A generation ago, babies often started on solid foods as early as six weeks. Given their lack of coordination, spooning in some pureed fruit or soupy cereal was the only option. But today, parents are advised to start solid foods at around six months. And that means babies are ready to do at least some of the feeding themselves.
In fact, some experts recommend letting baby take charge of the feeding process by giving her some finger foods. Gill Rapley, co-author of Baby-Led Weaning: Helping Your Baby to Love Good Food, suggests that when babies feed themselves chunky foods, they are less likely to overeat and to become picky eaters later. Even the Canadian Paediatric Society, which suggests starting with pureed foods at six months, encourages parents to introduce finger foods by eight or nine months.
Dietitian Natalie Brown of White Rock, BC, explains that grabbing food in their hands and stuffing it into their mouths is important developmentally. “Self-feeding allows the baby to feel in control, to be more confident about trying new things, learn about textures and develop better coordination.”
So what’s appropriate to set out on your child’s high-chair tray? Give these yummy options a try.
1. Whole grains
Serve cooked pasta, pieces of plain rice cakes, Cheerios and similar cereal, and whole-grain bread or toast cut in strips. Mom Ruth McAllister makes homemade teething biscuits without added sugar by baking strips of nutritious breads at a low temperature until they are dry and hard.
Cut up peeled soft fruits, like banana, peach, pear, kiwi, watermelon, mango and cantaloupe. Cook firm fruit like apples until they are softened. Grapes and pitted cherries are good too, adds Brown, but they should be cut in quarters to prevent choking. Canned peaches and pears in juice can be rinsed (to remove some of the extra sugars) and blotted dry to make them easier for the baby to grasp. You can roll fruit in wheat germ for extra nutrition.
Cook and cut up vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, squash, carrots, green beans and spinach. Steam veggies a bit longer than you normally would so they’re fairly soft for the baby who is just getting used to solids and doesn’t have many teeth. You can also finely grate raw carrot or cut soft ripe avocado into small pieces.
Try cooked egg, cooked firm tofu, ground beef, chicken or turkey, and small cubes of chicken, lamb or pork. As your baby gets older, larger chunks of food will be appropriate. “The older baby has more skill at manipulating and can start using a fork or spoon,” says Brown. McAllister says that once her baby was eating a variety of foods, she’d set out an ice cube tray with small portions of food in each section.
And don’t pressure your baby to eat more than she’s interested in, says Brown. “It’s the parent’s job to provide nutritious food, and the baby’s or child’s job to decide how much to eat. Parents can’t cross that boundary or struggles will result.”
In the beginning, expect as much playing with the food as eating it. “It’s normal for babies to play with their food—it’s how they learn,” says Brown. Relax and let your child enjoy the process. Just be prepared to wash mashed banana and sweet potato out of her hair later.
What NOT to eat
Some finger foods should be avoided because of choking risk, including:
• whole grapes
• wieners (hot dogs)
• raw carrots
• nuts or large seeds
• jelly beans
• hard candies
Regardless of what babies are eating, they should be supervised at all times.
This article was originally published in 2010.