When to move beyond the spoon and start baby's journey with finger foods? Learn when you can start finger foods, guidelines to keep in mind, and safe first finger foods for babies.
When to move beyond the spoon and start baby's journey with finger foods? There's no set age, as every baby is different. You could start finger foods as soon as baby is ready for solids, but it's up to your family to decide when. As long as baby is developmentally ready, you're good to go. Today, we'll cover your options for starting finger foods, what to keep in mind, and ideas for safe finger foods for baby.
When is baby ready for finger foods?
Many of the same signs that show baby is ready for solids in general indicate that they're ready for finger foods. Baby is ready for finger foods when they can sit upright, hold their head and neck steady, pick up and hold food pieces, and bring food to their mouth. They should also be interested in the food you’re eating, possibly grabbing at it.
Baby is ready for finger foods when they can sit upright, hold their head and neck steady, grasp food, and bring food to their mouth.
Generally, baby will show these signs of readiness around 6 months of age, although some babies will be ready as early as 4 months of age.
The pincer grasp (two-fingered grasp) isn’t needed for baby to start eating finger foods; in fact, baby won't usually start to use this skill until 9-12 months of age. Baby just needs to be able to pick up food and bring it to their mouth in any way to start finger foods – skills they'll master much earlier than the pincer grasp.
Baby also doesn't need teeth to start eating finger foods, as you’ll start by giving them the softest foods that easily dissolve.
3 Main Ways To Start Finger Foods (And Points To Keep In Mind)
Once baby is ready, there are three main ways that you could introduce finger foods:
- Baby-led weaning, where you skip feeding baby purees and start feeding finger foods as soon as baby is ready for solids
- Introducing finger foods and purees at the same time – after baby has eaten their first few smooth purees, they start finger foods and eat both the finger foods and purees
- Waiting until baby has mastered chunky purees, and only introducing finger foods after that
Every approach is valid, so for the most part, you can choose the one that works best for baby.
But keep in mind: It's crucial to expose baby to a variety of healthy flavors and textures, so they'll select and enjoy diverse healthy foods later in life. This may be a bit harder if you wait to introduce finger foods until after chunky purees. Finger foods help encourage adventurous eating!
It's crucial to expose baby to a variety of healthy flavors and textures to help encourage adventurous eating!
Introducing babies to finger foods also helps them learn to regulate their appetite, as they feed themselves and choose when to stop eating. Knowing when they are hungry and full is another crucial skill babies need for lifelong healthy eating.
Why You Should Start Finger Foods Before 9 Months
Introducing your baby to different food textures helps them master the mashing-chewing skill, and get used to swallowing foods. These skills are learned, not innate. In other words, babies need practice to munch and chew properly.
And it also helps them understand that gagging will happen, so they won't be fearful of that reflex. Babies need to get used to gagging every now and then, as it's a perfectly normal way that their bodies protect them from choking.
But near their first birthday, babies start acquiring fears. Babies could start to fear gagging and finger foods if these foods aren't introduced early enough. As registered dietitian Wendy Jo Peterson told Parents, "Babies who have started developing fears...may try something, gag, and then fear trying that food or texture again."
So, introducing baby's first finger foods by 9 months of age is a good plan. That way, they aren’t fearful after repeated gagging.
(As the parent, you shouldn't be fearful of gagging, either, as it's normal. Our previous article helps you tell the difference between baby's routine gagging and dangerous choking.)
Learn more from Registered Dietitian Sarah Remmer on starting solids and finger foods for babies:
Choosing Safe Finger Foods For Baby
Regardless of when you start finger foods, you'll need to make sure the foods you choose and prepare are safe for baby, to help prevent choking.
Follow these guidelines to help you select baby-safe foods:
- Stick to softer foods.
- Cook hard vegetables, like carrots, to soften them up.
- Cut up vegetables, fruits, cheeses and meats into long, thin strips. This makes these foods easier for baby to pick up and manage, and helps prevent choking.
- You could also chop foods into small (but not chunky) pieces.
- Avoid feeding your baby choking hazards, including hard and round foods.
Best Finger Foods For Babies: Our Favorite Foods to Start With
Especially if you're starting finger foods soon after you've started solids as a whole, the best first finger foods are the softest foods. These foods mush easily, and can easily be gummed. So, any baby who is ready for solids can handle chewing and swallowing them even if they don't have teeth.
Our favorite finger foods to start feeding baby are:
- Peach slices
- Mango strips
- Chopped banana
- Chopped kiwi
- Chopped pears
- Avocado slices
- Pieces of cooked sweet potato
- Shredded cheese
- Clumps of ground beef, turkey, or chicken
- Flaked salmon (carefully remove the bones first!)
- Whole-wheat fusilli (spiral pasta), slightly overcooked so it's very soft
- Cooked, smashed beans
- Strips of whole wheat pancakes with no added sugar or salt
After you've introduced these first finger foods, remember to give baby different soft, baby-safe textures as they continue on their finger foods journey. This way, they can work on their chewing and swallowing skills. We've listed out a lot more of our favorite finger foods by category below.
Top Finger Foods For Baby: Our Complete List
When selecting the best finger foods for baby, follow the new U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Dietary Guidelines for children under two years of age.
These guidelines recommend:
- Prioritizing a variety of fruits and vegetables
- Feeding cheese, eggs, meat and fish for protein
- Picking whole grain foods over refined grain foods
- Steering clear of foods with added sugar and salt
You should offer 2-3 finger foods per solids meal, that come from at least two of the following groups:
- Whole grains
Start by offering small portions of each food, then offer more if your baby shows that they're still hungry.
Here are our top picks for healthy and baby-safe finger foods that follow the Dietary Guidelines.
Best Finger Food Ideas: Fruits
Our favorite fruits to serve your little finger food eater include:
- Finely chopped peach pieces
- Finely chopped nectarine pieces
- Finely chopped kiwi pieces
- Finely chopped apricot pieces
- Strawberries cut into quarters
- Blueberries cut in half
- Raspberries cut in half or quarters
- Blackberries cut in half or quarters
- Finely chopped honeydew
- Finely chopped cantaloupe
- Strips of cooked apples
- Strips of mango
- Strips or finely chopped pieces of plum
- Chopped bananas
- Chopped pears
- Grapes cut into quarters
- Chopped watermelon
Best Finger Food Ideas: Vegetables
Our top finger food picks in the veggie category are:
- Cut strips of cooked carrots
- Raw avocado pieces
- Raw, thin cucumber strips (with seeds removed)
- Strips of steamed zucchini
- Strips of steamed squash
- Strips of cooked potato
- Strips of cooked sweet potato
- Small pieces of mushrooms
- Raw cherry tomatoes cut in quarters
- Raw or steamed strips of beets
- Pieces of cooked, chopped green beans
- Steamed broccoli or cauliflower (see how to steam and cut it here)
- Raw red, orange, yellow or green peppers cut into thin strips, with seeds removed
- Raw chopped radishes
- Cut strips of cooked eggplant
- Cooked black beans, cut in half and/or smashed
- Cooked, smashed chickpeas
Best Finger Food Ideas: Meats, Dairy, and Other Proteins
We love these protein finger foods for babies:
- Long, thin strips of cooked chicken
- Long strips of cheese or shredded cheese (any softer, pasteurized kind)
- Scrambled egg pieces
- Strips of roasted or baked turkey
- Strips of soft cooked beef
- Flaked salmon with the bones carefully removed
- Chopped pieces of cleaned shrimp
- Flaked haddock with the bones carefully removed
- Clumps or crumbled meatballs (not whole balls) of ground beef, ground chicken or ground turkey
- Firm tofu
Best Finger Food Ideas: Whole Grains
Try these whole grain ideas at baby's next finger food meal:
- Whole-wheat pasta shells cut in half
- Whole wheat fusilli (corkscrew pasta)
- Pieces/strips of whole wheat pancakes with no added sugar or salt
- Pieces/strips of whole wheat waffles with no added sugar or salt
Tips For Serving Finger Foods
Now that you know the best finger foods for babies, follow these tips when introducing them:
- A lot of our best finger foods work well for the entire family to eat on the same day. You'll just need to make sure baby's portions are soft and prepared in ways that are easy to pick up and safe to chew.
- If your baby doesn't eat a finger food you offer, or only eats a little bit, stay persistent! It takes time for your baby to get used to new flavors and textures. Continue to offer the food no matter how baby responded to it before.
- For safety, always stay in the same room as baby while they're eating finger foods, and make sure they're secure in their high chair.
- Embrace the mess as baby has fun with finger foods – baby's learning important skills, so it's ok if a lot of food ends up on the floor at first.
- You'll need to introduce common allergen foods, like peanut, egg, and milk products, regularly in baby's first year. This will give baby the best chance at food freedom. But these foods (especially peanut) can be difficult to introduce in baby-safe ways as finger foods. Not to worry: Ready. Set. Food! makes introducing these and other common allergen foods easy!
Foods to Avoid Feeding Baby
Now that we've gone over the best finger foods for babies (and tips for introducing them), it's important to remember the foods to avoid feeding baby at all costs, to keep them safe.
Avoid feeding your baby choking hazard foods, including hard and round foods. Large cubed meats and cheeses are also a no-no, as they also put baby at risk for choking. And keep baby away from foods with honey, as babies can't safely have honey before their first birthday.
Here are some finger foods to avoid feeding baby:
- Uncooked hard fruits and vegetables (e.g. raw apples and carrots)
- Whole nuts
- Any other hard foods
- Whole (uncut) cherry tomatoes
- Whole (uncut) grapes
- Whole meatballs
- Large chunks or cubes of meat or cheese
- Unpasteurized cheeses
- Raisins and other dried fruits
- Hot dogs in any form
- Round meat sticks
- Candy, and other foods with added sugar
- Any finger food containing honey
When serving baby finger foods, the best ones to start with are soft, easy-to-swallow foods, like soft fresh fruits, sweet potatoes, avocados, and shredded cheese.
Then, after baby masters their first finger foods, broaden the types of textures that you offer, so your little one builds confidence in munching and chewing.
No matter what safe finger foods you choose to give baby, offer them in pieces that are easy for baby to pick up and manage. Give your little one a variety of foods from all healthy food groups, including fruits, veggies, proteins, and whole grains.
Don't give baby hard or round foods, as they are choking hazards.
And if things get messy, don't worry! Eating finger foods is an exciting milestone for your little one.
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