Around 9 months old, both my girls started letting me know they were ready to try finger foods. And, by “letting me know”, I mean screaming between each spoon-fed bite unless food was en route to their mouths. I’ve met quite a few moms who are surprised that my girls were eating solids at that age; “Did they get all their teeth early?” is a frequent question. Beach Girl had 5 teeth at that point, while Beach Baby only had 2, but honestly I don’t think it would have made a difference if they didn’t have any. We do most of our chewing with our back teeth and those don’t come in until much later, so even 8 teeth doesn’t provide a lot for babies to chew with once they’ve taken the initial bite. If you prepare solids carefully – taking into account the bite size and texture of each food – you can try to introduce finger foods to even a toothless tot.
When considering food to serve my kids, I have a few goals:
- It has to be healthy. Especially at this age, when they’re not eating all that much and growing so quickly, every calorie consumed is important. So, I try to have my girls eat things in their purest form possible and focus on lots of fruits and veggies.
- Speaking of fruits and vegetables, it’s important to me to expose my kids to a wide variety of healthy food colors, flavors, and textures. Both Beach Dad and I are a little picky, and I’d like to spare my girls from that fate. So, I’ve ended up buying some things that had never before graced my pantry in an effort to diversify their menu.
- The easier, the better. Part of the joy of introducing finger foods is that, once the food is on their plate, I’m freed up to do something else like (gasp!) eat my own meal. I try have some simple stand-bys on hand at all times for those days when I just need to get them something to eat. Right. Now.
So, with those things in mind, here’s a list of my top ten favorite finger foods for babies, along with some tips on how I like to prepare them:
1. Banana – This is my favorite first finger food because bananas are so soft. They practically dissolve if you suck on them for awhile, so I have used these to gauge how well my babies are able to mash and swallow food before giving them more firm options.
2. Peas – We serve these as “icy peas”, right from the freezer. Since they’re cold, they’re great for teething gums. And, since I don’t even have to cook them or cut them, they’re the easiest unprocessed food I can give my kids. Both my toddler and baby devour them and they’re a great source of protein (2/3 cup of peas has 5 grams of protein), as well as Calcium, Iron, and Vitamin C.
3. Mango – Did you know that mango is the most popular fruit in the world? I don’t remember ever eating it until I bought it for Beach Girl when she was a baby. I really don’t like slicing up the whole fruit (especially because the skin can apparently be irritating to skin), but both my girls absolutely love it. Thankfully, Trader Joe’s sells inexpensive bags of frozen mango that is already cut into chunks. I normally let it thaw just a little bit and slice it into small cubes, making it another favorite frozen food for teething gums. Mango is high in carotenoids (which reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer), Vitamins A & C, and fiber.
4. Blueberry – These are another easy, unprocessed food that I don’t need to cut and that is high in nutrients. I make sure to check that there aren’t any stems left on the berries and serve only the smaller ones to babies. Blueberries are high in antioxidants, and one of the best superfoods you can eat.
5. Carrots – Since uncooked carrots can be one of the biggest choking hazards, I waited to serve carrots as a finger food until Beach Girl had quite a few teeth and was proficient at chewing. Someone shared shredded carrots with us a few months ago, though, and they make an excellent first food. I don’t have a food processor, so can only make them by hand-grating them on a cheese grater (not my favorite!). If you have a food processor/grinder, though, shredded carrots are a great source of Vitamin A and beta carotene (another carotenoid).
6. Apple – Apples are another major choking hazard unless served carefully because pieces can break off in large chunks. If I cut the pieces small enough, though, my girls haven’t had any trouble gumming and swallowing apple bits. To make small chunks quickly, I cut it into thin slices parallel to the core and then cube it like this:
7. Pears – You can steam pears to soften them, but I normally just wait until they ripen and are soft enough, then cut them into little chunks. Pears are high in fiber, making this one of the best foods if your baby gets constipated.
8. Cheese – Cheese is a good source of healthy fats, protein, and Calcium. We introduce hard cheeses around 8 months (of course, if dairy allergies run in your family, you’ll want to wait longer!). I slice this into chunks following the same method I use for apples. My girls’ favorites are cheddar and mozzarella. I don’t feed them soft cheeses (like Brie) in the first year, because soft cheeses are often unpasteurized, which brings the risk of a bacteria called listeria that is dangerous to babies.
9. Chicken – Chicken is another good source of protein that we introduce around 8 months. The easiest way I’ve found to make finger food chicken is to bake chicken breasts in the oven and then put them in my KitchenAid stand mixer with the paddle attachment. Within 30 seconds, the chicken is shredded to the perfect size for finger food.
10. Os (aka Cheerios) – I try to have this be the only processed food I feed my babies in their first year. While I don’t love the fact that Os include sugar and I try to minimize grains in the first year, these are so easy. They’re my go-to for snacks when we’re going out, because they don’t need to be refrigerated and are (almost) mess-free.
You might notice something missing from my list — “puffs”. While I know lots of moms love them and the way they dissolve is supposed to be great for babies who are learning to eat, I’ve decided not to feed them to my babies. They’re marketed as “a great way to make every bite count,” but they pack much fewer nutrients than the snacks I mentioned above and the ingredients list more sugar than actual fruit. I could offer much healthier foods to my babies for less money.
Do you have any recommendations for baby’s first finger foods?