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, grasp food, 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.
The pincer grasp isn’t needed for baby to start eating finger foods ---and neither are teeth, as you’ll start with 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.
Plus, introducing different 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 choking hazards, including hard and round foods.
Here are some finger foods to avoid feeding baby:
- Uncooked hard vegetables (e.g. carrots)
- Whole nuts
- Any other hard foods
- Whole (uncut) cherry tomatoes
- Whole (uncut) grapes
- Whole meatballs
Top Finger Foods For Baby
Baby's finger foods should also 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, and picking whole grain foods over refined grain foods. They also recommend steering clear of added sugar and salt.
Here are our top picks for healthy and baby-safe finger foods:
- 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 apples
- Strips of mango
- Strips or finely chopped pieces of plum
- Chopped bananas
- Chopped pears
- Grapes cut into quarters
- Chopped watermelon
- 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
- Cooked, smashed chickpeas
Meats, Dairy, and Other Proteins
- Long, thin strips of cooked chicken
- Long strips of cheese (any softer 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 cod with the bones carefully removed
- Clumps or crumbled meatballs (not whole balls) of ground beef, ground chicken or ground turkey
- Firm tofu
- 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
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