Baby wipes at the ready; it’s time to let your tot get hands-on with food
Ever wished you could just throw together a sandwich for your baby’s lunch, rather than dishing up yet another bowl of puree? Well, that stage is nearly upon you. Once your baby has mastered eating from a spoon, and is managing to eat lumps with some success, it’s time to think about introducing finger foods. It’s an important stage of weaning for many reasons: it helps your baby get used to a different set of textures, and to chewing and swallowing more solid food. It encourages independent eating and takes some of the mealtime effort off your hands. And, of course, it tends to be easier to put together a finger food meal than to think up, cook and puree a hot dinner.
To get your baby used to them, try introducing some pieces of finger food alongside her main meal. You could, for example, give her some triangles of bread and butter with a casserole, or some cooked carrot and sweet potato batons with her vegetable puree. Another good way to introduce finger foods is to offer them as snacks. Hand-sized morsels like mini rice cakes, chopped strawberries or baby biscuits all tend to go down well with tiny tots.
As with all stages of weaning, some babies take to finger foods more readily than others, so if yours is reluctant, be patient and keep trying with no pressure. And remember, never leave your baby unattended while she’s feeding himself, in case he gags or chokes.
There are many finger food snacks on the market designed especially for babies, including ‘crisps,’ biscuits, cereal bars and fruit bars. Try to buy these for your tot rather than similar products intended for older children or adults, which may contain potentially damaging E numbers or high levels of salt.
If your baby has discovered a love of finger foods, don’t be surprised if she goes a step further and tries to eat everything with her hands – spaghetti Bolognese and yoghurt included. It’s a messy phase and one that can drive you round the bend, particularly if more food seems to be getting thrown, dropped or worn than goes in your baby’s mouth.
To get through this stage with your sanity intact, resign yourself to the fact that it’s an essential part of your tot learning to feed herself. Set up the highchair in a place where it’s easy to clean up (top tip: try the garden on a sunny day), spread a big plastic mat or some sheets of newspaper underneath to catch the debris, and attempt to ignore the carnage as far as possible. If food gets dropped, leave it on the floor until the end of the meal; leaping to pick it up will just turn it into a game for your baby. And if it’s reached the point where nothing is being eaten at all, just calmly take your little one’s plate away and put an end to the meal. Chances are she’s full up and bored, and will be ready for another try at her next mealtime.
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