. If Baby is receptive to these, you can begin gradually offering them alongside a few chopped-up selections from the dinner table, and then, once Baby has been exposed to table food, begin to phase out the baby food. Some children reject these transitional baby foods but have an easier time moving straight from the thicker baby foods through to table food, which may have something to do with the combination of textures in the transitional jarred food. This is totally normal, and isn’t a problem. If Baby is having trouble eating enough table food to fill them up right away, when they're still working on their eating skills, it can be helpful to offer them a few spoonfuls of the baby food they have been eating alongside their dinner from the grown-up table, as long as you’re not offering it after they have rejected table food, which could set up a bad pattern.
From breast milk or formula supplemented by finger foods
If Baby has been eating finger foods to supplement breast or formula feeding, they are probably already familiar with a lot of the textures and flavors they're going to come across at the dinner table. They may even be familiar with eating at the dinner table with the rest of the family during dinner time. What they won’t be familiar with is eating solids as a way of getting the majority of their nutrients. When it’s done a certain way, this style of transition can fall under the heading of “baby-led weaning,” a school of thought where babies are offered soft, baby-sized pieces of exactly what the rest of the family is eating, and allowed to figure out how to eat them in their own way and at their own pace. By following baby-led weaning, children naturally start to take most of their nutrients from table food at a gradual pace.
For parents not specifically following baby-led weaning, the best way to get there still is generally to start with a transition that’s some degree of gradual. Parents can start to make the transition just by waiting to offer their children the bottle or breast until after a meal of solids. If you offer Baby a larger and more balanced meal of solids starting out, you give them the chance to fill up before offering them breast milk or formula. Then, when they have already been getting the majority of their nutrients from table food, weaning might go more easily. The truth is that chewing takes more effort than drinking milk or formula, so it may be easier on Baby to let it be a slow transition, but they will be eating at the adults’ table before you know it!