When your child is showing interest in the food on your plate, chewing chunky pureed foods easily, and sitting up straight without assistance, it may be time to introduce finger foods…cautiously, and with your pediatrician’s approval.
Finger foods are small, soft pieces of food, cut into various sizes and shapes depending on the food and the baby’s ability. When first confronted with small bits of food, a baby may simply sweep the food into their cupped hand. Then, that hand goes straight to the mouth. Gradually, and with much practice, a baby learns to use their thumb and first finger to pick up small bits more precisely. This is called a “pincer grasp.”
You can encourage pincer-grasp development using small cereal bits, such as oaty O’s. Seat the baby comfortably and sprinkle several O’s onto a tray or table. Supervise as the baby practices picking them up. With more self-feeding practice, the pincer grasp will develop fully.
In the early stages of feeding finger foods, be sure to continue with breast milk or formula. You want to ensure your child is getting all the necessary vitamins, nutrients, and calories. As your little one eats more solid foods, they will drink less milk or formula.
Expose your child to a wide variety of food flavors and textures. Healthy options for early finger foods include soft avocado, mango, peach, or banana slices. You might cut these foods into 2- to 3-inch strips so that the baby is better able to grasp them using their entire hand.
Other finger food options include dried cereal pieces, cooked carrot sticks, scrambled eggs, and cooked macaroni. Note that some years ago, eggs, fish, and peanuts were thought to be allergy-causing. Since then, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has found no evidence that babies develop allergies from an early introduction of these foods.
“There is no reason to delay giving your baby foods that are thought of as allergens, such as peanut products, eggs, or fish,” says Dr. Scott Sicherer, MD, FAAP, and a coauthor of the AAP report. “These foods can be added to the diet early, just like foods that are not common allergens, such as rice, fruits, or vegetables.”
If you have concerns, be sure to check with your pediatrician for recommendations.
Introduce new foods one at a time lest there’s a bad reaction, such as vomiting, hives, or a rash. Those are examples of the body saying, “Please don’t ever feed me that again.” But, if no such reactions occur within a few days’ time, you can feel safe adding that food to your child’s menu.
As your child becomes more adept at self-feeding, note which foods she likes and which she doesn’t care for. As she eats, name the foods and talk about where each comes from.
If your child rejects a new food, be patient, and offer it again another time. Many babies and toddlers need to be exposed to foods multiple times before embracing them, says the AAP.
Beware of certain foods that pose potential choking risks for baby; they include, but are not limited to: hot dogs, nuts, seeds, chunks of meat or cheese, whole grapes, popcorn, peanut butter (because of its stickiness), raw veggies, chunks of apple, and any hard or gooey candy.
When it comes to eating, remember to lead by example. Babies and toddlers are far more likely to eat the foods they see their peers and parents eating. So, keep your food choices nutritious to help your child build a healthy diet for life.