Right around the time your little one turns nine months old you may realize he’s beginning to act less and less like a new baby and more like a pre-toddler. Baby plays independently, is mobile (or working hard at moving), and is beginning to sprout some teeth.
While it’s a bit sad to lose that tiny, sleepy newborn, big changes are right around the corner. Baby has already learned how to eat pureed food and it may be time to introduce finger foods.
This time in baby’s life signals yet another transition: the change from needing to be fed with a spoon to learning how to self-feed. It’s both an exciting and nerve-wracking time.
I love watching our babies excel and achieve more independence, yet always get a bit nervous when introducing something new. Do you think your baby may be ready for finger foods? Check out our guide for how (and when) to introduce baby to finger foods and snacks.
Signs Baby's Ready for Finger Foods
Just like most baby milestones, learning to self-feed won’t happen at the same point for each little one.
Before introducing finger foods to your baby, look for the following signs:
● Baby is approximately 9 months old
● Baby is crawling or exploring movement
● Baby consistently mashes food with his jaw
● Baby rakes hands or uses a pincer grasp to hold objects
● Baby brings objects in his hands towards his mouth
Of course, each baby is unique in their readiness cues and may not exhibit every sign. Look to see if your baby is showing several of the signs before introducing finger foods.
Also plan to discuss introducing finger foods at your baby’s nine month checkup. Your pediatrician will be able to give you specific advice tailored to meet your little one’s development.
The Order of Feeding Operations
While babies naturally stop eating when they’re full, it can be difficult to know if they’ve eaten enough while they transition to eating finger food.
In order to combat this, plan to feed your baby his main meal of pureed food before giving finger food. This way you’ll know he’s gotten enough nutrition and baby can begin to learn a new routine. First Mom and Dad are in charge and then he takes over the reins.
Teaching Through Eating
Mealtimes are a fantastic time to teach baby new skills, including baby sign language. Simple signs like more, please, and all done are perfect when paired with eating.
You may find yourself sure that baby is ready for finger foods but realize your baby doesn’t quite understand what to do with the foods you’ve put on his tray. Use the first introduction of finger foods to teach him how to self-feed.
To show baby how to self feed:
1. Lay a few pieces of finger foods on baby’s tray.
2. If baby doesn’t reach for them try picking one up on a spoon and feeding it to baby.
3. Look to make sure he’s able to mash and swallow the food appropriately.
4. Repeat this a few times and then lay more finger food on his tray.
5. Guide baby’s hand to explore the foods.
Before you know it, baby will be exploring new and different foods on his own.
While you’re teaching baby basic sign language and how to eat finger foods, keep in mind that you’re also teaching him proper table etiquette. What will you do when baby throws food on the floor? While this may seem a bit premature, good habits are easily formed early on.
Best First Finger Foods for Baby
If your baby is ready to begin self-feeding you’ll have two things to consider: do foods have good nutritional content and are the foods easily gummed without posing a choking hazard.
The following are great first finger foods that are easy for baby to mash:
● Banana Pieces
● Puffed Rice Cereal (and later Cheerios)
● Rice Rusk Crackers
● Cooked Vegetables such as peas, green beans, or carrots
You’ll want to make sure to talk with your child’s pediatrician about what finger foods are recommended for baby. This is especially important because some guidelines (such as waiting to introduce peanut butter) have changed within the past year.
The following foods you’ll want to avoid until baby is at least a year old:
● Egg Whites
● Uncooked Vegetables
● Whole Grapes or Whole Cherry Tomatoes
● Raw Berries (unless cut into several pieces)
Introducing Baby to Snacks
Once baby has mastered finger foods during meals (around 11 months or so), you may find that she’s interested in self-feeding in-between meals. While offering snacks isn’t a good substitute for appeasing a tantrum or using in place of a pacifier, a snack can help baby last until dinner is ready.
Decide where baby will eat his snack. Will you use the highchair or go outside on a nice day? Find a consistent place for baby to snack so healthy eating habits become part of your routine.
Before introducing baby to snacks, recognize that having consistent snack times are important. A small snack following afternoon nap may be a good time for baby to explore self-feeding.
There is an element of guess and check with baby snack times. You may find that baby is not as hungry or becomes disinterested in foods during meals. If this happens you’ll want to hold off on snacks in-between meals.
As baby becomes more confident as a self-feeder consider trying one of these great snack ideas:
● Small Cheese Pieces
● Fruit (cut into small pieces)
● Cooked Egg Yolk
● Graham Cracker
● Rice Puff Cereal
● Mini Pancake/Waffle
Dissuading the Picky Eater
Babies have zero expectations when it comes to food taste. By consistently introducing a variety of pureed foods at sixth months you’ll be setting baby up for success with different food tastes.
If it looks like you have a picky eater on your hands, take a step back and stop introducing the unwanted food. Come back to it in a couple of weeks and reintroduce it. Does baby still refuse? Again, take a break and return to the undesired food in a couple of weeks.
Teaching baby to eat and discouraging pickiness is about parental persistence. Making sure baby is hungry for meals (and hasn’t been snacking too much throughout the day) will also help.
With a trip to the grocery store and a bit of planning you’ll be ready to introduce baby to his first finger foods. This new step towards independence is another exciting milestone on baby’s journey towards toddlerhood.
Jess Wartinger resides in rural New York with her husband and five children. Formerly an early elementary teacher, Jess currently spends her time loving her kids and holding down the fort at home.