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Guide to baby’s finger foods

What are finger foods?

Any solid food that can be eaten directly with hands rather than with utensils like a knife, spoon, forks, or chopsticks is called finger food. Finger foods exist in all of the following food categories:

• Fruits
• Vegetables
• Meat
• Fish
• Eggs
• Nuts
• Cereals

Note: Baby-led weaning (BLW) means skipping spoon-fed purees and introducing whole foods to the babies so they can feed themselves. Typically, baby-led weaning aims to develop self-dependent eating habits in babies on food items that the baby would eat as an adult.

What is the right age to start baby-led weaning?

There is no conclusive data about the right age when you should start baby-led weaning with finger foods. However, some studies show that most infants can start consuming finger foods when they are 6 months old.

What finger foods are suitable for baby-led weaning?

While planning your baby’s diet, you should ensure that the baby is getting all the essential nutrients. The essential food items based on the nutrients include:

 

NutrientFood items
ProteinBoiled chicken, eggs, or grilled fish
CalciumWhole milk, cheese, and yogurt/td>
Whole grains and complex carbohydratesWhole wheat pasta, whole grain cereals, brown rice
Vitamins ACarrot and sweet potatoes
Vitamins BGreen veggies, bananas, beans
Vitamins CTomatoes, strawberries, cantaloupe
Vitamins ECereals and grains
High-Fat foodsWhole milk or full-fat dairy products like cheese and yogurt
IronFortified cereals
Omega 3 fatty acidsFish, cereals, eggs

What finger foods can you serve at different times of the day?

It is important to keep in mind that your baby gets the proper amounts of vitamins and minerals in all the three major meals of the day, namely breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Here is a list of finger foods you can include in these three meals:

 

1. Breakfast:

You can plan and prepare breakfast for your baby using different items from the following list of finger foods:
• Toast strips
• Fruit chunks
• Hard-boiled eggs
• Cooked whole vegetables
• Peanut butter

 

2. Lunch:

For preparing lunch, you can use the following:
• Sweet potato
• Spinach and zucchini
• Cheese
• Broccoli
• Salmon fish
• Shredded chicken
• Whole grain pasta

 

3. Dinner:

You can add a lot of variety to your baby’s dinner plans with the following finger foods:
• Banana
• Omelet
• Roasted sweet potato
• Toast sticks
• Smashed berries

Is baby-led weaning safe?

Many parents experience the concern that while eating by themselves, the baby may choke on the food. While it is usual to be apprehensive of such a risky situation, the chances of choking in baby-led weaning are low to moderate.

Studies have shown that 35% of the infants experienced choking at least once while consuming finger foods in the baby-led weaning approach.

Babies commonly choke on the following food items:
• Apple slices
• Crackers
• Sausages

Alert: About 52% of the babies choke on finger foods when they are 7 months old. Moreover, as the age increases, choking risk doesn’t necessarily go away since up to 95% of the babies  may experience choking even when they are 12 months old. Hence, it is vital to know about the precautionary measures that the parents should take when trying baby-led weaning with finger foods.

 

Precautions:

As long as the parents follow specific safety measures while presenting the solid finger foods, baby-led weaning will be safe for the baby. Several precautionary measures you can take include:

Avoid choking hazards: Some food items are considered choking hazards like:
o Nuts
o Whole grapes
o Apples (with its skin)
o Cherries

• Don’t leave your baby alone with the food

• Ensure that your baby is sitting in an upright position at all times while eating.

Stay vigilant for allergies: While you should always be on the lookout for allergic reactions, you should not avoid certain food items just on the assumptions of a potential risk of allergies. You should include multiple food options for your baby to ensure your baby gets accustomed to different food items in the future.

Understanding the distinction between gagging and choking: Gagging is not the same as choking.
o Gagging: here, there is mild coughing, and the baby may make a little noise. However, your baby can handle gagging by themselves (- this also allows them to develop their motor skills), so you don’t have to intervene immediately.
o Choking: here, the baby will look out of breath and find difficulties in making the noise. In such cases, you should intervene and take the necessary steps to help the baby pass down the food.

Educate your family: If you have a big family, ensure that everyone is aware of the precautionary measures for baby-led weaning while taking care of your baby.

What are the potential risks of baby led-weaning approach?

While there are significant pros of the baby-led weaning approach where your baby goes on an independent finger-food diet, there are cons to this approach as well:
• Potential risk of iron deficiency: The typical iron-rich food items may be difficult for your baby to chew. After your baby is 6 months old, breastfeeding is not sufficient for fulfilling the iron requirements of your baby’s body.

Alert: The amount of iron that your baby gets from breastmilk is only 0.2 mg/day; hence you must learn about the complimentary food items to fill in the gap.

Your pediatrician may recommend the following to ensure that your baby gets adequate amounts of iron:
o Infant iron-fortified cereals
o Meat-based infant foods

However, in a baby-led weaning approach, where the babies are supposed to self-feed themselves, your baby may not be able to hold these finger food items. Additionally, the typical finger food items that are easy to hold like fruits and vapor cooked vegetables have low iron content.

Solution: Introduction of higher quantities of iron-rich complementary food items to fulfill the iron requirements in your baby

Note: Iron fortification refers to the process of specially designing the food items to address the issue of iron deficiency
The WHO recommends that the complimentary food items should deliver the following amounts of iron:

 

AgeWHO’s recommended iron intake
6 to 12 months   9.3 mg/day
12 to 24 months   5.8 to 7 mg/day

Things may get messy: in the beginning, as the babies learn to self-feed, you may have to clean up a lot after your baby is done with eating.

Which is the smarter choice: Baby-led Weaning or traditional spoon-feeding?

Some of the myths associated with finger foods may make it difficult for you to decide what is best for your baby. So here is a comparison of Baby-led Weaning with the traditional spoon-feeding purees approach on account of several crucial factors to help you determine whether the finger foods are right for your baby.

 

FactorsSpoon feeding approach with pureesBaby-led weaning with finger foods
Increase the risk of chokingLow RiskHigh Risk
Iron intakeDoesn’t affect iron intake and iron stateMay lead to reduced iron intake and insufficient iron status
Effect on weightMay lead to obesityMay lead to underweight
Promote acceptance of a broader range of foodNoYes
Improve family relationships during shared mealsNo positive effectCompared to spoon-fed children, BLW children have a better relationship with the other family member as they share the mealtime and eat the same stuff that everybody else in the family is eating
Effects on mother anxietyIncreased anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD)Lowers anxiety and OCD
Effect on energy intakeSame as BLW/td>Same as Spoon-feeding
Effect on growthNo evidence of growth falteringNo effects on growth faltering
Effects on the mood of the babyFussier and less satisfied with the foodLess fussy and more satisfied with the food

Conclusion: So what should you choose?

While the final choice may be subjective based on your situation, Baby-led Weaning on finger foods has shown positive results and benefits for your baby in terms of:

• Better appetite control
• Acceptance of a broader diet range
• Improved motor skill development

Additionally, you can always mix Baby-led Weaning with spoon-feeding purees; however, in such an approach, the intermittent introduction of solid foods may confuse your baby.

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