Around 8-10 months of age, most babies will be ready to try finger foods. Every baby is a little different, however, so it’s more important to watch for the signs of readiness than to be concerned with your baby’s age. As with most milestones, some babies will be ready early while others won’t start finger foods until later. Don’t worry if your baby isn’t ready even by 10 months – it will happen soon enough!
Signs of Readiness for Finger Foods
In order to be ready for finger foods, your baby must have all of the same signs of readiness for solids, as well as a few other skills. Your baby should be able to sit up in a high chair without extra support, and should hold her head up without any difficulty. The tongue thrust reflex that causes babies to automatically push baby food out of the mouth to avoid choking should disappear around 6 months of age, but again every baby is different. This reflex should be gone before you offer baby finger foods.
The major skill your baby will need in order to start finger foods is the ability to actually pick up the food and get it into her mouth. At first, your baby will use her entire fist to gather up and grab food from her tray, and then attempt to shove it into her mouth. Gradually, however, she will start to use her fingers individually, and eventually adapt a pincer grasp – in which she will use her forefinger and thumb as a “pincer” to pick up food one piece at a time and bring it to her mouth. Although you can let your baby practice before she really gets the pincer grasp, it is one of the best signs of readiness for finger foods.
Choosing Finger Foods for Baby
The best finger foods for babies have a few things in common: they are easy to pick up, they are soft or will easily become soft in the mouth, and they do not present a choking hazard. To test a food before giving it to your baby, put it in your mouth and use only your tongue and the roof of your mouth to mash it. See how quickly it becomes soft and how easy it is to mash without using your teeth. Foods that dissolve easily and don’t require teeth to break up are good finger food choices for baby.
Some of the classic first finger foods for babies include dry cereal (such as Cheerios), small pieces of soft fruit or cooked vegetables (peas are perfect as they are small, easy to grasp, and mash easily without teeth) and pasta. Choose small types of pasta such as elbow macaroni or shells, and cook it very well (softer than al dente, which is how adults normally eat pasta) so that it will be easy for baby to mash in his mouth. While you might prefer your pasta in a sauce, it’s best to skip it when serving pasta to baby as a finger food. Sauces can make the pasta more slippery and hard for your baby to grip. They will also make the feeding process a lot messier!
Crackers that dissolve easily are another great idea for first finger foods. Choose low-sodium saltines or graham crackers, both of which become soft quickly when moistened. There are also some crackers on the market aimed at babies, but beware of teething biscuits, which are entirely different! Soft, small pieces of cheese are another excellent finger food, but be sure to cut them small as cubes of cheese pose a choking hazard.
Cheese isn’t the only potential choking hazard, so use caution about the size of every finger food you offer, and keep a close eye on your baby while she eats.