Introducing new foods to a baby can be exciting and fun, but it's important for parents to do their research before they begin creating a menu. According to Today.com, recent research has shown that some foods marketed as "first finger foods" for babies can actually be choking hazards (melts and wagon wheels, for example), so parents are often confused about what a self-feeding baby can safely manage.
"Safety is key, as almost any food can be a choking hazard for an older infant or toddler if not properly served. Remember that older infants may just be starting to get teeth, and that they eat by mashing the food with their gums," says pediatrician Dr. Tanya Altmann and author of What to Feed Your Baby.
In other words, avoid giving babies finger foods that are large, sticky, and don't dissolve easily (so steer clear of hotdogs, peanut butter and carrots, for example). As an infant grows and becomes comfortable chewing, parents can branch out and try new things, but waiting is important.
"As a baby develops better tongue patterns to control food pieces as well as more mature chewing, he can better ‘chew’ the foods that break apart, like pieces of fruits and vegetables. A one-year-old can also bite off pieces of food that a 6-month-old can’t," says Susan M. McCormack, MA, senior speech language pathologist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and a board-certified specialist in swallowing and swallowing disorders.
Need some help? Here are 13 finger foods moms should try, and 8 they should avoid until the kid is older.
21 Puffs And Dry Cereal
Any parent will tell you that puffs and dry cereal (specifically Cheerios) are pretty much a blessing from God when it comes to keeping a baby happy and occupied.
Babies will spend an insane amount of time trying to pick these suckers up as they practice their "pincer grasp." Hello, fine motor skills!
Puffs and O-shaped cereal also mix really well with saliva, making them easy for the baby to enjoy them without choking (choking is bad). Sure, this finger food idea isn't exactly "outside of the box" (pun intended), but it's safe, easy, and always a hit with the little ones.
If your baby has shown no signs of a dairy allergy, then cheese is a perfect finger food option! Don't worry, soft cubes of cheddar cheese are safe to introduce as early as 6-months. Stay away from uncultured, unpasteurized cheeses that may contain bacteria, such as brie, feta, Camembert, Roquefort, blue cheese, etc. Make sure you cut up the cheese into small bites and that it's not overly sticky (cheddar and colby are good options). Babies can also be introduced to cottage cheese, provided it's made from pasteurized milk, but be careful of the mess! No, cheese on pizza doesn't count.
Beans, beans, they're good for your heart, the more you eat them, the more you...
As long as you're not afraid of a smelly baby, cooked, soft beans are an excellent source of protein, iron, zinc and fiber.
Beans come in a variety of different colors and shapes, so babies enjoy picking them up and counting them. Just think of all the options! You can try chick peas (also known as Garbanzo beans), kidney beans, refried beans, and black beans. If you're worried about choking, just smash them a little beforehand, and you're good to go! Beans are also very affordable and easy to keep on hand.
Being raised by South Carolinians, I'm pretty sure I didn't try an avocado until I was an adult (I'm not even kidding), but babies LOVE them. Avocados are a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids (which are proven to help boost baby’s brain development), and can be used as one of the first baby finger foods, even if your baby has no teeth yet. Sure, they can get messy, but it's pretty stinking cute to watch a baby wrangle an avocado (just don't let them eat the peel or the pit). If you want to avoid the mess, pre-chop the avocado into tiny pieces and let them work on their pincer grasp.
Buttered, shelled pasta was my go-to food when my kids started eating. Ignore all the cookbooks advising you to cook pasta al dente, you're going to want to overcook it until it's nice and soft before giving it to baby. Small pasta shapes work best- think orzo, mini shells, or penne.
Although my kids were all about the butter, experts recommend that you start by introducing pasta plain (without any sauce, butter or oil) until they get a little older.
Trust me, you don't want to upset their little tummies before they get used to solid foods (and sauce can be messy).
16 Cooked Vegetables
Certain types of cooked vegetables are a great option for finger foods, including sweet potato, zucchini, squash, cauliflower, carrots, beets, etc. To get the most nutrients out of your vegetables, steam or roast them until they are soft, cut them into bite-size pieces, and make sure they are completely cooled down before serving them. My kids absolutely love eating mashed sweet potato when they were babies (and I've got the pictures to prove it), even though they hate them now. Make sure to enjoy this time when they can't argue with you over eating their veggies. Trust me, it's fleeting.
It almost seems like God made blueberries specifically for babies, doesn't it? They're deliciously sweet, soft, small and easy to gum. Not only that, but they're the perfect size for your baby to practice their fine motor skills.
Despite their small size, blueberries are among the most nutrient-dense berries on Earth (they're packed with vitamin C, vitamin K, and manganese), and are considered the "King of Antioxidant Foods."
Not bad, right? It's not exactly the time of year to go berry picking, but don't worry, you can just keep some in the freezer until they're ready to defrost. Just make sure they're wearing a bib, blueberry stains aren't easy to remove.
14 Scrambled Eggs
Don't listen to Grandma! Although doctors used to advise waiting to introduce eggs, the AAP now recommends early exposure to potentially allergenic foods, so bring it on (you'll have a little Ron Swanson in no time). Small soft pieces of scrambled eggs are a perfect first finger food and are very easy for babies to grab and put into their mouths (just stay clear of runny yolks).
Eggs are also a great source of inexpensive, high-quality protein, and are chock-full of vitamins and nutrients.
Even better, they can be made overnight and reheated quickly in the morning for a no-fuss breakfast.
Like blueberries, fresh peas seem to have been made for babies (and tired parents who are looking for an easy, healthy finger food option). Peas are super easy to defrost straight from the freezer (and also easy to steam). Honestly, they are the perfect size and shape for babies to pick up and they can be easily mashed by infant gums. On the health side, green peas are a total power food! They are rich in bone-building vitamin K as well as vitamin C, which helps support your baby's immune system, and they basically have every vitamin and mineral you can think of. Bring on the peas!
12 Ground Beef
Thoroughly cooked ground beef is a great finger food option that I honestly didn't think of when my kids were little. Remember, ground beef is an excellent source of protein, iron, B vitamins and zinc.
High levels of iron are important for babies, as iron builds red blood cells and carries oxygen around our bodies, which is needed for brain development and energy.
Although doctors in the United States once suggested not offering beef to children under 8-10 months of age, it is now being recommended as a "first finger food" because of its health benefits. Offering meats earlier rather than later helps babies maintain proper levels of iron and ensures adequate levels of zinc and protein.
Sure, mashed potatoes can be a pain to clean up (particularly after it hardens on the high chair), but babies love self-feeding it to themselves. Just remember to take their shirt off in advance, make them wear a bib, and place a plastic mat under the baby's high chair. Don't forget, playing with food is an important developmental step and can even help children be better learners. If you don't want a huge mess on your hands, you can always boil or steam some potato cubes and offer those instead (just make sure you cool them down first). Potatoes are filling, cheap, and always a hit!
Rice is a great finger food option for little kids that many parents overlook. Small, soft grains of rice encourage babies to practice their "pincer grasp," but rice doesn't have to be boring!
Cook brown rice until it's very soft, mix it with lentils and a bit of vegetable (or chicken) soup, and create your very own "rice balls" that are easy to pick up!
Lentils and rice together make a VERY nutritious combination! Don't have any lentils on hand? No problem, just add a little smashed bean or avocado. The options are endless, and who doesn't have rice in their pantry?!
9 Cucumber Strips
Cucumbers are refreshingly rich in water and packed full of minerals, calcium, potassium, and bone-strengthening silica. Cucumber strips may be hard for babies to bite before they grow teeth, but these suckers work wonders for soothing sore gums in the meantime. To prevent choking, cut cucumbers into long and wide strips so that your baby can gnaw on them without biting off a big piece (or put them in a mesh feeder). Stick them in the freezer for a bit if your baby is teething and needs extra relief. Seriously, babies love to gnaw on things (and it's a LOT more nutritious than a pizza crust).
And here are the foods to avoid until baby is older...
Despite the fact that broccoli is high in fiber, vitamin C, and potassium, it still doesn't make "the list" as one of baby's first vegetables.
The reason? GAS. Not only is broccoli a known gas producer, it also is a bit hard for a young infant to digest.
Although steamed broccoli isn't a choking hazard, raw broccoli absolutely is. Hard broccoli stalks can easily get stuck in a baby's throat, so parents should always make sure that it's adequately soft before serving it. To sum it up: If your baby has had any digestive issues, it would be best to introduce broccoli into the diet later rather than sooner.
7 Hard Fruit Or Vegetables
Although apples/pears/celery sticks are undoubtedly healthy, avoid giving them to your child as a finger food (cooked or stewed apples and pears are okay as long as they're soft).
As a rule of thumb, babies should stay away from anything that won’t dissolve in their mouths, can’t be mashed with their gums, or can be easily sucked into the windpipe.
Once the molars come in around 12 months, you can add foods that require chewing, but hold off on the green peppers and carrot sticks until they're ready. Those baby teeth definitely come in handy later on! Even then, make sure they're diced, cubed or thinly sliced.
In 2015, a study showed that giving peanut products to babies could help prevent peanut allergy. Notice that the study said "peanut products," NOT peanuts. Nuts and seeds should never be given as finger foods because they're an obvious choking hazard. Beware, even just a spoonful of creamy peanut butter can be hard for a baby to manage and can easily get stuck in their windpipe (sticky peanut butter is hard to maneuver with their tiny tongues). Instead, the AAP suggests mixing peanut butter into purees or finding safe, peanut butter based snacks (such as Bamba, which is popular in Israel).
5 Cherry Tomatoes
I know, I know, they look so healthy and bite-sized! Even so, stay away.
Cherry tomatoes are a choking hazard, despite the fact that they're cute and easy to pick up. Remember, the AAP recommends that you cut food into pieces no larger than 1/2 inch before you offer it as a finger food. Not only that, but the acidity of tomatoes may prove harsh for an immature tummy. While they might look perfect for babies, they're pretty firm and they're the perfect size to block a baby's windpipe completely. When you are ready to introduce tomatoes, make sure you cut them into manageable chunks.
Although honey (and foods made with honey) are sweet and go down smoothly, honey is completely off-limits for the first year because it may contain the spores of the bacteria Clostridium botulinum.
Although it's harmless to adults, these spores can cause botulism in babies under a year old.
Botulism is a serious illness that can cause constipation, weakened sucking, poor appetite, lethargy and potentially pneumonia and dehydration. Yeah, definitely not worth the risk, no matter how delicious it tastes! Skip on the honey until they've hit (at least) a year. Hey, at least you don't have to worry about the baby being a sticky mess!
3 Cow's Milk
Although not technically a "finger food," it's important for babies to avoid cow's milk until they are at least one year old. Not only can cow's milk be hard for infants to digest, it also doesn't have all the nutrients (such as iron and vitamin E) that a baby needs to grow and develop properly, which is why breast milk and formula are better milk sources. Once your baby celebrates their first birthday, whole cow's milk can be fine in moderation (provided they don't have a milk intolerance or a milk allergy). Remember, there's a reason they sell formula specifically formulated for toddlers.
Babies are people too, so it's no surprise that they tend to prefer sweet stuff over the alternative.
Saying that, babies are also more open to other flavors (such as sharp, tangy, tart, or bitter) if they're introduced early, so it's important you give them a variety of tastes to expand their palate.
Sugary candy like M&Ms, Skittles and jelly beans that are completely void of nutrients should be avoided at all costs because they are major choking hazards. Next time your baby wants something sweet, reach for a banana instead of a chocolate bar (which contains caffeine). Healthy eating habits start young!
Have you ever received a bag of popcorn that wasn't filled with unpopped kernels at the bottom? Even the popped ones can still have a hard kernel in the middle, just ready to break your teeth off. Despite the fact that popcorn is bite sized and tasty, it is simply tough to swallow (seriously, I've almost choked on popcorn myself and I'm 36). Not only that, but popcorn is packed with preservatives, fats, hydrogenated oils, and waaaay too much salt. Not exactly a nutritional powerhouse! Next time you're binge-watching Netflix and enjoying that bag of popcorn, try to resist "sharing" with your baby (no matter how bad they want it).