Finger foods; suitable options and when to introduce them

Often, when we think about introducing solids to our wee ones, the first thing that comes to mind are purées. Starting with a silky smooth purée and then transitioning on to mashed and more chunky options and then finally offering the family meal is the most traditional way of navigating this time in your baby’s development and encourages them to explore and experience varying textures as and when they are ready for it. But where, and how, can finger foods fit in?

All babies are different and they each take to solids in their own way; some will prefer feeding themselves and some will want to try finger foods earlier than others. Our recommendation is to find some middle ground; starting with purées and then introducing suitable finger foods as an additional option at meal times for your baby as and when they are ready for them.

As with any new texture being offered to baby, it is common for little ones to gag on foods as they learn to manipulate different textures in their mouth. Before starting solids, and particularly offering finger foods, we highly recommend that you familiarise yourself with the difference between gagging and choking and what to do should you have to intervene. It is essential that you always supervise your little ones when they are eating.

But what foods are suitable?

Start by offering foods that are soft in texture or easily dissolve and that can be either easily picked up and held by your wee one or cut in to small pieces that are safe for them to eat (depending on their eating level and whether they have developed pincer grip). Most babies starting out exploring finger foods will find it easiest to hold a finger shaped piece of food in their fist. Some examples could be cauliflower florets or carrot sticks (steamed until very soft but still hold their shape), slices of ripe avocado, grated or finely sliced cheese, soft fresh fruits cut into finger shaped pieces, or toast rusks etc.

If you are just starting your little one on solids, a great option is to offer them a fresh food feeder. These come in either a mesh option or silicone, and you place food (soft fresh fruits area great option) inside the compartment and let your baby chew on it. This allows them to experience new tastes without the risk of choking. Our tip is to choose the silicone option with a single handle as these feeders hold their shape, rather than mesh feeders which can also be a little more difficult to clean. The singe handle (rather than a ring) makes it easier for your baby to grasp and feed themselves while they are still developing their fine motor control of their arms.

As your baby becomes more established on solids and more confident chewing with better head and mouth control (but not necessarily teeth!), you can move on to offering a wider variety of finger foods and increasing the ratio of finger food to traditional spoon feeding. For example, you might like to offer small sandwiches, mini meatballs, mini muffins, slices of poached chicken or well cooked meat etc.

For many children, familiarity equals comfort, and this is the same with their food. Try and offer a wide variety of foods, prepared suitably for their age and stage, to keep their interest and confidence in trying new things. Little ones also like to eat with their eyes and it can be common for them to start expressing their likes and dislikes of foods and for them to test their boundaries in terms of what they will eat, especially as they become toddlers! This is where a little creativity can come in to play by offering finger foods that look exciting to help pique their interest; for example, sandwiches and fruit / vegetables cut in to fun shapes.

Finger foods can also be a great way to get a few extra vegetables in to your little one, especially when they are combined in to recipes such as mini quiches, muffins, meatballs, fritters etc. Carrot can be grated in to an omelette; spinach and broccoli blended and combined together with mashed potatoes can make delicious ‘tato tots; leftover meat can be combined with mashed kumara for a yummy rosti; the possibilities are endless and they’re even better when they’re quick to make and can be frozen ready for an easy snack or meal later. We encourage you to take a look at our Small Bites recipe collection; our most popular recipes which tick all these boxes and are great finger food options.