Babies experience a fast learning curve when it comes to eating. After 6 months, most can grab food and start feeding themselves finger foods. A couple of months later they master the pincer grasp and can pick smaller pieces up and feed themselves.
The benefit? Self-feeding not only fosters self-regulation of eating, but it also gives kids their first feeling of food independence. No more relying on someone charging at you with the spoon. And although it’s messier, it makes feeding easier on parents.
So which finger foods are best? Here’s a good list to get you started!
1. Soft meat
Many experts recommend meat as an early food because it contains iron, zinc, and arachidonic acid which are all important for brain development. It’s also absorbed more efficiently than plant and fortified foods, meaning babies may need less to meet iron demands. By nine months, breastfed infants need to get 90 percent of their iron and zinc from complementary foods to meet their nutrient needs.
Tough meat is a choking hazard so stick with meat that’s soft. Cook beef in the slow cooker or switch from the breast to dark chicken and turkey meat. Chop into small pieces or consider soft strips baby can easily eat.
Choline has been identified as a nutrient of concern for small children, playing a key role in brain development. Although found in some plant foods, choline is mostly found in animal foods including meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy products.
Eggs contain 125mg (all in the yolk) and babies 7-12 months need 150mg and this jumps to 200mg for 1- to 3-year-olds. So scramble them, hard boil them or make a frittata or omelet.
DHA plays a critical role in retinal and brain development during the first twenty-four months of life. Getting two servings of fish per week is important to meet needs, and also make fish a regular part of a child’s diet.
Oily fish like salmon, trout, and tuna have more DHA but all types of fish are great to eat. Try salmon/tuna cakes, baked fish, or tuna mixed with pasta dishes. For safety guidelines on feeding kids fish, see
For more on safely feeding children fish, see these recommendations from the FDA
4. Cooked, chopped veggies
Intake of vegetables when kids are young help to facilitate liking later. In Fearless Feeding we write “Research tells us that introducing vegetables early, rapidly increasing the vegetables offered, and repeatedly serving fruits and vegetables helps maximize acceptance during infancy and later in childhood.“
Because young children naturally favor sweet over bitter, go ahead and serve veggies many ways. Try roasting, dips, and sauces, putting in soups and stir-frying. Chopped soft veggies prepared any way makes a great compliment to any meal.
5. Soft, chopped fruit
Soft chopped fruit is one of the easiest items to give baby — just chop and go. Avoid large chunks of slippery foods like cantaloupe and always cut grapes in quarters. Also, tough fruits like apples can be grated.
6. Rotate grains/starchy vegetables
Notice I didn’t say one type of food here. This is because Consumer Reports recently tested commercial foods made for babies and toddlers and found about two-thirds had concerning levels of at least one of these heavy metals: cadmium, inorganic arsenic, or lead. Products containing rice and sweet potatoes had the highest levels of such heavy metals. And it didn’t matter if the product was organic.
So rotate different grains and starchy vegetables like potatoes and beans. Don’t rely on one and serve every day. Have cheerios on hand, use iron-fortified cereals in recipes, try whole wheat in baking and include potatoes cooked and chopped. Green peas make a superb finger food (just thaw and serve!).
7. Natural cheeses
Grated cheese or cheese sticks sliced lengthwise and chopped makes a perfect finger food. You can also melt cheese on veggies and/or bread.
About half of 12-24 month-olds fall short on vitamin E which has to do with the type of fat babies are offered. To up the vitamin E, include plant fats like vegetable oils, avocado, nut and seed spreads (below).
Chopped firm avocado works or try it mashed on toast strips, making it easy for baby to eat.
9. Nut butters
Although large chunks of nut butters are a choking hazard, thinly spreading nut butters on toast or adding to other foods is a good way to go. Nut butters have vitamin E and magnesium and research shows early introduction may reduce the risk of developing food allergies in high-risk kids.
10. Combination meals
For quick meals that contain a variety of food groups try salmon cakes, veggie or bean burgers, frittatas, meatloaf, turkey burgers, lasagna, fruit-filled pancakes or waffles, sandwiches (grilled or cold). Chop them up and you are good to go.
Prepare these meals ahead of time and freeze them for quick meals later on. When possible, add in extra veggies.
What are some of your baby or young toddler’s favorite finger foods?
For everything you wanted to know about feeding your young child, check out Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters From High Chair to High School
This post was originally published in 2010 and updated on 4/19.