Categories: Babies, Recipes, Tips / How-Tos

Transitioning Your Baby to Finger Foods

Babies take in everything around them: seeing, hearing, touching, smelling and of course, tasting! As your little one develops, so do their feeding skills. Once they are eating Stage 2 purees with ease and show interest in feeding themselves, it may be time to introduce more filling foods for them to pick up and try themselves. 

See our FAQs below to understand all your Stage 3 finger food questions: when, how and what to start introducing to your baby. It can be a messy process with little pieces of food thrown all over the floor, but trust us—it’s worth it to help your baby develop into a healthy little eater!

What are Finger Foods?

Following Stage 2 combination purees, finger foods are the next stage in your baby’s eating adventures. Finger foods consist of bite-size pieces that are small enough to prevent choking, big enough to pick up with tiny fingers and soft enough to not require teeth. Other names for finger foods include Stage 3 foods or pick-up foods.

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Why are Finger Foods Important?

Finger foods mark the critical transition between purees and table food where your baby can start to develop self-feeding skills. Giving your baby bite-sized pieces allows them to practice their pincer grasp, which is the coordination between the index finger and thumb to hold an item. Developing their pincer grasp is an important milestone for babies, and giving them properly sized finger foods helps aid this process.

This is also an important time for your baby to gain exposure to new foods. As you introduce ingredients, you’re helping prepare them for more food and less breast milk or formula in the next couple of months. 

When is Your Baby Ready for Finger Foods?

It’s important to recognize when your baby is ready to explore finger foods, as this stage requires advanced motor skills and encourages food experimentation and independence. 

Your baby may be ready for finger foods when…

  • They reach for food (most commonly a parent’s dish or serving utensil).
  • They are hungry soon after meals. (Purees are less calorie-dense and filling, so they may not be getting enough to eat!)
  • They are eating their purees quickly and continue wanting more.
  • They are able (or almost able) to hold small pieces of food between their fingers.

If your baby is exhibiting a few or all of these signs, consider introducing finger foods! But if they aren’t ready, don’t fret. They’re still getting all of the nutrition they need from breast milk or formula up until age one when they transition to cow’s milk. 

Every child develops at a different pace—just continue paying attention to your baby’s habits, and ease into finger foods when they’re ready.

What are the Best Finger Foods to Start Your Baby On?

Once your baby is ready to make the transition, you’ll want to find the best finger foods for your baby to try. We recommend starting with small squares of soft, squishy foods. Before serving, test that the food can be easily pierced with a fork to ensure your baby won’t have trouble mashing it in their mouth. Think cubes of boiled sweet potatoes, carrots, soft proteins like meatballs or tofu, bananas, ripe avocados or well-cooked tiny pasta (like ditalini!). 

Once your baby has mastered mashing cubed pieces of these squishy foods in their mouths, try introducing smaller soft foods such as peas or well-cooked beans like black beans or white beans. These less “mushy,” foods will exercise your baby’s grasping and handling skills.

Can I Start Introducing Spices and Herbs to My Baby?

Absolutely. In fact, we encourage it! Stage 3 is a period of palate development, and introducing spices and herbs allows them to get used to these flavors early on. Try starting with more mild flavors, like a bit of cinnamon or basil, and work your way up to more complex flavors like curry or paprika.

What Finger Foods Should You Avoid Feeding Your Baby?

It is important to avoid foods that are too hard or large, making them difficult to swallow. In order to prevent choking, raw carrots, fresh bell peppers and other hard, raw veggies and tough meats should be avoided until chewing abilities are fully developed. 

Also focus on not only the size, but also the shape of foods that you introduce. For example, grapes, cherry tomatoes and other rounded foods are dangerous choking hazards for children just learning to eat finger foods. Introduce these later (18–24 months) when your child has started developing more teeth, and even then, consider cutting circular foods into smaller pieces to create a more favorable shape for chewing. 

Does Your Baby Need Teeth to Chew Finger Foods?

No! Babies rarely “chew” with their front teeth—they use their palate and gums to mush foods during these early stages. Teeth will start to emerge, but they won’t be used for true chewing until their 2-year molars grow in. 

Can You Start Your Baby on Finger Foods Before 10 Months?

Babies develop at different stages, so there is no right or wrong when it comes to starting finger foods. If your baby shows signs of readiness, such as grabbing your food or getting hungry soon after finishing purees, consider giving finger foods a try, especially softer options such as ripe avocado or banana! Your baby may be gung-ho one day and disinterested the next. This is normal, so don’t be concerned if there is a range of motivation day-to-day.

If Your Baby is Not Fully Ready, Can You Switch Between Purees and Finger Foods?

Yes! It’s perfectly normal to ease into the transition by alternating between purees and finger foods. This gives your baby the opportunity to start playing with the idea of self-feeding, even if they’re still having trouble with some of the execution. As you alternate, just continue offering different finger foods and giving your baby the option to pick up bites themselves.  

Stage 3 finger foods are the next step in your growing baby’s developing diet. Try our suggestions to make a successful transition into this fun stage, and remember to enjoy the process with your little independent eater! 

If you have any questions about finger foods for babies, we’re happy to help! Just reach out to us at support@nurturelife.com.

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Lara Field

Lara has been working with Nurture Life since its inception, collaborating with the culinary team on the creation of all menus and recipes to ensure they are nutritionally appropriate and correctly proportioned for every age and stage of a child’s development and providing pediatric nutrition expertise to Nurture Life customers. Lara is the owner/founder of FEED—Forming Early Eating Decisions, a nutrition consulting practice specializing in pediatric nutrition and digestive diseases. Lara has over a decade of experience in clinical practice at two of the top ranked pediatric hospitals in the country, Lurie Children’s Hospital and University of Chicago Medical Center. Lara received her B.S. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and M.S. and dietetic internship from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois. Lara truly enjoys the process of eating (and feeding!), from procuring the ingredients at various grocery stores and farmers markets, to organizing her pantry/refrigerator at home to make it easy to select healthy options, to preparing balanced meals with her children. Whether it be a decadent treat to a hearty, home-cooked meal, there is no greater satisfaction for Lara than enjoying food with her family.

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