Many parents ask their child’s therapist “When is my baby ready to start finger feeding?” Most babies are ready to begin trying to finger feed small, soft, melt-able foods between 8-9 months of age. It’s ok if your child does not have teeth yet, but it is important to choose the right types of foods that are safe for your baby to eat without choking.
Generally, we like to look at a few developmental milestones to be sure a baby is ready to finger feed safely. These include using a pincer grasp (thumb and finger) to pick up small items, enough trunk stability to sit without support, the ability to bring objects from hand to mouth, and prior success with taking purees and thickened purees from a spoon without gagging or choking.
When you first start to experiment with finger foods be sure to cut items as small as pea size. Be sure foods are easy for your baby to pick up, and be sure that cooked foods are very soft. You can also cut foods into long thin slices so your baby can hold onto one end and gum or munch on the other end. ALWAYS supervise your baby when eating!
Remember that your baby has a tiny stomach and she may not eat much, so start with offering just a few pieces on her high chair tray (1-3) and you can gradually increase to 1-2 Tablespoons. Putting only 1-3 pieces on a child’s tray encourages her to not over-stuff her mouth and prevents choking. Babies also like to throw food on the floor at times, so offering 1-3 pieces and then offering more once the first bites are eaten can prevent throwing behaviors.
Be sure your baby is well supported in a booster seat or high chair where he is sitting with his back flat against a back rest, and his feet are touching a foot rest. If your child is tiny or “floats” in his big high chair and/or leans to one side or the other, roll up towels or receiving blankets and tuck them into the sides of the high chair to give him more stability. Children must be well supported when eating in order to chew and swallow efficiently.
Here are some good options for first finger foods:
Cooked peas, green beans or mixed veggies
Diced peaches, watermelon, kiwi, banana
Diced grilled cheese bites with crust removed
Dry cereals like Cheerios or puffs
Crumbled beef or small bites of meatball
Graham crackers or cheese puffs
Diced raviolis (cut one ravioli into quarters or smaller)
Sliced toast sticks with crust removed
Food to Avoid due to choking:
Grapes (cut one grape into quarters if serving)
Hot dogs/sausages (never serve whole hot dogs or hot dog wheels, cut each wheel into quarters)
Dried fruits, nuts, seeds
Raw or hard veggies
Large amounts of peanut butter
If you find your baby is having difficulty managing finger foods, or is gagging or choking frequently, please call Early Intervention for a feeding evaluation or if already enrolled in Early Intervention please consult with your current therapist. Happy Eating!