Introducing Finger Foods
10 min read
By Nutritionist Charlotte Stirling Reed
At Babease we are big fans of giving finger foods to babies! Offering finger foods to babies not only adds variety, colour and texture to their diet, but it also helps to support independence around eating, supports the development of fine motor skills and can encourage better hand eye coordination skills.
Additionally, some babies just LOVE having finger foods and prefer eating this way to spoon feeding.
When to start offering finger foods?
There is no specific recommendation of exactly when we should be offering finger foods, and instead it’s best to go at your baby’s own pace. However baby will start to develop the skills for munching and chewing on foods from his experience of and exposure to progressively firmer textures, and so offering finger foods is an important part of baby’s developmental journey.
The skills for munching usually occur somewhere between 4 and 7 months and skills for chewing usually develop from around 7 months of age – both even before some babies have their first teeth. Therefore babies should be able to take super soft finger foods from 6-7 months – but it’s best to look out for signs that your baby is ready and, again, to go at their own pace. Most research suggests that babies can easily eat finger foods by 8 months of age.
Once you start weaning, and as soon as your little one is confident and shows interest in grabbing and picking up pieces of food, it’s a good idea to start offering finger foods regularly, as part of a meal, or you could even offer some finger foods as baby’s whole meal – baby led weaning style.
But what about choking?
There is a downside to finger foods – namely when it comes to parental nerves! Some parents find the concept of finger foods very daunting and often are put off offering them until later stages due to fears of having baby choke. Importantly offering appropriate finger foods earlier on during weaning can help babies to learn how to deal with them better by giving them more exposure and experience. Babies will only learn how to bite pieces of food, move these pieces around between their gums and eventually chew and swallow pieces of food from being given appropriate foods to practise with.
It’s completely understandable that some parents will be nervous, but it’s all about the right approach and starting with the right finger foods to help build both parents’ and baby’s confidence.
So where do I begin?
The best advice when it comes to finger foods is to start slowly with super soft and “melt in the mouth” or dissolvable style foods, which are unlikely to be a choking hazard for baby. As your little one gets more and more confident with these foods and starts to develop a better bite and some teeth, you can gradually offer harder and more challenging finger food options. However, whenever your baby is eating you should always sit with them and keep an eye out – that goes for finger foods and traditional purees/mashed foods too.
5 Best Finger Foods
Here are some of our favourite finger food options for babies and how to prepare them safely:
Courgettes: these are a great finger shaped food for babies, if you slice them lengthways rather than as circles. Their neutral/slightly bitter taste profile makes them ideal for helping to develop baby’s palate and for offering as a first food. You can also cook courgettes so that they are super soft and remove the skin for those first few tries.
Broccoli: these ‘trees’ make the perfect shape to hold in tiny hands. They are also great as a first finger food option as they help babies get used to a totally different taste to the milk that they’ve been so used to. Additionally, broccoli is fantastic as a first finger food as, when cooked to a soft consistency, it’s perfect for babies to suck on and tear off the broccoli heads, which tend to simply flake off in baby’s mouth. You can easily make them tougher as baby gets more experienced – simply by cooking them a little less.
Avocado: with its neutral taste profile, delicious flavour and as a source of healthy fats, vitamin E, vitamin C and magnesium – avocado is a great first finger food for babies. It’s also soft with a melt in the mouth feel that’s easy to eat without needing to do much biting or chewing. Do watch out though as avocado creates mess (which we love by the way!!) and can easily slip out of tiny grips and end up on the floor – invest in a good bib and a good splash mat!
Banana: similarly to avocado, banana is naturally soft without the need for any cooking and easily squashes down in the mouth – this makes it a finger food that most parents are confident to offer even to young babies as a finger food option. Banana is of course a little sweeter than the other options on this list, so it’s a good idea to offer banana when you’re some way into weaning and baby has had time to experience lots of other less sweet flavours first - otherwise you might just see the veggies shunned in place of the sweet taste of banana!
Salmon flakes: protein foods such as salmon flakes are ideal as finger foods too. These are easy for baby to grip and tear pieces off, and salmon is also soft and flaky once cooked. It’s important that little ones get iron in their diet after 6 months and salmon provides plenty of this, alongside omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for a growing baby’s developing brain.
These are some of our favourite finger food ideas for baby. There are of course plenty more and remember that variety is always key when offering finger foods to baby. Additionally, it’s important when offering finger foods initially, to start slowly and softly and gradually move baby on to different textures and harder pieces of food as their confidence and ability develops. It’s always best to go with your baby’s own signs of readiness, as all babies move at their own pace and do things in their own way.
Nutrition Consultant, Babease
BSc, MSc, RNutr. Specialist in maternal, infant and child nutrition.