Finger Foods - Teaching Young Children to Feed Themselves Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Finger Foods - Teaching Young Children to Feed Themselves

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Quite often, children are determined to feed themselves before they have the level of co-ordination required to use a spoon. They end up at the end of a meal wearing most of it, extremely frustrated and more often than not still hungry!

The age of the child will determine how she actually tries to feed herself. If she is not old enough to have developed the pincer-type grip we associate with picking up small objects like peas and bits of carpet fluff, she will 'palm' her food. This entails grabbing a huge fistful of the food placed in front of her, aiming her fist in the general direction of her mouth, and mashing it in. Occasionally, it all goes in the mouth successfully; but more often than not, morsels of her meal can be found in her eyes, nose, ears and hair.


The advice usually given for this stage is to seat the child comfortably in a high chair, as it is far easier to feed a child who is not trying to wriggle out of your arms and crawl off into the sunset. Give her a spoon while you feed her with another spoon. Make the food as sticky as possible, so she actually gets some to adhere to the spoon rather than it sliding off all the time. Load baby's spoon and help her get it to her mouth. Wait for a few minutes so she can experiment and practice before offering your spoonful. That way she'll learn the basics of using a spoon, and will in time take over from you.

It takes years to develop expertise in the use of cutlery - just look around your office and you'll note from the stains on the neckties of some adult males that they haven't quite mastered it yet!


Another thing parents can do at this stage (which usually occurs around the age of 7 - 9 months) is to introduce finger-foods into their child's diet. Try to choose finger-foods that are not too hard, or slippery. Make them into sizes and shapes that are easy to pick up and chew. Almost any food can become a finger-food if you can cut it up into bite-size pieces - a few ideas are included here1.

  • Steamed veggies such as carrot sticks, green beans, broccoli, and sweet potato sticks

  • Small chunks of cheeses such as mild Cheddar and Edam

  • Soft ripe fresh fruit, eg, banana, peach, seedless melon, papaya

  • Soft cooked fruit, such as apple chunks and pear slices

  • Canned fruits

  • Ripe avocado

  • Toast 'soldiers'

  • Mini-muffins

  • Cooked pasta shapes with little or no sauce, or just grate a small amount of cheese on top

  • Meatballs

  • Cherry tomatoes

  • Unsweetened breakfast cereals (avoid those with honey or nuts listed in the ingredients)

  • Cocktail sausages

  • Bread sticks (check the salt content though)

  • Fairy cakes (especially if you get an older brother or sister to help make them)

  • Sponge fingers

The list is by no means exhaustive, but is intended to give a few ideas for foods you may not already have thought of.


A word of caution: never leave a baby alone while they are eating. During the development of their chewing and swallowing abilities, they are often at risk of choking on food, and may at times need a little help.

When preparing foods for your baby, you should also avoid additives such as salt or sugar, since babies' systems can't cope with excess salt or sugar, and anyway they do not need it. Don't give citrus fruits, egg white2, shellfish, nuts or chocolate to a baby before 1 year of age, as these foods can cause allergic reactions.

1Please note that jelly, mashed potatoes and baked beans are excluded, for obvious reasons.2See 'How to Separate Eggs'.

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