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The Smart Guide to Baby's First Finger Foods

© Leah Verwey Photo
© Leah Verwey Photo

Has your baby mastered the art of eating soft, mashed foods from a spoon? Perhaps she’s even trying to grab that spoon from your hands as you feed her, or attempting to snag food from your plate. If so, it may be time for your mini muncher to move on to chunkier solids and finger foods.* That’s right— sayonara puréed peaches and smoothie-style chicken, and hello scrambled eggs and diced cooked carrots!

Of course, sometimes transitioning to more legit “solids” is a little nerve-racking for parents: “What if she chokes?!” But it can also be a lot of fun—and easier! Just check out our finger-food fact sheet for getting started.

Signs of Readiness

Being old enough: While there’s no specific age when all babies are ready to tackle finger foods, the average is between seven and nine months.

Pro head and neck control: To prevent choking, your wee one must be able to sit up straight on his own in his high chair. Since this is also a requirement for eating purées, he should have this one down by now.

Ability to chew: Baby should be able to “chew,” even if that just means mashing food with toothless gums.

A budding pincer grasp: Your tot will need at least a basic ability to grab and hold objects between his thumb and forefinger (and bring them to his mouth) as he enters the brave new world of feeding himself. Trying finger foods before he’s ready could make him mighty frustrated, which may negatively impact his relationship with eating or his willingness to try new foods.   

What to Serve

When you’re ready to add finger foods to the menu, let the following be your guide: Choose foods that are soft, easy to swallow, and either cut into pieces smaller than a dime or served in slices.

Good options include: scrambled eggs, small cubes of tofu, shredded cheese, finely chopped chicken or ground beef, flakes of boneless fish (choose low-mercury options like canned light tuna, salmon, tilapia, and cod), super-soft potato or sweet potato chunks, well-done pasta, rice (mix with cheese or a purée to make it easier to grasp), Cheerios or puffed rice cereal, chunks or slices of avocado, bits of banana, peas, cooked carrots, steamed and cubed broccoli or cauliflower, steamed and cubed zucchini or winter squash, peeled pear spears, and very soft blueberries that have been cut in half.

Do not serve foods that are hard to chew or swallow (i.e., choking hazards): hot dogs, whole nuts and seeds, chunks of nut butter, chunks of meat or cheese, whole grapes, popcorn (yes, really—it can be inhaled), pretzels, raw vegetables, hard chunks of fruit (like apples), and candy.

Avoid processed foods or highly seasoned dishes made for older kids and adults, as they typically contain a lot of sodium, sugar, and/or preservatives.

Getting Started

The process for experimenting with table foods could not be easier:

1. A couple weeks in advance, start by thickening up baby’s purées so that she gets used to moving heartier food around her mouth and swallowing it.

2. When it’s go-time, pull up a seat next to your child (and make sure you’re feeling patient). Scatter a few pieces of food (start small and replenish as needed) on an unbreakable plate or directly onto her high-chair tray and let the fun begin! She may pick up the food immediately and eat, or she may want to explore it a bit first. Playing with her food is a great sensory experience and part of the learning process, so resist the desire to swoop in with a spoon or a washcloth before she’s finished. If she seems a bit stumped, show her how you pick up the food, put it in your own mouth, and chew—or better yet, have her older sibling demonstrate. When your baby takes her first bites, don’t be alarmed if she gags, coughs, or spits the food out—learning to eat is a process, but she’ll get the hang of it.

3. Remember that the shift to finger foods is not an abrupt, all-or-nothing transition. Until she reaches the one-year mark, your baby will still be getting most of her nutrition from breastmilk or formula, and you should still be feeding her nutrient-filled purées and mashes (ideally thicker and thicker ones) along with table foods. It’s fine to introduce finger foods one at a time, or to take a break from foods that baby finds challenging. Even if her foray into finger foods is a slow one, she’s learning great lessons about her own appetite regulation. Never mind the spaghetti everywhere along the way….

* Check with his doctor before serving any new foods to your baby. Also check in with the doc if your child shows a really strong aversion to finger foods or has consistent trouble eating them, as these may be signs of sensory issues or a medical condition like reflux.

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