Feeding Baby: Are Finger Foods Healthier Than Purees?

It’s no secret that I love to puree. It’s my favorite step in the whole baby food-making process. So I was surprised to discover that a new British study found that my baby may have been privy to  extra health benefits if I had skipped the purees and moved straight from bottle to finger foods. According to the British Medical Journal, researchers examined the eating habits of 155 British children and learned that self-fed babies eat better, preferring carbohydrates such as pasta, breads, and rice, versus their puree-fed counterparts who favor sweets. They also determined that self-feeding may help ward off obesity since babies can stop eating when they’re full; spoon-fed babies may get an extra spoonful or two than they really need or want. Of the babies studied, 93.5 percent never had a choking incident.

Granted, my puree-fed child (that’s him, covered in pureed avocado when he was six-months-old) is going through a applesauce-raisin-and-graham-cracker-only phase this week, so it’s hard for me to say whether he truly prefers grains to cookies, and I have to work to make him gain weight, but maybe I would notice some divine difference in his eating habits if I had resisted the allure of my blender. At least I can take comfort in knowing that both puree-fed and self-fed babies studied exhibited the same degree of pickiness (see Bug’s menu of choice above…sigh).

Overall, I think this study does raise some compelling points about self-feeding. It could be healthier for your child, and it’s certainly less time-consuming for you. A friend of a friend’s baby transitioned from breastfeeding to whole fruits and veggies beautifully, and my friend talked about following in her footsteps. As a first-time mom, I didn’t have the guts to pitch Mason’s carrot puree and hand him a carrot instead–but I admired what I considered to be brave and maybe equal parts daring and crazy. (Mason once choked on pureed chicken and I was so traumatized I double-pureed all of his meats from then on!) Now that I’m braver and more experienced at feeding babies, I see the wisdom in giving them whole foods first to see how they respond instead of automatically starting with purees. At the very least, it’s one less transition for them to make. Would you have felt comfortable giving your five-month-old finger foods the first time you introduced her to solids?

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  1. by Kristina

    On February 8, 2012 at 2:25 pm

    Interesting article! Thanks for sharing. I think it’s important to note that oral motor feeding skills develop at different ages and many finger foods/solids require more advanced skills; therefore, we need to introduce purees :) . When lateral movement of the tongue emerges for munching (7-9 months) then certain textures and foods can be manipulated more efficiently! But you could always pair those purees with an age appropriate solid almost like a dip and keep adding variety to the diet. Fun read, thanks!

  2. by Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP

    On February 8, 2012 at 4:12 pm

    YIKES! This concerns me – so only 7% of the kids had a choking incident? Only? As a feeding specialist, I agree with Kristina, in that eating is a developmental progression of skills and learning to suck purees off a spoon is one step in the process. A more advanced skill is managing meltable foods for munching and eventually, chewing. Thanks very much for bringing this study to our attention and for your wonderful column. It’s a fave at My Munch Bug!

  3. by Heather Morgan Shott

    On February 8, 2012 at 4:32 pm

    Melanie: Do you know how that compares with choking incidents while kids are eating purees? We had one bad incident when Mason was eating chicken-apple puree.

  4. by stacy

    On February 9, 2012 at 9:33 am

    I somewhat believe this study… baby number 3 was one that gagged over baby food (homemade and store bought) of any kind. I force fed her for about a month and then when to a very coarse ground food and she ate it great and shortly after (by 6.5mos) was self-feeding finger foods only. She is definitely in tune to her bodies needs and eats until she is satisfied (and then wants DOWN!)and has maintained a “normal-low” weight gain. And the wonder of it all, she has never had a choking episode! I think that children will develop and acheive milestones as they are introduced (within reason)and that sometimes we make it harder on ourselves by all the “rules” vs. adapting to our particular child’s abilities when in fact they might be able to succeed with things we think they aren’t capable of yet.

  5. by Laura

    On February 9, 2012 at 9:53 am

    I did what is called Baby Led Weaning or introducing finger foods instead of purees with my child. Her first foods were avocados, sweet potatoes (cut into fry shapes and baked), and broccoli. The point of BLW is that babies learn to chew and swallow at the same time. You also introduce them to many textures so they don’t reject a food later on because they’ve only had it in a puree form. We never had a choking incident, gagging yes, but that is a completely normal reflex. I also didn’t start with any solids until my baby was 6 months old, as current research suggests. Now my 12 month old is the best eater I know. She’ll eat anything from lamb curry to asparagus and anything else you can think of.

  6. by Jill Cordes

    On February 9, 2012 at 1:59 pm

    Fia never eats carbs. she’s like an Atkins baby. I wonder if it’s because of all the pureed foods she had? Makes a good point. Hard to weigh that though over the hazards of choking. Maybe with Emmett I’ll try somewhere in the middle, like Laura suggested with sweet potatoes and avocados. Could dip bread in milk too…. Good stuff!

  7. by Megan H

    On February 21, 2012 at 10:32 am

    While an interesting article, it’s also not to be taken at face value. There are many factors that can affect a child’s tastes and eating habits. I have a very healthy (and on the thinner side) 2.5 year old boy who began eating purees at 4 months old. I made the food myself and fed him half fruit & half veggies and added in meats and carbs when he was developmentally ready. I increased the thickness of his foods gradually as he learned to chew & get the hang of things. He now prefers a banana, cherry tomatoes, or cheese & whole grain crackers over cake or cookies 90% of the time. I belive if we begin baby food when THEY are ready, and introduce a wide variety of fruits, veggies, meats, and grains from the start, then their eating habits/preferences will lean towards the healthy side. I held off on cookies/cakes/ice cream/fried & salty foods for much longer than any of my family & friends did (and I caught a lot of grief for it too) and my son has a much healthier diet and eating habits than most other toddlers I know. It’s not necessarily about what you start with, but what you introduce along the way.

  8. by Sarah

    On February 25, 2012 at 6:26 am

    With my 1st son I used purees quite a bit but he was ready for food at 4 months. Around 6 I started giving him finger foods (banana broken up, pieces of what we were having for dinner) and with my second son he has had some purees but he prefers feeding himself (he watches his older brother and already wants to be just like him). So he also started pretty early with finger foods. I think it all depends on the child, but if you don’t try it you dont know if they are capable of chewing food.

  9. by Alannah

    On July 30, 2012 at 9:41 am

    My daughter is 11 months. She has been eating actually food for a couple months now. All the veggies, meats, and fruits we eat; she eats. She loves it way more than puree, and it keeps her fuller than puree. My doctor always wanted me to not do puree, or gerber food. She said foods are the best things to feed my baby (healthy). Have you tasted the baby food not something I would even eat my daughter stays with my home cooked meals

  10. by Kimberly

    On July 31, 2012 at 4:18 pm

    I have a very clingy now 10 month old baby girl. For the first 5-6 months of her life, I had to hold or nurse her during every one of my meals. Because of this, we taught her to self feed from the start, and have never given her purees other than some occasional baby cereal (at the Dr.’s recommendation because of the iron). Don’t get me wrong, I do not hand her a carrot or slice of bread and just let her go; I still give her very small pieces of cooked foods and watch her very carefully while she eats. Even though she is more skilled at self feeding than most babies her age, she is still a baby, and I do not trust that that she wont shove an entire chunk of food into her toothless mouth at once. While it certainly is not the right choice for everyone, it has allowed us to sit together and eat as a family again. If BLW or self feeding is something you are interested in trying, you have to be very attentive to your child while eating, and I would highly recommend that you and anyone who cares for your baby be CPR trained (just in case). While we haven’t had any real choking, we have had some alarming gagging incidents, and it is important to know how to respond without making the situation worse. In spite of the obvious pitfalls, self feeding has worked wonderfully for us and my daughter now actually refuses ‘typical’ baby foods like applesauce, bananas and puffs, in favor of broccoli, salmon and her favorite, orzo pasta with olive oil and basil!