New moms spend a huge amount of time thinking about what purees to feed their babies when they first introduce solid food around six months of age. What most don’t realize, however, is that the time period when a baby eats exclusively pureed foods is actually very short. Within a few months, most babies become more interested in finger foods than purees. Parents need to be ready with a wide variety of soft, bite-sized, healthy finger food options to keep their babies happy and healthy during the next couple of years.
So what kinds of finger foods are tasty, healthy and safe for older infants and toddlers? Below you’ll find some healthy foods and very simple recipes to try at home.
Great foods for little fingers
Small pieces of soft fruit like banana, mango, kiwi, apricot, peach, and melon
Blueberries, cut in half
Cooked frozen peas
Cooked frozen corn
Avocado, cut into small chunks
Small cubes of roasted squash or sweet potato
Roasted mushrooms, cut into small pieces
Cooked small noodles
Puffed rice or kamut cereal (a great alternative to sweetened “puffs”)
Canned black or small white beans, rinsed and drained
Small pieces of whole grain bread (can be dipped in pureed veggies or yogurt)
Small pieces of cooked chicken or turkey
Small pieces of soft fish like salmon or cod
Baked, sauteed, or plain tofu
Tiny cubes or crumbles of soft cheese like mozzarella, havarti, Monterey Jack or goat
Easy finger food recipes to try
Homemade popsicles: Just blend plain yogurt with fresh fruit and pour into popsicle molds. Once frozen, cut the popsicle into tiny cubes so your baby can self-feed.
Spinach gnocchi balls: These soft, veggie-packed “Gnocch-wee” can be made ahead of time and boiled in small batches as needed. Cut balls into smaller pieces for babies and toddlers.
Cinnamon maple butternut squash: Roasting and adding seasoning to this squash makes it popular with both babies and adults.
Green veggie pancakes: What better way to get green veggies into your children than in the form of crowd-pleasing pancakes?
Mexican muffins: Like a whole meal in a soft muffin. Adjust seasonings according to your baby’s tastes and be sure to break into small pieces.
Turkey meatloaf bites: Soft, flavorful, and packed with veggies and protein. Just break into small pieces and serve.
Finger Feeding Tips
Offer mostly fruits and vegetables, proteins, beans and whole grains. Limit processed snack foods, just as you would for yourself or an older child.
Serve vegetables at the beginning of a meal, when your baby is hungry and more likely to eat what you offer. Think of vegetables (or whatever food group she is least likely to eat) as a “first course.”
Add flavor. Experiment with herbs, spices and even a little salt or sugar to make foods more flavorful and appealing to your baby.
Organic foods are healthiest for your baby, so choose organic versions whenever possible.
Plan ahead! Grocery shop regularly and prepare healthy foods on the weekend or during your baby’s nap, so when mealtime arrives, you have more to offer than just crackers or dry cereal.
Babies and toddlers need to eat more frequently than older children and adults, but they don’t need to be eating all the time. Schedule mealtimes and snack times that correspond to when your child seems to be most interested in eating, rather than allowing them to snack all day long.
Since every baby is different, watch your baby carefully so you can get to know his eating abilities and offer finger foods that are appropriate for him. One baby might easily chew (or “gum”) and swallow freeze-dried blueberries while another would struggle with something that hard.
Cut foods – especially meats or anything that might be chewy – even smaller than you think you need to, to help prevent your child from choking.
Always stay near your baby or toddler during mealtime so that if he does take too big of a bite or begins to choke, you can quickly act. Make sure you frequently review what to do if your baby chokes.
All parents get stuck in food ruts sometimes, especially when it comes to finger foods appropriate for babies and toddlers. Overcome this by swapping ideas with friends or even hosting a finger food “potluck,” where everyone brings their child’s favorite healthy finger food!