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As your child grows, their dietary needs will change.
They will go from formula or breast milk to strained food, and eventually start on solid foods in the form of finger foods.
Finger foods are small, soft foods that your baby can pick up, play with, and feed to themselves.
There are a number of finger foods available to your child, including fruits, vegetables, bread, cereal, and cheese, but choosing the right ones is important.
Finger foods should be nutritious, mashable, small enough to avoid choking, and the right food for your baby’s age.
Select mashable foods
When you first introduce finger foods to your baby, they will likely not have all their teeth in yet.
Subsequently, it is important to select foods that are easily mashed between the gums.
Look for produce that can be steamed, as well as soft foods such as grain-based cereals, which can melt in their mouth.
Small pieces of produce like carrots or whole peas can be steamed to make them soft and easy for your baby to consume.
Remember to wait to serve them until the food is cool to the touch, though, as your baby will be eating these items with their hands.
Cubes of fruit are also a healthy, soft option for introducing finger foods to your child.
Avoid choking hazards.
Some soft foods, such as grapes, may be easy enough for your baby to gum, but they are still too large for your baby to safely ingest early on.
Opt for foods that can be cut into small pieces, including soft cheeses, pitted fruits that are ripe and peeled, and even things like meat and pasta.
The food should be cut up small enough that it doesn’t pose a serious threat to your baby.
Try to make food chunks pea-sized or slightly larger.
Whole foods that pose a choking hazard include nuts, raisins, olives, marshmallows, chips, grapes, and hot dogs.
Find age-appropriate foods.
Generally, finger foods come into a baby’s diet at around eight to nine months.
Though they can grasp and chew more food now, it is still important to select age-appropriate foods.
Consulting with your pediatrician may be especially helpful in determining the right diet for your baby.
At eight to nine months, your baby should be eating mostly thick mashes of fruits and vegetables, along with some grain and dairy, as well a few protein-rich foods every day.
While scientific studies frequently produce new information on the subject, it is generally popular wisdom to avoid giving your baby whole eggs in their first year to help avoid developing an allergy.
Typically, only yolks are thought to be safe for babies early-on.
Buy fresh foods whenever possible.
Pre-packaged foods including instant meals, takeout food, canned soups, canned sauces, and snacks like chips and crackers are often high in sodium and sugar.
Your baby’s kidneys cannot handle high levels of sodium, so try to select fresh foods or preservative-free foods whenever possible.
If you do have to rely on packaged food for certain things, look at the sodium content.
Babies under 12 months should have less than 1,000 mg of salt a day, while children under three should have no more than 2,000 mg.
Find packaged foods that are specifically meant for babies and toddlers, or look for low-sodium packaged goods when you must.
Opt to use herbs and spices to help flavor your baby’s food instead of relying on salt.
Select Nutritious Finger Foods.
Your baby needs the same nutrients you do, just on a different scale.
When introducing finger foods, think about the types of mashes and baby foods you will continue to use in your child’s diet, then use finger foods to help fill in some of the nutritional voids.
If, for example, you plan to regularly feed your baby vegetable mashes such as peas and carrots and sweet potatoes, you may want to consider introducing protein-rich finger foods such as small meat or tofu cubes.
Generally speaking, babies seven to twelve months old should get around 95 grams of carbs, 11 grams of protein, 30 grams of fat, and a variety of micronutrients such as vitamins and iron a day.
Remember to check labels for nutritional content.
Pay special attention to things like sugar, which is a form of carbohydrate and should be factored into your child’s overall carb intake.
Look for iron-rich foods.
Your baby needs an iron-rich diet from six to twelve months, so look for finger foods that are naturally rich in iron, or otherwise iron-fortified.
Iron-fortified infant cereals are often a popular choice for finger foods, as they combine a single grain such as wheat or barley with added iron.
Meats rich in iron that are safe to offer to your child include turkey, beef, chicken, lamb, fish, and pork.
High-iron meat alternatives that can easily be cut up and ingested include chickpeas, lentils, beans, eggs, and cooked tofu.
Buy full-fat dairy products.
Cheeses are a great option for finger foods, but buying reduced-fat or low-fat cheese for your child is not beneficial.
Babies are constantly growing and have very different nutritional needs than adults.
Opt for whole milk cheeses instead of reduced fat to make sure your baby is getting the proper nutrients.
Check the packaging to make sure the cheese is not reduced fat, low fat, or part skim.
Unless otherwise stated, most cheeses are typically made from full-fat dairy products.
How to Introduce Finger Foods to Your Baby
Most babies have developed the fine motor skills necessary to self-feed by around eight or nine months.
Still, it is important to make sure your child is ready to get food into their mouth.
To see if your baby is ready to self-feed, look for signs like:
Grasping and raising spoons to their mouth, though the spoon may not go in the mouth
Grabbing items between their thumb and forefinger
Holding their head upright without assistance
Being able to put things in their mouth on their own
Holding a cup with a lid without help
Start with single ingredient foods
Introduce single ingredient foods to your baby first, and introduce them one at a time.
Wait three to five days between introducing a food and feeding it to a child for the second time.
This allows you to monitor for allergic reactions.
Even minor allergic reactions should be seen by a doctor.
Signs of allergic reactions may include:
Swelling of face, lips, or tongue
Ongoing vomiting or diarrhea
Coughing or wheezing
Include your baby in meal time.
As you start your child on finger foods, start including them in your family mealtimes rather than setting aside a special time to feed your baby.
This will allow them to mimic you with their finger foods, and help make the transition toward full solid meals.
It is alright to have some time set aside to breastfeed or formula feed your baby, but try to encourage them to eat solid foods during family meals.
Keep portions in control.
Healthy eating habits start early, so while your child may have a healthy appetite, it’s your job to make sure they get reasonable portions that are neither too large nor to small.
At any given meal, your baby should be eating around four ounces of food.
This is the equivalent of a small jar of strained baby food.
If you notice your child is not eating, or if they have an abnormally large appetite, contact your doctor immediately.