When it comes to finger foods for baby led weaning, there is a lot of talk about how and what to offer as first finger foods to little ones. However, there is less information and support (guilty) about how you can help your little ones to progress to more complicated finger food textures. There’s also a lack of information on how to offer more of a variety of food shapes, sizes and hardness.
This blog aims to talk you through HOW you might move through finger foods for your little one. Please be aware that EVERY baby is different. It’s so important to follow your baby’s lead when it comes to their ability to manage different food shapes and sizes.
What shape should my baby’s first finger foods be?
When it comes to first finger food (and as long as your baby is ready for solid foods), you’ll see it’s generally recommended to offer little ones finger foods that are ROUGHLY the size and shape of an adult finger. Foods that are squidge-able between your finger and thumb.
This is for two reasons:
1.) Babies at around 6 months of age have a palmer grasp. This means that they only really have the ability to hold foods in the palm of their hand (not picking up with their fingers, for example). Allowing these foods to be finger shaped gives your little one the opportunity to hold them easily in their palm, whilst still having some of the finger food sticking out of the top of their closed palm to munch on.
2.) Ensure these finger foods squidge easily between YOUR finger and thumb. This means that your baby, at the start of their weaning journey, should be easily able to squash any finger foods in their mouth using their tongue and the roof of their mouth or their gums. The foods can be flattened and then swallowed readily. Ideally, they need to be sturdy enough to be held, but soft enough to be flattened with a little pressure. Not the easiest of tasks sometimes.
So what are the best first finger foods for babies?
I recommend a Veg Led Weaning approach to starting solids. Most veggies make fantastic first finger foods for baby. They are easily cut into rough stick shapes for baby to hold. They are also easy to boil or steam so that they are nice and soft for baby to manage. I usually recommend somewhat over-cooking them initially to ensure they are nice and squidge-able. My book How to Wean Your Baby contains a 30 day step-by-step guide to weaning which covers all the cooking times for a variety of different finger foods as veggies will all vary. But it’s helpful to try to cook them for a few minutes longer than you would cook them for yourself.
Some of these first foods below work out really well as finger foods for baby. However there are plenty of other foods that also make great first finger foods too.
What if baby still has no teeth come through?
People often ask if a baby with no teeth can still have finger foods. The answer is a definite YES. So remember that even if your baby doesn’t have any teeth, finger foods are still fine to offer. This is especially true if you start nice and soft and move gradually through the textures as we are discussing here. Baby’s gums are tough and can easily crush a variety of textures to get solid pieces of foods to the right shape.
It’s not uncommon with Baby Led Weaning for babies to not actually swallow huge amounts of finger foods to begin. The first stage of of this is really experimenting and skill development, so try not to worry too much. The skills will come in time with practice, with role modelling and with offering a wide variety of options. It’s also important to know that there is nothing wrong with offering some foods on a spoon for your baby alongside plenty of finger foods. I’m actually a big fan of the best of both approach and have information here on Weaning and trying new food textures.
How to move on to more complex finger foods.
But the bigger question is HOW do I move on after those first finger food options? There is no right or wrong here, BUT when it comes to your baby’s textures it’s about a gradual process and it’s very much about being led by your baby. All babies are different so avoid simply copying what someone else is offering. But do remember that babies will get better at all their feeding skills with practice and with experience with new foods and textures.
I normally recommend that once your baby is familiar with the kinds of finger foods shown above and they’re able to eat them fairly successfully with less gagging, for example, then it’s time to gently and gradually move the textures up a notch. This can mean cooking for just a little less time, making those textures slightly more firm and offering more of a variety of textures too.
Continue with the veggies and just try cooking them a little less. But be sure to build your confidence with more varieties of foods, too. For example, you might offer chewier and more complex textures (but still check initially they squidge between your finger and thumb). You might also then offer sticks of chicken. Perhaps also a variety of raw fruits such as melon fingers or soft pineapple, potato croquettes, savoury flapjacks and oatcakes that are still soft but also slightly harder than the soft cooked veggies.
You can easily try some of these foods with your baby and see how they are coping. If you think you moved up to a texture that is too firm too quickly, just bring it down a little. Still keep trying to move those textures and varieties forward.
Offering Finger Food Variety
You can also offer other shapes and sizes too. After two weeks of offering Ada finger shaped pieces I started to roll lots of things into balls and offer her these for her to feed herself. Rolling ingredients (such as veggies and meats and pulses) up and baking them can be a helpful way to make lots of options into finger foods. Try mixing other ingredients with the following:
- Mashed beans
Quinoa, avocado and peanut butter balls
Salmon, potato and pea balls
This also helps them to get experience with new shapes and textures in their food too and to start practising other forms of self-feeding.
Can babies choke on finger foods?
It’s still important whenever offering finger foods to be safe with them as babies CAN in reality choke on anything. Some of the more likely culprits are below and there are ways you can prep them to make them much safer.
Once your little one has moved through some of these textures suggested above, you’ll start to know how and what they can cope with. Sometimes it’s a bit of trial and error, but try to ensure you follow these safety guidelines below and avoid offering any of the foods that are the main choking hazards (pictured below).
Still be safe with any finger foods you offer and follow the below advice when giving them to your baby:
- Make sure you’re always sitting with your little one at mealtimes, especially when they have finger foods
- Chop and prep foods as needed to make them safe
- Remove tough skins, seeds, pips and peels
- Avoid round, smooth foods like large blueberries, whole nuts and whole grapes
- Move through finger foods fairly gradually to allow skill development
Ultimately follow your baby’s cues with finger foods as much as you can and just try and challenge them slightly as they get more experienced with new foods.
Next Steps of Offering Finger Foods (around 9 months)
Once your baby has had a variety in their diet, it’s important to allow them plenty of practice with eating “pieces” of foods, mainly so that they can practise something called the “Pincer Grip”. This is where a baby uses their finger and thumb to pick up pieces of food (or other objects).
Photo Used with permission of Liz and Max at Haarala Hamilton.
This skill normally starts to occur at around 9 months of age, but in reality takes practice beforehand to actually achieve and master it.
How Ada managed this…
Ada started picking up bits of her foods that had dropped off onto her plate, such as bits of broccoli, pieces of chewed pasta (lovely) and grated cheese for example super early on. I encouraged her to do this by starting to offer her smaller pieces of soft foods at the same time. Offering soft bits of food to pick up allows baby to perfect this skill. Then, once they have mastered the pincer grip, they can start to have foods that are cut a little differently. e.g. smaller chunks of omelettes, small pieces of potato or egg, rather than focusing so much on stick shaped pieces of foods. You can also then start to offer foods such as whole peas and sweetcorn for them to pick up and feed themselves.
Your baby will need to have developed some good chewing skills by the time you move on to these smaller pieces though. Although they don’t necessarily need to have teeth for this (Ada and Raffy both didn’t), some teeth and a developed “bite” will be helpful to allow your little one to eat smaller chunks of foods effectively.
See the infographic below for some examples on how you can start prepping foods for your baby to help them work on their pincer grip skills. Please remember it’s a bit of a gradual transition from finger food sticks to the pieces of food being offered at around 9 months of age. Some babies may master the skills required to eat smaller pieces earlier. Some may take a little longer, but giving them the practice is what counts.
What about Finger Food options for babies from 9-12 months?
Once your little one is able to really feed themselves a variety of shapes and sizes of finger food, you’re well on the way to them eating similar meals as the rest of the family. Between 9-12 months a real focus on “family mealtimes” can help your baby to really progress with their weaning journey. Once they have developed the skills to eat a variety of shapes and sizes, the best thing you can do is to keep offering a variety. And continue to do plenty of role modelling by bringing baby to the table with you for mealtimes as much as possible too.
There is a lot of information in my book How to Wean Your Baby about Finger Foods, textures and why offering both is important.
You can also read more about finger food options for baby here: https://www.srnutrition.co.uk/2018/02/finger-foods-for-your-baby