Don’t they grow up fast? If you’re a new mother spending precious maternity leave with your first baby, or are anyone with a new blessing in the family, you’ll know that those first six months just whizz by.
Granted, it might not seem like the hours are whizzing by when you’re awake for your third night feed before the sun starts to rise and you feel you haven’t slept properly in roughly a million years.
However, it’s not long before those tiny toes aren’t so tiny anymore and your little one is growing up. Whether baby has been breastfed or bottle fed, there will come a time when you want to introduce something else to their diets.
From knowing when to start to deciding what to give them, weaning your little one can be a challenging time. Read our in-depth guide to discover more about finger foods for babies and how to support them as they explore new culinary wonders.
In the Post
- Finger Food was for Adults?
- The Benefits of Finger Foods for Babies
- When to Stop Giving Your Baby Milk
- When to Start Giving Finger Foods for Babies
- How to Start Weaning Your Baby
- Preparing Finger Food for Babies
- To Close
Finger Food was for Adults?
Finger food is a term you’re probably familiar with, and the meaning is quite simply food that you eat with your hands rather than utensils such as knives, forks, spoons or chopsticks.
You might think that finger foods make up a small percentage of the food we eat. However, around the world, the majority of what we eat are finger foods.
In Japan, sushi was originally eaten by hand before chopsticks were introduced, and it is still an acceptable way of eating the dish today. While in China, steamed buns called mantou are eaten with the hands.
In our own culture, it isn’t hard to think of things you eat by hand, from meals to snacks. Chips, candy bars, ice-cream cones, pizza, burgers, sandwiches, French fries and burritos are all examples of things we regularly eat with our hands.
The term finger food is sometimes used at parties and gatherings to describe the party food on offer, which should be easy enough to eat with your hands. As eating with your hands requires less fine motor skills than using utensils, it’s hardly surprising that this is the method babies adopt when feeding themselves for the first time.
The Benefits of Finger Foods for Babies
Learning to eat is a process that will take your child around two to three years. Long before they start eating solid food, your baby will be exploring their own face by poking their fingers (and anything else they can find) into their mouths.
Trying different foods isn’t just about taste and nutrition. Each time a young child tries something new, they’re learning about smell, texture, and look as well.
Here are some of the benefits of introducing finger foods to your child at an early age, even if they aren’t ready to actually eat much of them just yet.
Developing motor skills
Exploring fingers foods will help your baby to develop their fine motor skills. To begin with, it will be tricky for them to pick things up.
As your child grows and gains practice at using the developing muscles in their fingers, they’ll be able to grasp large objects and eventually master picking up small things, too.
It will also take some practice for them to put the food in their mouth rather than smearing it in their hair or dropping it onto their clothes, and these are skills that take time and practice.
Desensitizing gag reflex
Newborns have a very sensitive gag reflex that stops them from swallowing anything but liquid before they’re ready to process it.
When babies start their oral explorations by poking different things into their mouths, they’re slowly desensitizing this reflex and getting used to the idea of eating food.
As their desensitizing progresses, they’ll be able to enjoy finger foods as well as the ability to feed themselves.
Carefully chosen finger foods will match your baby’s ability, ensuring that they’re able to handle what you’re giving them. The finger foods that adults eat (such as canapes, cocktail sausage on a stick, mini quiches or filo pastry bites) just aren’t suitable for your baby.
From the simple flavors and nutritious ingredient to the ability to chew the finger foods, one of the benefits of finger food designed for babies is that you know they are appropriate for your child’s age and abilities.
When to Stop Giving Your Baby Milk
When trying out finger foods with your baby, it’s important to remember the difference between finger foods and other baby food. The first food that a baby will try after their diet of milk will typically be a smooth puree of either single or multiple ingredients.
After getting used to smooth puree, your baby can try something a bit chunkier that will introduce a new texture to their mouth. The next stage of weaning your baby will be to let them explore finger foods.
Note: The weaning process is different for every child, and there are no hard and fast rules. Moving onto the next stage doesn’t mean cutting out the previous diet. A baby of six months won’t instantly switch from milk to puree, and the same goes for the transition to finger foods.
In the first months of their lives, babies receive all the energy and nutrients that they need from their milk, whether that’s breast milk or formula. Introducing other foods will be in addition to their regular milk diet, and not replace it completely for a while, sometimes years.
Another misconception is that you should stop breastfeeding or giving regular milk once your baby has started to eat solid foods. You can breastfeed your baby for as long as you and your baby like.
- Research suggests that a baby benefits most if you continue to breastfeed your baby for the first two years of their life, alongside introducing other foods at the appropriate times.
- The WHO (World Health Organization) recommends that babies be breastfed exclusively for the first six months of their life, and slowly weaned from the age of one years to two years old.
- Psychology Today has written an interesting report on this topic. However, this is a personal choice and will be different for every parent.
When to Start Giving Finger Foods for Babies
Many parents decide to introduce smooth pureed food to their babies at around the 6-month milestone. While some baby food products say they are suitable for babies younger than this, it is advisable to speak to your GP, midwife or nutritionist if you’re keen to give them solid food at such a young age.
If you introduce smooth purees to your baby at six months of age, they are likely to be ready to start exploring finger foods at around 8 or 9-months old.
Remember that even if your baby starts to show an interest in finger foods at this time, it doesn’t mean that they’re going to eat very much of it.
In the early stages of their culinary development, babies will want to touch and play with different types of food to get used to it before they actually sample much of it.
The NHS says that “At the beginning, how much your baby eats is less important than getting them used to the idea of eating.” This is as true for smooth, blended foods as it is for finger foods. Babies may sample the same dish as many as ten times before getting used to the taste and showing an interest in it.
Signs That Your Baby is Ready for Solid Food and Self-Feeding
Deciding when is the right time to give your baby finger foods will depend on a number of factors. Here are three signs your baby will give you when they are ready for trying something other than milk.
- They can stay in a sitting position and hold their head steady without extra support.
- They can co-ordinate their eyes, hands and mouth. This enables them to look at the food, pick it up and put it in their mouth by themselves, rather than being unable to grasp food items or dropping them before reaching the mouth.
- They can swallow food rather than instantly spitting it back out. This is when their gag reflex has developed to enable them to eat.
There are a few behaviors which parents can mistake for signs their baby is ready for broadening their diet. These include a baby that:
- wakes in the night more than usual,
- seems hungry after finishing their milk, or
- chews on their fists.
Remember that putting things into the mouth (such as fingers and fists) is part of their exploration of their own body, preparing them for eating food in the near future. Waking up more is quite natural as they get older, and though a little extra milk might satisfy their hunger and make them sleep better, they don’t necessarily require food at this time.
In the end, every baby is different and a parent will know their child better than anyone. Keep an eye on the signs and see what’s normal for their age to decide when the time is right to move onto solid foods.
How to Start Weaning Your Baby
When the time comes to give your baby something other than milk, it’s important to start slowly. Babies will need to be introduced to the same food item several times over before they accept it.
In the beginning, a very small amount of food will be consumed by them, if any at all. Don’t go to special lengths to buy vast quantities of products in the first few weeks, as your baby won’t be ready for that sort of regular diet until they’re used to it.
Here are a few key points to consider when you start giving your baby finger foods. Even if they’ve been through the process of trying smooth, blended purees and chunkier baby foods, you still have to exercise caution when offering finger foods.
Anything you offer your baby should be soft enough for them to eat. Teething is a process that starts between the ages of about six and ten months, but even if your baby is the proud owner of several teeth, it doesn’t mean they’ll be able to tear and chew harder foods as adults do.
Start by giving them finger foods that can easily be mashed between gums or by their tongue. We recommend soft, ripe fruits such as kiwi, banana, strawberries, and blueberries, and steamed soft vegetables like pumpkin, sweet potato, carrot, broccoli, and cauliflower.
Think about how tiny your baby’s mouth is and what portion size they can handle. Larger chunks of food, even soft items, should be cut into manageable pieces.
A single piece of soft-boiled pasta at a time, or a finger of toast which can be sucked on and mashed, would be great ideas to try.
Fresh and natural
We all know that candy bars and greasy pizzas are bad for us, but we give into temptation because we have a taste for them and crave them. Your baby can’t crave something they’ve never tried, so why offer them junk food just because you like it?
While your child is small, their body is going through vital developments and the best way to support them is with healthy ingredients. The majority of their early finger foods should comprise of fresh, soft vegetables and fruit, with a few carbs added in when they want to explore other textures.
Also, don’t add salt or sugar to your baby’s food. This also counts for the water you boil vegetables in. They don’t need it at this age, and it isn’t good for them.
Needless to say that anything you serve should be appropriately cooked. Fresh vegetables should be steamed or boiled until easily mashable.
Fish and meat are often too chewy to give to young children, but when included in finger food for toddlers, these ingredients should be prepared safely and cooked properly to reduce the risk of food poisoning.
Ideal choices for making finger foods for babies
Aside from fresh fruit and veg, pasta and toast, your baby could try items such as sticks of cheese or cucumber, rice cakes, or bread with a smooth topping like spreadable cheese or hummus. Toddlers can handle something with a bit more bite to it, but still want something easy to swallow and digest and correctly portioned.
Ideas include mini meatballs, fishcakes, muffins, or boiled eggs. Check out the About Kids Health list of appropriate foods to give your child once they reach around 9 to 12 months old.
Preparing Finger Food for Babies
Preparing finger foods for your baby can be a challenging chore. From looking up recipes to buying appropriate fresh ingredients, to carefully cooking the food and cleaning up all the mess. Some parents just don’t have time to handcraft their baby’s finger food.
Many parents start off by introducing little bits of leftovers they’ve eaten themselves, but remember – if you’ve boiled yourself some carrot slices, you can’t feed it to baby if it was boiled in salty water.
Store-bought baby food is often high in salt or sugar, or can contain a lot of rice which is just used for bulking and isn’t nutritional for your baby. Busy parents can hire someone to help, such as a babysitter who will have time to prepare finger foods while your little one is napping.
If you don’t have time to make your own nutritional finger foods, you don’t have to feel guilty about buying ready-meals for your baby. However, you should always seek the best quality products that use fresh, health ingredients and don’t add anything extra.
Rather than opting for cheap jars at the supermarket, look for a specialist company that makes high-quality baby food.
The questions of when to start feeding finger foods to your baby and how to go about it can be a tricky one, but it doesn’t need to be stressful.
Every other parent in the world has gone through the same things as you, and there is a wealth of advice and information out there. From guides and recipes to companies that do it all for you, you’ll find something to suit your lifestyle.
Whichever route you take, remember to take the same approach as you do with everything for your little one – baby steps.