How can I teach my baby to eat finger foods?

Q: How can I teach my baby to eat finger foods?

A: If your baby's reluctant to dive into that pile of pasta, it's probably because until now he's always had your help at mealtime -- so he doesn't quite get the idea of picking up food and moving it to his own mouth. To feed himself effectively, your baby will need a well-developed pincer grasp (the ability to grab things with his thumb and forefinger). This skill usually develops between 9 and 12 months, although some babies need a little encouragement. Use playtime as a way to hone those pincer skills. Dump out some plastic rings or other easily grabbed toys around your baby and show him how to pick them up one at time. You can also practice this with Cheerios, which are easy for babies to pick up because of the firm texture and hole.

In the high chair, show your baby how to pick up and eat his own food, and let him imitate you. Do this before you spoon-feed the rest of the meal. The best foods to start with are soft but firm -- like cut-up pieces of bread, potatoes, meatballs, bananas, or beans. Arrange them in funny shapes on the plate to pique your baby's interest. Don't be surprised if your baby develops a preference for certain textures initially or refuses new ones. If this happens, get creative. Many times a baby is more receptive to new textures if you mix them with something you know he already likes, like spreading some mashed carrots or banana on a cracker.

Remember, self-feeding skills develop gradually, and you'll still need to step in and help your baby. Most babies don't learn how to wield a spoon until 15 to 18 months, and even then it's messy until they really get the hang of it. Also, before 12 months, the bulk of your baby's nutrition is still from breast milk or formula (about 24 to 32 ounces a day), and solid meals and finger foods are more about exploration than nourishment. To that end, be ready to get messy, and be patient!

Copyright 2009 Meredith Corporation.

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