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The big day has arrived! It’s time to introduce your baby to finger foods! Actually, “fist foods” is the more appropriate term — babies first learn to grasp soft, squishable foods in their little fists before holding them between the thumb and forefinger. Here are 12 surprising tips to help your child make the transition to fist — and eventually, finger — foods:
Start when baby can sit upright on their own while still providing good support with a high chair or booster seat. Fine motor skills, like grasping a slice of avocado or eventually picking up a cracker with little fingers holding it with precision, requires good trunk support and gross motor stability. Be sure that baby is well supported, perhaps by rolling up a towel and wrapping it around their hips for added stability overall.
For our hips and trunk not to wobble, we need our feet placed on something. For an adult, our feet are planted on the floor during most meals. For babies, their feet are often left dangling from the high chair or booster seat. Provide that added support by sliding a chair under any booster seat that hangs by clamps from the counter, so that your baby can place their feet on the seat beneath them. Tape a strip of spongy shelf liner to the surface of the chair for added “stick” so that their feet don’t slide. If your child’s legs are not long enough to reach, build up the footrest on the high chair. A pool noodle works great for this! Just cut it down to fit on the foot rest, and trim off one edge so that it can be duct taped flat to the surface. The round surface of the pool noodle provides the perfect angle for those little feet to rest.
Some parents prefer to skip purees altogether and begin with step #4 below. However, purees have a purpose and can help baby learn to chew and develop safe swallowing patterns. Learn more about starter purees in this article.
Introduce soft, squishable solids in pieces that are large enough for tiny fists to grasp and mouth, but that are too big to stuff. Slice foods into large, long strips, about the size of an adult index finger, so that the food peeks out from their fist to mouth. Always keep a close eye on your child, especially during this learning phase. You may observe the occasional gag, but try to not to react. If baby gags consistently on new foods at every meal, they may not be ready for hand-held solids quite yet. Try again a week later and continue to offer purees in the meantime.
If baby doesn’t seem to be progressing after the sixth month, be sure to contact your pediatrician, who may refer your baby for a feeding evaluation. Research has shown it’s not the puree itself that is problematic — it’s the fact that baby is not transitioning to finger foods. When kids linger on smooth purees too long, specifically past the age of 9 months, they are likely to avoid certain food groups and may have a feeding disorder. Feeding disorders represent a delay in feeding development. Typically, babies are managing age-appropriate finger foods well by 8 months of age.
If it’s a soft, squishable solid, offer baby the same foods that you are eating, or adapt the food to be safe for baby. For example, if you’re eating apple slices, simply steam or microwave the slices in a small dish of water to soften them and let them cool.
Follow #5 above but keep offering a variety of foods repeatedly over time. It’s very common for parents to offer a food just a few times and if baby appears not to like it, naturally parents stop serving it. But babies and old children need repetition to learn to like new foods. Just a tablespoon on their plates is enough to build familiarity over time. Consider that you might have to serve some foods over a dozen times just to help baby accept the food. Because you are serving so many different foods, building acceptance may take several months.
Yes, frequent exposure is a good thing, but too much exposure is just boring.
Likewise, any healthy food can be a lunch or dinner food. Babies don’t know that diced chicken isn’t typically served at breakfast or that scrambled eggs aren’t often served for supper. Focus on offering a protein, fruit and/or vegetable, and grain at each meal. Provide a balanced plate of nutrition combined with breast milk or formula and you’ll never have to worry about baby getting the right nutrition during the transition to finger foods.
Babies watch their parents for guidance on how to do many different things! Whether it’s learning to walk, talk or eat, the more parents model how, the better.
No matter what face your baby makes, smile calmly in response. Try to keep in mind that babies react to new experiences in a variety of ways. Faces might scrunch, eyes might blink and lips might pucker in response to a new taste. Just wait and smile reassuringly. It’s likely baby just needs a few seconds to consider trying again and will do so because your only reaction was a sweet smile.
Babies are programmed to explore, and that includes squishing, smashing and getting messy in food! Babies need to experience food with all their senses — and that means a little mess. Try to embrace it and celebrate the fact that your little one is on their way to becoming quite the adventurous eater!
About the Author: Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP, is an international speaker on the topic of feeding babies, toddlers, and school-age kids. She is the co-author of the award-winning Raising a Healthy Happy Eater: A Stage-by-Stage Guide to Setting Your Child on the Path to Adventurous Eating (2015) and Baby Self-Feeding: Solutions for Introducing Purees and Solids to Create Lifelong Healthy Eating Habits (2016). The tips in her latest book, Adventures in Veggieland: Help Your Kids Learn to Love Vegetables with 100 Easy Activities and Recipes (2018) are based on the latest research and Melanie’s 20 years of success as a pediatric feeding therapist. Melanie’s advice has been shared in a variety of television and print media, including The New York Times, Huffington Post and Parents Magazine. Visit her at www.MelaniePotock.com for more articles, professional tips, and helpful videos to raise your adventurous eater!
The content provided in this article is intended for informational purposes only. It is not recommended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem without consulting a qualified healthcare professional. Always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare professional regarding any medical questions or concerns. See additional information.