New Study: Is Finger Food Better for Babies than Spoon-Feeding?

A new study raises interesting questions about how parents introduce babies to solid food.

It suggests babies might get health benefits from skipping spoon-fed purées, and going straight to feeding themselves with finger foods.

Published by the British Medical Journal, this small study looked at the eating habits of 155 British children as they moved away from breast milk or formula to solid food. Parents were asked if the children fed themselves, if they were picky eaters, and about their height and weight. The spoon-fed and self-fed babies were equally likely to be picky, researchers said. But they found that the two groups preferred different types of food.

The Canadian newspaper the Globe and Mail reports that self-fed babies showed a preference for carbohydrates such as pasta, breads and rice, while spoon-fed babies preferred sweets such as cookies. From the Globe and Mail:

Ellen Townsend, associate professor of psychology and one of the authors of the study, said carbohydrates may be more attractive to children who fed themselves because such foods tend to be easy to hold and to chew. Furthermore, they may be more accustomed to a range of healthy, nutritious foods that are intact, instead of masked as purées, which could influence their preferences.

Although the researchers found the majority of children in both groups had a healthy, normal body mass index, a small number of children in the baby-led group were underweight. By contrast, however, Dr. Townsend said a greater number of children in the spoon-fed group were overweight, which could be linked to parents overestimating how much to feed their infants.

“In baby-led weaning, you’re essentially handing over control of the feeding process to your child. You’re letting them decide when they’re full,” she says, whereas with spoon-feeding, “perhaps there’s a temptation to give the child one or two more spoons more than they actually want.”

What about the risk of choking for babies who feed themselves? The researchers found that among the “finger-food” babies, 93.5 percent never had a choking episode.

Image: Baby girl eating via Shutterstock.


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  1. by Danielle Feliciano

    On February 11, 2012 at 10:30 am

    With both of my children I breast fed and let them self wean (still waiting for my 20 month old to break up with the boobies). I like most people also did the diluted rice cereal as a first. Neither of my children seemed particularly in love with it. I moved on to homemade purees and had some success but my oldest really preferred our food just pulsed or diced. Texture seemed to be an issue, but flavor never was. We steered away from most “baby marketed foods” or adult processed things and gave her a variety. To this day she is an eager and healthy eater with an evolved palate. She prefers fresh items vs something canned etc. Her choice of eating out would be panera or teppan or carrabbas vs mcd. Not to say she doesn’t like desserts or treats but I think a little girl who likes to have sushi packed for lunch can surely have a cookie now and again.
    On that note our youngest really had difficulty with spoon feeding. We were patient and consistent but he just never wanted it and would often gag or vomitting. It wasn’t until after an early bout with RSV and hospitalization we found out he was anemic and he had a food/oral aversion. After a few weeks with a speech therapist we basically skipped any an all baby type food and went straight to table foods lightly pulsed or diced. He apparently had a texture aversion and that is what caused the gagging! A year later and baby boy is a healthy happy eater just like his sister.
    We have always let them self feed. If we are out we do try to curtail some mess by helping them along. Children are led by senses and impulses and when they self feed they might end up with a mess but guaranteed they will feed til their belly is full and they have smile on their face. I think this study could be on to something.

  2. by ashley

    On February 11, 2012 at 10:40 am

    This is a joke! Both my kids were spoon fed n they’d pick fruit, vegetables,pasta over cookies n candy any time of the day!!

  3. by Jessica crim

    On February 11, 2012 at 10:45 am

    I have always spoon fed my babies but also let them feed themselves too i think letting them feed themselves is beneficial to me because while he’s in his highchair i get extra cleaning done:)

  4. by Kali

    On February 11, 2012 at 10:46 am

    My oldest was breast-fed with supplemented formula until she self weaned at 7 months. She started rice cereal mixed with formula at 4 months. She ate the jarred baby food from 6 months until 10 months. She is average height and weight for her age. She has a healthy appetite and likes fruits and veggies. My other baby was breastfed (no bottles) until 5 months when we started introducing home made food. His favorite was avocado mixed with bananas. He self weaned from breast milk at 14 months. He never liked jarred baby food and the only way to get him to eat it was with a baby food bottle. He eats everything we eat, and won’t eat anything that is cut up for him. His favorite foods are yogurt, avocado, bananas and lasagne. He is (and always has been- since birth) in the 90th percentile for his weight and 75th for height.

  5. by Kimberley McCauley

    On February 11, 2012 at 10:56 am

    Why one or the other? How about both? My daughter was spoon fed, but had access to fingers foods as soon as she was interested. I introduced a variety of flavors and foods really early, but started out with all TH fairies of cereals then vegetables. I introduced fruit after veggies. At a year old we started adding spices to her food. Now, she eats everything and will try anything unless she hears somebody say they dislike it. She is almost 3 and has a bigger taste pallet than I do. Each child is different, but I believe that all textures and developmental stages need to be acknowledged. Spoon feeding is essential for future self-feeding along with feeding with fingers foods. Happy medium and not one or the other.

  6. by Crystal

    On February 11, 2012 at 11:51 am

    That’s hilarious! My son, who will be 9 months old on the 18th, has been fed pureed jarred food even, since 4 months old. He just now weighs 19lbs! He eats a 4oz jar for breakfast, 3 4oz jars for lunch and dinner! Plus on top of that takes from 4-8oz of formula. Within the last month, I have made some of my own purees, but I have also started giving him finger foods that we are eating, like whole grain english muffins, pieces of cooked chicken, ribs even! He’s in no way the slightest overweight, if anything some only breastfed babies that are months younger than him weigh more. A friend has a 5 month old who weighed the same as my son at birth and he is 20lbs. So this article might be true for some, but from my experience with my son – first child – none of these things are true. And he eats just about anything, not to mention he wants just about everything we’re eating. His favorite food, pureed or not – peas. I’m an extremely picky eater, thanks to my upbringing and I promised myself not to do the same for my children.

  7. by Tia

    On February 11, 2012 at 11:59 am

    Interesting. This is basically what we did with our 2nd child, though not really intentionally. My kids are very close together in age. So while my baby girl was starting solids, I had an almost-2 year old running around my house like crazy. I really had no other choice than to let her have a go at it on her own. She did get some pureed food, but mostly oatmeal and the like which is pretty much that texture anyway.
    With my son I was an obsessive first timer with extra time on my hands. I made all my own baby food and made sure he got the RDA of all foods.
    To this day it is almost impossible to get my son to eat veggies unless they are hidden well. His little sis on the other hand can’t get enough peas and carrots! :)

  8. by C

    On February 11, 2012 at 12:10 pm

    We did this, starting finger foods at about 5 1/2 months. I never had to spoon feed my daughter once. She is now 2 and eats a much better variety than my other children. It’s healthier, cheaper, and saves a ton of time.

  9. by Helen

    On February 11, 2012 at 2:57 pm

    My eldest stopped breastfeeding at 7 months and had purees. He has a sweet tooth and mealtimes are often a battle of wills. My 2nd breastfed until 12 months and was baby led weaned. He eats most things and is never a problem. I always recommend baby led weaning to my friends as I believe it is the difference between my two boys – one a dream eater and one a nightmare!

  10. by Jessica

    On February 11, 2012 at 5:49 pm

    This really is the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard in quite some time…

  11. by Deborah

    On February 15, 2012 at 9:02 am

    My dauther will be 7 months on the 22 of Feburay. She start baby cerearl a few days before she turned 5 months because SHE was ready for it. When I feed her pureed food, she likes to try and grab the spoon out of my hand and play with the bowl, so I let her.
    I have just started give her some cheerios to play with and she is picking them up just fine, but she can’t quite master how to put them in her month just yet.
    I think that we should let our children tell us when they are ready to go on to the next stage. I do not give my daugher cookies, all though, I do let her a suck or two off my my popsycle or lollypop, just to introduce new fruit flavors that are not in seasons.

  12. by Jerry

    On March 4, 2012 at 5:45 pm

    “The researchers found that among the “finger-food” babies, 93.5 percent never had a choking episode.” This translates into 6.5% having at least one choking episode. That choking rate is a little high for my comfort level. Have you ever seen a child choke? It’s a pretty scary experience. I’m going to wait until my babies neuromuscular control and chew/swallowing coordination has developed a little more before starting solids.