As a parent I think we like the idea of our child eating everything we put in front of them as we beam with pride and perhaps breathe a sigh of relief. As my children embarked on their culinary journey, I soon realised they couldn’t care less about the nutritional value of their food and that it was as much about how they explored food – tough for a Dietitian to cope with at times but I had to remind myself building a good relationship with food is just as important as it’s nutritional credentials.
If we can support them to develop eating skills that eventually see them through to enjoying a varied diet independently, we have set them up for life.
Finger foods are a fantastic way to build independence and can be offered to babies after 6 months of age, although in reality it may be closer to 7 months before they show an interest, especially if you are also offering foods on a spoon.
At 6 -7 months, babies are able to grip food with their whole hand so large, soft, finger shaped foods are ideal for them as they explore different tastes and textures. Self-exploration really helps to develop a baby’s jaw muscles as they chomp up and down as well as mastering hand to eye coordination as the dog eagerly waits for the missed bits to fall!
Tips for first finger foods:
From 7 – 9 months babies will be able to use their forefinger and thumb to pick up smaller foods; this is known as the pincer grip and opens up a world of opportunities. These foods should still be soft and squishable taking care to avoid hard pieces that could block their airway, for example chunks of apple or nuts. Slice foods length ways, for example grapes. I remember Sam at 9 months was quite partial to an edamame bean and popping them out of their shells caused quite a lot of hilarity, especially when they hit unsuspecting people on the head! Other foods that work well include berries, sweetcorn, peas, grated cheese and veg or pasta shapes.
Getting to grips with finger food
Over 9 months of age, foods can be become firmer as with the development of teeth and hardened gums, their ability to manage smaller, harder pieces improves. Over a year, finger foods become even more valuable as they joyfully exert their independence. If your child has had practice in the earlier months, they will by now be quite proficient at landing the food where it’s supposed to go and if they’ve had variety, they are less likely to turn their noses up at what’s being offered and continue to have a try. This can support them in meeting their nutritional requirements at a time when receiving food on a spoon might not be as appealing.
Don’t beat yourself up though, refusing foods, even those previously devoured is a normal part of development and as long as we act like we don’t care, it is usually a short-lived phase. Offering different types of finger foods, and re-trying things previously rejected is key, whether it be large pieces of exotic fruit at the kitchen table, or smaller shapes in portable snacks, it keeps things interesting and entertaining for them and is a reminder food should always be seen as fun – even if we’re not the ones having fun sometimes!