The World of Finger Foods & Self-Feeding: A Guide for Parents Day 3: The World of Finger Foods & Self-Feeding

The World of Finger Foods & Self-Feeding: A Guide for Parents

Today, we will explore how to introduce handheld foods, also commonly known as finger foods. You probably remember the concept of “finger foods” when we explored baby-led weaning in the early days of Month 5.

Baby-led weaning, initially popularized in the UK, involves offering food directly to your baby's hand, allowing them to bring the food into their mouth independently. This approach encourages self-feeding and empowers your baby to explore different tastes, textures, and flavors at their own pace.

Benefits of Introducing Handheld or Finger Foods

While you can continue with spoon feeding, we recommend also introducing handheld or finger foods so you help promote your baby’s overall development and eating skills. Here are the many advantages of introducing handheld or finger foods at this age.

1. Better food handling skills

Research indicates that babies who are introduced to handheld or finger foods between 6 and 8 months tend to develop better food handling skills later in life. In contrast, those introduced to finger foods after 9 months consume fewer food groups during their toddler years.

By starting early with handheld foods, your baby becomes accustomed to various tastes, shapes, and textures, fostering a more diverse palate as they grow.

2. Better motor skills and coordination

Introducing finger foods helps your baby develop fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. They observe and imitate family members during mealtime, learning the social aspects of eating while improving oral motor skills.

Unlike pureed or mashed foods, which require minimal chewing or biting, finger foods encourage babies to bite, chew, and explore their mouths. This progression in oral motor development is crucial for their overall oral health.

3. Exploration of textures and flavors

Handheld foods provide opportunities for your baby to experience a variety of textures and flavors compared to purees or mashes. As they handle different foods with their fingers, they learn to navigate new textures and develop a sense of exploration.

This tactile experience helps babies become familiar with various smells and unique flavors, making mealtime a sensory adventure.

4. Self-feeding and regulation of hunger

One of the significant benefits of introducing handheld foods is that it promotes self-feeding. As your baby grasps and brings food to their mouth, they develop essential self-feeding skills. This practice encourages independence, allowing them to regulate their own hunger and fullness cues, promoting a healthy relationship with food from an early age.

When to Introduce Finger Foods?

Watching for certain signs can help you determine when your baby is ready for finger foods.

1) Bringing objects to their mouth: When you notice your baby trying to bring toys or teethers to their mouth, it may indicate they are ready to explore with finger foods. Most experts recommend introducing finger foods before 9 months of age for optimal development.

2) No teeth needed! Contrary to popular belief, your baby doesn't need teeth to handle finger foods. Their strong gums are perfectly capable of managing soft foods, ensuring they can enjoy the experience safely.

Babies & Their Grasping Techniques

Understanding your baby's grasping abilities is essential when introducing finger foods. It’s good to be aware of the types of grasping techniques they’re learning as toddlers:

1) Palmar grasp (under 9 months): At this stage, babies use their palms to hold objects, including food. To make it easier for them to grasp and hold, offer wedge-shaped or stick-shaped foods.

2) Pincer grasp (above 9 months): Around this time, babies start developing their pincer grasp, using their thumb and index finger to pick up small items. You can introduce smaller chunks of food that they can practice picking up and holding with their pincer grasp.

Tips to Create an Enjoyable Finger Food Experience

Follow these tips to ensure a safe and enjoyable finger food experience for your baby:

C1) reate a safe eating environment: Always ensure your baby is seated and closely supervised while eating to prevent gagging or choking incidents. Remember that exploring new textures, shapes, and sizes may cause temporary gagging, which is normal. Refer to our previous content on gagging for a quick recap and reassurance.

2) Choose soft and mashable foods: Select foods that are soft and easily squished between your index finger and thumb. This texture ensures your baby can manage the food comfortably.

3) Adapting family meals: Common rice-based dishes like dal rice or curd rice can be transformed into finger foods for your baby. There are three serving methods you can try: shaping the mixture into balls, loading it onto a spoon for self-feeding, or making the mixture mushier and serving it in a bowl for scooping by hand. Remember not to add additional salt or sugar while preparing these foods.

4) Introduce flavors and seasonings: Handheld foods don't need to be bland. You can lightly season them to expose your baby to different spices and flavors. Utilize cooked vegetables from your family meals or include items like roti, paratha, chilla, idli, and dosa as part of your baby's finger food repertoire.

5) Avoid choking hazards: Be cautious and avoid hard foods that cannot be squished between your fingers, as they can pose choking risks.

Foods to avoid that can be choking hazards:

  • Hard, raw fruits and veggies like carrots, apples, whole berries, cherries, and grapes; dried fruits like raisins, dates, prunes, and seeds
  • Whole nuts; large chunks of cheese especially string cheese and cheese cubes; paneer cubes; whole grain kernels; whole makhana; cooked or raw whole corn kernels
  • Large, tough chunks of meat, dry meat sticks, fish with bones, or shrimp
  • Whole beans
  • Untoasted bread
  • Hard cookies or granola bars, hard candies or chocolates
  • 6) Dealing with overstuffing: Babies may sometimes stuff their mouths with too much food, which can be worrisome for parents. However, it's a natural learning process for them to understand their mouth's capacity and boundaries. If it worries you, encourage them to spit out the excess food, modeling the action yourself (pretend you’re spitting out something), rather than attempting to remove it with your fingers.

    7) Embrace the mess! Handheld feeding experiences can get messy, but don't fret! Research shows that when babies get messy, they are forming stronger neurological connections that help them handle foods and textures better.

    3 Safe Ways of Preparing & Serving Finger Foods

    Creating a positive feeding experience for your baby is important. We share some methods that you could consider while preparing finger foods as well as ways to avoid choking hazards.

    1) Soften and squish: When preparing finger foods, focus on achieving a soft texture that can be easily squished between your fingers. Foods like cooked rajma, peas, chickpeas, and chana fall into this category. Despite their small size, these foods can still pose choking hazards.

    2) Stewed or steamed: Certain foods may require cooking methods like stewing or steaming to achieve the desired softness. This ensures that they are safe and easily manageable for your baby.

    3) Preloaded spoon: Another convenient method is to preload certain foods onto a spoon. Porridges, khichdi, dal rice, and curd rice can be prepared and loaded onto a spoon for your baby to self-feed.

    List of Finger Foods You Can Give Your Baby

    Fruit Finger Foods:

  • Banana: Peeled or sliced into long strips, or rolled in scrambled paneer.
  • Stewed fruits: Apple and pear, cut into long strips.
  • Avocado: Cut into long slices for easy handling.
  • Oranges: Peeled and finely chopped or quartered with the peel left on.
  • Grapes: Cut in half or quarters and slightly mashed.
  • Plums: Cut in half for bite-sized portions.
  • Melons: Watermelons and muskmelons, cut into adult finger-sized slices.
  • Ripe papaya: Initially served in long strips, and later on finely chopped pieces.
  • Ripe mango: Cut into long slices or with the mango pit for grasping.
  • Vegetable Finger Foods:

  • Steamed or roasted veggies: Sweet potatoes, potatoes, pumpkin slices, carrot sticks, beetroot strips, cucumber sticks, etc.
  • Veggie curry or gravy: Served with rice, dosa, roti, idli, or idiyappam, allowing your baby to explore and eat with their hands.
  • Steamed and mashed veggies: Sweet potato, pumpkin, potatoes, etc., preloaded on a spoon for self-feeding.
  • Well-cooked cauliflower florets, mushrooms, and brinjals: Cut round, cooked, and served.
  • Protein Finger Foods:

  • Eggs: Hard-boiled eggs cut into wedges or egg omelet strips or egg cups.
  • Meat: Baked salmon (skin removed) flaked into 2 to 3-inch adult finger-sized pieces. Alternatively, ground, shredded, or chopped meat can be offered.
  • Tofu and paneer: Steamed, diced, and later on scrambled for added variety.
  • Pulses and lentils: Cooked as dal, mixed with rice, and made into balls. Lentil curry or gravy can be served with chapati, rice, or dosa.
  • Curd and yogurt: Offered in a bowl for scooping with hands or preloaded on a spoon. Nut butters like peanut butter or almond butter can be added. Mixing curd or yogurt with rice, dosa, roti, chapati, or idli is another option for easy consumption.
  • Cereals and Grains:

  • Rice and oats: Cooked and warm, served in a bowl or as round rice balls with dal, sambhar, or rasam rice. Oats patties can be offered on a plate.
  • Chapati, roti, dosa, and idli: Cooked and cut into strips, perfect for dipping in dal, sambhar, or gravy. Allow your baby to explore these foods with their hands.
  • Breads: Lightly toasted, cut into small lengths or thin strips. Fill them with peanut butter, mashed dal, paneer, or egg bhurji for added flavor.
  • Gagging & Choking During Finger Foods

    Introducing handheld or finger foods to your baby is an exciting milestone, but it's natural for parents to worry about gagging and choking incidents. Understanding the difference between gagging and choking is essential for your peace of mind and your baby's safety.

    Gagging Is Natural During Initial Days

    When babies begin exploring finger foods, it's common for them to experience gagging. It’s worrying for anyone to see a toddler gag, but remember not to panic so your baby does not panic in turn. Let’s see why gagging occurs and what to do when it does:

    New textures and flavors: Finger foods introduce new textures and flavors to your baby's palate. Their bodies are adjusting to this novel experience.

    A natural reflex: Gagging is actually a protective reflex that helps babies learn how to handle and accept different types of food. It's their way of preventing choking incidents.

    Stay calm: While it can be alarming to witness your baby gag, it's crucial to remain calm. It’s natural to think you can help by putting your finger in their mouth, but please don’t do this, as this action can push the food farther down and lead to choking.

    Reassure with a smile: Keep a smile on your face and maintain a positive demeanor. Your baby will look to you for reassurance, and your calm presence will help them overcome any difficulties!

    Sitting upright: Babies should be seated upright during meal times. It’s best to avoid reclining positions or allowing them to walk around during mealtime.

    Tips to Prevent Choking Risks

    As you know, hard, raw fruits like carrots, apples, whole berries, whole nuts, grapes, raisins, or dates can be serious choking hazards if served as they are. But, you can modify them and add them in other forms to your meal preparations.

    Here are some tips:

    1. Carrots can be steamed and apple slices can be stewed so they’re soft.
    2. Cherries or grapes can be sliced into four equal pieces before feeding babies.
    3. Whole nuts can be powdered or sliced before feeding babies.
    4. Some types of cheeses can be choking hazards as well. Spreadable soft cheeses can be used if you like, but it’s best to avoid processed cheese or cheese cubes. Check the label to see if it’s processed or not!
    5. Meat should be well-cooked, tender, and moist.
    6. Whole shrimps or prawns are best avoided, as their rubbery texture makes them an easy choking hazard. You can slice them or puree them and then feed your baby.

    You can also do a quick recap on Gagging (click here) and Choking (click here),so you’reinformed and feel more comfortable when introducing finger foods to your baby.

    We know that introducing handheld or finger foods to your baby can be an exciting time in their exploration journey. By keeping the above tips in mind and serving finger foods in a safe, tasty manner, your baby’s introduction to finger foods will be an enjoyable, positive experience of flavors, textures, and messiness!