When you've graduated from purees, there's that odd little period where your up-and-coming-toddler can grab and make it to their mouths, but every parent has that "can they chew it?" panic moment. Rest assured, these first finger foods are soft enough to gum and super tasty, too.
Our as-always disclaimer: If you have a history of food allergies in your family, it’s a good idea to leave a few days between introducing new foods and keep a log of what baby eats when. And always talk to your pediatrician before introducing solids and new foods.
1. Frozen Sweet Peas
Frozen sweet peas are a great first finger food. These little green legumes are packed with vitamins and minerals, as well fiber and protein. And because they thaw quickly in hot tap water, you don’t even have to think about cooking. Bonus? Because they’re so tiny and round, the act of picking them up will help develop baby’s fine motor skills. (And if they really are the first finger food, and you’re worried about choking, you can smash them a little before putting them on the plate.)
2. Fresh Mozzarella Cheese
Whether it’s truly super fresh, or vacuum sealed in the fancy cheese section of the grocery store, fresh mozzarella cheese is a ridiculously easy way to get a little fat and protein into your kiddo. It tastes great, it’s easy to pick up, and it’s even easier for their little mouths to gum. All you have to do is slice it into small cubes then sit back and watch baby shovel it in. (But, really, keep an eye or you could have a chipmunk situation with tiny cheeks full of this delicious semi-soft cheese).
3. Fish Sticks
If you turn up your nose at fish sticks, you’re denying your child culinary a rite of passage that happens to come in the form of a delicious breaded treat. In addition to introducing baby to new flavors and textures, the white fish used in most fish sticks is flaky enough to not pose much of a choking hazard. While they’re definitely not the healthiest option out there, fish sticks do offer some protein, and some brands have even started offering healthier options. And while you really shouldn’t deny your child the experience of fish sticks, you get most of the same benefits from almost any cooked fish.
4. Ground Beef
Speaking of protein, ground beef (or pork, or chicken, or turkey) may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think “baby food,” but when the loose meat is cooked in a pan, it becomes a fun, flavorful finger food. When cooking, try to not to break up the meat too much; bigger pieces are easier to pick up. And feel free to add some seasoning, but go really light on the salt.
Little kids love buttered noodles (and let’s be honest here — adults do too). And while there are seemingly endless options when it comes to pasta shapes, rotini (or its lookalike, fusilli) is perhaps the easiest for little finger to pick up. Plus, you can make a bunch ahead of time and store it for days in a sealed container in the fridge. But this isn’t the time to do a perfect al dente. Overcook your pasta juuuuust a little so it’s easy enough for baby to gum.
6. Roasted Sweet Potatoes
In addition to being a great source of fiber, sweet potatoes are packed with Vitamins A and C (among other things). And while the preparation is slightly time consuming, it’s still easy! Puncture the skin of whole sweet potatoes with a fork, then roast them in a 425ºF oven for about 30 to 45 minutes (depending on size) or until they’re cooked through, but not mushy. When they’re cool enough to handle, peel and cut them into small cubes. You can season them, or serve them as is.
There are a couple ways to approach apples for early eaters. The first is to peel and cut the fruit into thin, almost translucent strips for a crunchy snack. Another involves slicing the apple into wedges or cubes and sauteeing it quickly in butter or oil (and probably with a little cinnamon, while you’re at it) for bigger, but softer pieces. When it comes to any fruit, though, try to treat it more like dessert or a treat, and limit consumption, so your baby doesn’t develop a sweet tooth too soon.
When it comes to toddler feeding time, choose a high chair that will make both baby and you comfortable. There are plenty of options, from the space-saving and foldable Nano to the modern multi-use, height-adjustable Fresco (which you can use from newborn days up until age 8!).
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Emily Farris is a writer, recipe developer, prop stylist, and blogger. She lives in Kansas City, MO, with her husband, toddler son, and two rowdy do