Finger foods - what to introduce to your baby
Tired of loading up a spoon with purées and trying to cajole your baby into eating from it? Perhaps he would prefer to be in control of what he's eating. That's where finger foods come in – they're easy to prepare, excellent for improving hand-eye coordination and will help to develop his pincer-grip. Time to get chopping.
What are finger foods and when should I introduce them?
Finger foods are anything edible cut into pieces small enough for your baby to hold and eat by himself (although you still need to be present at all times). You can offer them to your baby from the start of weaning, at around six months.
Finger foods are a good way to introduce your baby to different textures and will help him to learn to get food to his mouth, break pieces off and chew. Even if your baby doesn’t have teeth yet, he will chew finger foods with his gums (this is known as “gumming”).
Each piece of food should be about the size of your index finger. Try offering him a strip of soft buttered toast, as well as sticks of sweet potato and other vegetables that can be picked up (if you’ve got time to crinkle cut the edges, even better).
Avoid biscuits and rusks at this stage; they lack nutrients, the sugar isn’t good for your baby and you don’t want him to develop a sweet tooth just yet. For the same reason, you should also limit the amount of dried fruit you give him.
Are finger foods only for baby-led weaning (BLW)? I'm mostly doing BLW with my six-month-old and am giving her bits of what the rest of my family are having. She gums away on roast parsnips, green beans, potato wedges, omelette, eggy bread, toast, spaghetti, cucumber and rice cakes.
No. Finger foods are integral to BLW but they can also be combined with spoon-feeding. While you’re spoon-feeding your baby with puréed vegetables or mashed fruits, you could put a few finger foods down on his highchair tray as well.
Mumsnetters frequently debate the merits of BLW vs spoon-feeding but many find that a combination of both serves them best.
What are the best finger foods to start giving my baby?
Mumsnetters have varied views on weaning because, like everyone else, babies have differing tastes. But some finger foods are popular with most children. Below is a list of finger food favourites.
- Banana. A simple and soft place to start, high in potassium and often a favourite with babies. Slice, serve and see if he picks up.
- Broccoli. Rich in vitamin C, the tree-shaped florets are perfect for your baby to grasp.
- Carrots. A baby food classic, whether served as purée on the spoon, or in batons. Steam, then let them cool before serving. Contains vitamin A which is good for you baby’s eyes and skin.
- Cucumber batons. Quick to prepare, soft to chew and cool on the gums so ideal for teething.
- Cheese sticks. Slice some sticks of mild cheddar or pop Edam minis out of their red cases and let your baby introduce himself to cheese.
- Boiled eggs. For now, hard boil so the yolk is firm and doesn’t run the moment he picks up. They will still probably come apart but he can eat both the whites and yolks with his fingers. A great source of vitamin A and protein.
- Omelette strips. Whisk up an omelette in seconds then slice into strips that are possibly easier to grasp than the boiled eggs mentioned above.
- Mango slices. Soft, refreshing and with the added appeal of their bright colour that will draw your baby’s attention. See also melon slices.
- Toast fingers (soldiers, as we used to call them). Keep them soft and buttery. Later he will be able to dip them into his boiled eggs.
- White meat. A great source of protein. Chicken or turkey are the best to start with. Offer your baby some thin strips.
- Mashed potato. Load it on a spoon but, instead of lifting the spoon and offering it to your baby, put it down on his highchair tray and see if he picks it up and tries to feed himself. You can also try this technique with set yogurt, such as fromage frais.
- Sweet potato. Full of vitamin A and potassium, these are an ideal baby food. Baking them brings out their sweetness but, for finger food, cut into slices (either disks or crinkle cut chips – good for grip), steam, let them cool and serve.
- Baby sweetcorn. Their length makes for ideal finger food so they require little prep. Just steam, cool and serve.
Your baby will treat his finger foods like a new toy and will be thrilled when he discovers that food tastes good, too. Watch out, though, as he might start reaching for the food on your plate. This is a good sign, although you will have to teach him table-manners later.
Take advantage of your baby's fast-developing pincer grip (bringing his thumb and first finger together to pick stuff up) to offer him smaller finger foods, such as raisins, berries, peas, quartered cherry tomatoes and grapes, or baked beans.
For more meal inspiration, check out Annabel Karmel’s weaning recipes for Mumsnet, which include a host of great finger food options.
Finger foods Mumsnetters recommendI sometimes found my daughter needed fruit before a meal, almost to give her the energy to tackle the meal itself. A handful of raspberries on the plate next to some cottage pie might look weird to our adult eyes but she enjoyed it.
“Breadsticks are brilliant. You can just snap the long ones or buy the mini ones. My six-month-old daughter just mushes them up.”
“Don't be too fearful. My baby daughter loved slices of roast chicken, roasted parsnips and fingers of raw apple, which she used to gum for hours."
“I introduced my son to finger food after he was comfortable with purées. I'd do a bowl of puréed veggies with some toast fingers for him to dip/play with.”
“Steamed green beans are easy to hold and very healthy. Steam them a bit longer so they aren't too crunchy. My six-month-old has no problems with holding and eating them, although I don't think she's convinced by the taste.”
“Carrot sticks with hummus, celery sticks, toast fingers, porridge fingers, cheese fingers – these are all good starter foods. Chop grapes and cherry tomatoes in half, and never ever give your baby marshmallows (they expand to fit babies' airways).”
Is my baby at risk of choking on finger foods?
Choking is a common fear but a rare occurrence. Babies should never be left alone while eating, though. If you abide by that rule then you shouldn’t have a problem.
Arguably, your baby is less likely to choke on finger foods because he is in control of how much he’s eating. He can decide how to pick it up, put it in his mouth and when to move it to the back of his mouth to swallow.
However, babies’ curiosity about the world can lead them to put objects in their mouths (marbles, beads and buttons are regular culprits). These can get stuck in their airways and cause choking. So you must be vigilant about the risk of choking at all times, not just when your baby is eating.
If your child suddenly starts coughing then check immediately to make sure he isn’t choking. Read our instructions on first aid for choking babies and see the NHS advice, so you know what to do in the event.