Parents of children in my pediatrics practice often ask me what to give their babies and toddlers when they get tired of the baby “mush”.  Babies quickly get bored with bland, overly smooth baby food and are ready to try more texture and more tastes.  More importantly the are ready to feed THEMSELVES.  Finger foods are a great way for babies to learn independence, develop their fine motor skills, and try a variety of more grown-up tastes and textures.

TIPS FOR STARTING FINGER FOODS
  1. Be creative. “Grown up” foods like hummus and tofu can be really nutritious for babies and get them used to a variety of tastes and textures.
  2. Don’t be afraid to add seasonings. Although salt and extra sugar is not necessary, try lightly seasoning foods with cinnamon, pepper, garlic powder, fresh or dried herbs. These tastes will get them used to new flavors and lay the foundation for an adventurous eater.
  3. Offer a variety of foods. They may not eat everything you offer, but you might be surprised at what they like.
  4. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Multiple exposures to food are often necessary for children to develop a liking to a new food (in many cases, 12-15 times!) Try blending a food that a child doesn’t like with another food they like to get them use to it.
  5. Offer safe foods. Make sure that foods are safe and are not a choking hazard.  Hard foods like nuts and dried fruits should be avoided, and fruit with a membrane or peel like oranges and grapes should be cut.
  6. Supervise. Always supervise new eaters when they are eating finger foods, even foods they are used to.


TEN IDEAS FOR FINGER FOODS
  1. Diced fruits– Try a variety of fruits like peaches, pears, bananas, mangoes, melons and kiwi.  Slightly overripe fruit will be softer and easier to chew.  Try rolling them in wheat germ or ground up cereal to make it easier to pick up. Try slicing fruit into cubes or other fun shapes. Try buying seasonal fruit which is generally tastier and more nutritious.
  2. Soft cooked vegetables– Carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, string beans and other veggies are great foods for babies when cooked.  Cook in a few inches of water to steam/boil.  Cut into small bite-sized pieces.
  3. Toast– Spread whole wheat toast with overripe fruit, hummus or cream cheese and cut into small squares or triangles.
  4. Rice Balls–  Cook brown rice until very soft.  Mix with lentils, a little bit of vegetable soup, smashed beans, or avocado and form into 3/4 inch balls that are easy to pick up. Lentils and rice together make a very nutritious combination. See my recipe for “Rice Balls with Lentils” (pictured above).
  5. Meatballs– Take ground beef or turkey, add in other sauteed veggies and form into small balls.  Once baked you can cut into even smaller bites. See my recipe for “Very veggie meatballs”.  Offer a tomato sauce or applesauce for dipping.
  6. Homemade jello Make with plain gelatin, unsweetened juice and other soft fruit and cut into small cubes.  Great for all kids and a cool texture for toddlers. See my recipe for “Pomegranate Jello Jigglers”.
  7. Pasta Noodles of all types can be made with mild sauces and added veggies. Soft pasta in different shapes like bow-ties can be a great finger food.  See my recipes like “Farfalle with Peas and Carrots” and “Cheesy Zucchini Casserole”.
  8. Healthy muffins Muffins made with whole grains and added ingredients like flax and wheat germ can be a great way to get extra fiber and nutrients into the diet. Cut into small bites or cubes.  See my recipe for “Pumpkin Breakfast Muffins“.
  9. Cheese Try different varieties of cheese and different shapes.  Cream cheese can be spread on crackers, toast, and pita bread.
  10. Sweet Potatoes– Instead of the mushy baby food version, dice or cut into strips and roast lightly with a spray of olive oil until softened.

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