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A Guide to Starting Finger Foods

By Jill Castle, MS, RDN

Starting finger foods is an exciting time for both you and your child. It’s a sign that your child is growing up and making the move to eating what the family eats. 

Essentially, finger foods are any solid food that your child can pick up and put in his or her mouth.

When do I start finger foods?

At 8 or 9 months, most babies begin to show an interest in self-feeding, raking food up with their hands and transferring it to the mouth. Or, they may grab the spoon during feeding and want to control where it goes. Eventually, babies learn to use the forefinger and thumb to “pinch” food (called the pincer grasp) and bring it to the mouth.

Some babies may hold food placed in their hands and eat, particularly those who start eating solid food with a baby-led weaning approach. Stick-like forms of food (think soft-cooked veggies like green beans or soft canned fruit spears) are typically placed in baby’s hand. Baby learns to bring it to his or her mouth, even before he or she has learned to pick up the food alone.

How to begin finger foods

Babies who are new to eating finger foods need food cut up into small pieces for them, so they don’t choke when eating. Foods like grapes, cheese, and other foods are known to be choking hazards, so cut them up small or steer clear of them until your child is older.

When your baby is ready, place four or five small-diced bits of food on the highchair tray. Add more when these have been eaten. Adding too much food to the tray is a recipe for a mess and may overwhelm your child. Go slow with food, allowing your child to taste the food, experience it, and experience the process of eating so the child can learn along the way. Be physically present with your baby during meals, and keep pace with eating, adding more food to the tray as it disappears.

How to advance

Your baby will move from small bits of food to larger pieces and more variety over time. Eventually, those foods will reflect what your family is eating (which is better than making a special meal for your child). By age two, your child should be eating everything you can eat, just cut up or modified for little hands and mouths.

Offering a variety of food from all of the food groups is best so that your baby gets a wide variety of nutrients throughout the day. Don’t worry too much about nutrient amounts as long as you’re providing the basic food groups of dairy, protein, fruit, vegetables, and grains each day. Don’t forget to include fat in your baby\'s or toddler’s diet, as this nutrient is still important for brain growth and development.

If your child is not at high risk for food allergies, you can plan to introduce all foods as long as your child can handle eating them. For example, you wouldn’t want to give a toddler whole nuts as these are a choking risk, but you could offer nut butter spread thinly on a piece of toast or bread. The same goes for other allergen-containing foods like cooked fish, eggs, and peanuts. Make sure it is edible for your child’s age and stage of development and carries a low risk of choking.

If your child is at a high risk for food allergies (strong family history), discuss the introduction of food allergens with your pediatrician or allergist.

Examples of finger foods

Buttered toast, diced or cut into “fingers”

Oat-O’s cereal

Puffed cereal (low sugar content)

Diced or shredded cheese

Canned fruit, diced

Small chunks of banana or other ripe, juicy fruit

Small cubes of tofu

Well-cooked pasta, chopped into small pieces

Soft-cooked veggies like peas, corn, green beans, squash, sweet potato, potato, broccoli

Hard-boiled egg, chopped

Scrambled egg

Stewed meat or tender meat, chopped into pea-size bits

Sources:

  • Castle JL and Jacobsen MT
  • Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School
  • Jossey-Bass/Wiley
  • 2013. American Academy of Pediatrics
  • Starting Solid Foods.

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