Before we dive into this post, I want to put a disclaimer out there because this is for sure is the longest post I have ever written. So grab a coffee (or glass of wine;) because I am about to download a whole bunch of information on you about finger foods.
But the thing is, finger foods can be tricky for a lot of parents.
I know they were for me.
You would think that being a baby food guru, I would have finger foods on lock down. Well, that wasn't the case at all.
Not only did I have a million questions about finger foods - what to serve, how to serve it and when can I start? I also was faced with my girls being completely different types of eaters. Ellie, my oldest, loved purees. So I had to softly wean her from her beloved purees and s-l-o-w-l-y introduce her to finger foods, which she mostly just gave the stink eye to. My youngest daughter, Parker, was the exact opposite. She literally ripped a piece of steak off my husbands fork when she was 7 months old. She was ready to eat finger foods and we better not get in her way!
But the questions were there the same with both of them - what foods should I give them first? What size should I cut their veggies and fruit into? Can I add spices to the finger foods?
After years of readers asking for help and having the exact same questions and concerns I had, I knew it was time for me to write a complete guide about finger foods.
Complete being the key word here!
So here it is, a zillion words talking about finger foods. Oh how you think I am kidding:)
Let's start with the basics before we move on to my delicious finger food ideas.
When to Start Finger Foods
When to start finger foods with your baby is completely up to you. You can start baby on finger foods from their very first bite (roughly 6 months of age), you can serve finger foods to your baby alongside their purees (roughly 8 months of age) or wait until they have mastered their chunky purees before you serve them finger foods (roughly 11 months of age).
Starting right from the first bite is a very popular way of approaching feeding baby these days, and is called Baby Led Weaning. I did not do this approach <----- hello I am the puree queen over here. But I know several families that did this approach and loved it. If you want a more in depth look at this approach, then check out this site for more information.
You can also start giving finger foods alongside baby's purees once they mastered the stage one or basic purees. This method worked great with Parker because she loved to do it herself (in fact, she still loves to do everything herself) but she wasn't very good at getting anything into her mouth until she was almost 10 months old. So I would spoon feed her some puree while she worked on her pincher grip and tried to feed herself. She was happy, I was happy. This method totally worked for us.
The third method is that you can wait until baby has completely mastered smooth purees and chunky purees and then start to introduce finger foods. I swear Ellie would have eaten purees until she went to college. She loved purees! So I had to slowly wean her off purees and feed her finger foods during snack times. Again, this method completely worked for her but would have never worked for my other babe.
Do you see what I am leading up to here?
Both of my girls dictated how they wanted to be fed.
As parents, we have an idea of how we want to do something with our child. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn't. You have to be flexible at all times. I certainly had to be when Parker would only eat if there were finger foods on her plate. I thought Parker would love purees for as long as Ellie did, but boy was I wrong!
How to Start Finger Foods
To start serving finger foods, the easiest thing is to do is to put a little of whatever you made right onto their tray and let them dig in. It's messy! They might get almost everything on the floor and nothing in their mouths! But it is so fun to watch their little faces focus with so much determination.
If they eat, or accidentally push all of their food onto the floor, then by all means serve them some more. Babies are in tune with their hunger trigger and know when they are full and when they want more.
If at anytime they are getting upset or are just over the idea, then you can stop the meal. If they are transitioning from purees to finger foods, you can offer them some of their beloved purees.
I also found that when transitioning from purees to finger foods, morning and afternoon snack time was a great time to try out their new finger foods. They had enough energy to try something new and because I wasn't pressed for time to get dinner on the table, I was also able to enjoy the experience more.
How to Prepare Finger Foods
You will see a ton of different ways to prepare different finger foods below. I tried to give you a ton of different options, but if you have a favorite way to cooking a vegetable or grain, then by all means go at it.
The main thing you have to remember is that finger foods need to be soft enough for baby to be able to gnaw on with only a couple of teeth, or no teeth whatsoever. So this means, most veggies will have to be cooked.
Finger foods will also have to be either chopped into small pieces (roughly the size of a pea) or cut into 2-3 inch strips. See the pictures of the food in this post for some visuals. The reason for these sizes is that they present less of a chocking risk for baby. Again, depending on your child, they might prefer one size to the other. Parker would only eat the finely chopped food and refused to touch big strips of food. Maybe I should write a post about how kids are completely bizarre?!?
Still with me here? Need to get another coffee? I told you I had a lot to say about finger food. I am always so much fun to talk to at parties... 'so Bob, it's nice to meet you, can I tell you about finger foods?'
This is the topic that most people want to know about and are usually completely freaked out about. Choking! Eeks!
So here is the deal, your baby will gag on finger foods. I hate to tell you this, but they will. For the most part, they will not actually choke on the food. Gagging and choking are not the same thing. The difference, is that gaging is the where the baby is actively trying to get the food out and sounds like a deep coughing sound. This is good. This is what they have to do in order to be able to learn how to eat, no matter how old they are when they learn it. Choking on the other other is when the baby is silent and their eyes start bugging out of their heads and they start turning a shade of blue. Not good. That's when your deep rooted mother instinct takes over and you slap the crap out of your baby's back until they cough up their food. I remember this happening to me when I was around 8 (I guess the fear never goes away as a parent) and I choked on some gum and boy did my mom slap my back so hard, but guess what, it worked! Here is an official guide if you want a more professional look on how to stop choking.
Did that just scare the crap out of you? Sorry about that.
But here's the thing, I have never had any of my kids actually choke on any finger foods. Gag, yes. Choke, no.
And for the very most part, if you stick to the size foods I recommend, cook your finger foods until tender and sit with your child while they are eating, then chances are that serving finger foods will be a very happy event for both you and baby.
What to Serve
What finger foods to serve baby is completely up to you. You can serve a variety of different veggies paired with a grain or protein. If your baby loves fruit, then you can serve serval different kinds of fruit for a sweet snack.
I like to think of finger foods as a start to getting baby on track for eating what I am eating, so I would usually serve the same items to baby that I was eating for that meal. Roasted veggies, rice, cooked chicken, etc. This didn't always work, but that is what the goal is - one family, one meal.
I would also like to try to hit all the four groups - a veggie, a carb, a protein and then a fruit for dessert or save the fruit for snack. This seemed to work for my girls. But that might not be the case with your babes. The key here is for them to try as many foods as you can, not all in the same day of course, while you have a captive and open baby willing to try foods.
Okay, enough speel, let's talk about yummy food!!! The very best part.