When a tot develops the ability to pick things up using their forefingers and their thumbs, it is usually a euphoric moment for the tot and the parent! It is the first stage on the way to feeding themselves. It is something to be encouraged, tots love the independence and parents get to eat lunch relatively undisturbed! It’s a win win situation for both parents and tots.
Usually between the ages of 9-12 months your tot will develop the pincer grip ability. Some do it earlier and some do it later, but it usually occurs around this age. Giving tots finger food is a great way to introduce new foods and textures. Lunch is an ideal meal to attempt this because let’s face it, out of all of the meals adults eat lunch is usually the one that most of us eat with our fingers and tots love to copy.
Personally I have found that finger food works with any meal, and a combination of finger food and spoon fed food can work very well too.
Finger food can be easily prepared and is mostly to hand, which is great if you are like me and don’t have a menu plan prepared for the whole week in advance.
Toast One of the quickest and easiest finger foods can be as simple as a piece of toast with butter on. Follow your tot’s lead, my tot prefers short fingers of toast cut in half, other tots prefers long fingers of toast the whole length of the slice of toast, so they have a handle to hold the food they are eating. They soon learn that you can eat the handle as well! Toast is great because by toasting the bread you’re actually making it sweeter, so your tot will prefer it. Tots without teeth can gum toast and it will soften nicely in their mouths, allowing for easy swallowing.
Healthy Toast Toppings The first topping that comes to mind is cream cheese. It’s full of calcium and that all important fat. Growing tots need calories, so don’t bother with the half fat or light versions. Other great ideas for a toast topping include marmite, which is a great source of B-vitamins. However, don’t give this to your tot everyday as it does contain salt which is something to be careful with as tots cannot easily digest salt and an excessive salt intake can damage your tot’s kidneys. The best type of toast toppings are those that stick to the toast, because your tot will try and tip the topping off if he / she can. Melted cheese on toast is another great topping as it will stick to the toast. Cheddar, emmental or edam all work well, other hard cheeses do too, but avoid cheeses with mould in them such as stilton. For an extra dimension add a bit of tuna to the cheese before you grill the toast. Tuna is a great protein source and it is advisable to get your tot eating fish at an early age as it is also full of those good for you fats. However, if you are using tuna use tuna that is in spring water or oil avoid the tuna in brine as it is full of salt.
You can use different styles of bread for toasting to encourage your tot to try a variety of new tastes and textures, those breads with the seeds in are great. A good one is croissant, as it is full of butter and calories, which are great for your growing, active tot.
Cheese Finger foods can be used as a great distraction when feeding your tots lunch. I find that sometimes in the active life of a tot they suddenly need lunch and they need it now! They don’t waste much time in telling you so too! I haven’t found a tot yet that has any degree of patience whatsoever! Therefore you need to have a source of readily available food, to feed that demanding tot. I have found finger food to be great for this as it keeps them occupied whilst you prepare their main lunch. Lumps of cheese are ideal. Cheese is a great food to feed your tot. It is high in calories, fat, protein and calcium. Again use a hard cheese such as cheddar, edam or emmental, as it crumbles less than some other cheeses. Avoid cheese with mould such as stilton and soft cheeses such as brie, as they are more difficult to digest in undeveloped stomachs. Cheese can also be a great out and about finger food too.
Fruit Fruit is a big favourite of mine as it is full of vitamin C, which can help to keep those incessant colds at bay and vitamin A which also helps with the immune system and your tot’s eyesight too. It also contains fibre, which will help keep your tot’s digestive system healthy and contains lots of the fruit sugar, fructose, for those all important calories. Feeding tot’s lots of fruit will help to encourage them to eat a healthy diet in the future.
Fruit can be eaten raw, cooked or dried. All options are useful and will give your tot a variety of textures to explore.
Fresh Fruit I make sure my tot has some fresh fruit daily. I tend to give pieces of fresh fruit to my tot at lunch time as a dessert. I have found blueberries to be a god send! They are an ideal size for your tot to pick up and chomp on at his / her leisure. I cut them in half for my tot at first, but now she has more teeth I give them to her whole. They are full of anti oxidants and are very good for your tots. They do make for interesting poos though, so watch out for that! Any fruit that is small and easy to pick up are great to use as finger foods. Be careful with strawberries though as they can invoke an allergic response. Either avoid them until your tot is 1, when they have a more developed digestive system or introduce them independently to your tot so you can monitor them closely for any adverse reactions.
Other examples of fruit you can use as finger food are pieces of banana, papaya or ripe pear. Satsumas or clementines are usually a great favourite with your tots, but again these can cause an allergic reaction and close monitoring is need when you first introduce these to your tot’s diet. Grapes are loved too, but these MUST be chopped up before giving them to your tot as a whole grape is the perfect size to cause choking if swallowed whole. When I first gave these to my tot I peeled them too, but now she has more teeth I give them to her with the skin on.
Dried fruit Don’t discount dried fruit as they are a brilliant source of iron. Sliced apricots and dates are loved by tots as they are really sweet. This is because the fruit sugars in the fruit have been concentrated as the result of the drying process. Sultanas are a great snack too and can easily be used for out and about food as well as lunches.
Cooked fruit I love apples and always have an excess in the house. I have found that they are not easy to give tots raw as they need peeling and chopping and tots find them difficult to eat as they are crunchier than other fruits. However, if you stew eating apples they stay whole and become softer. My tot loves to eat stewed apples as finger food and they make an excellent pudding for lunch and dinner.
Vegetables Vegetables too are rich in vitamins and minerals that are good for your tot, so should be encouraged at all times.
Raw vegetables Sticks of vegetables make great finger food. Cucumber sticks make brilliant teethers, especially when they are given to your tot straight from the fridge. Other salad items will work as teethers too. Bell pepper sticks, carrot sticks and celery will all be of interest to your tot. However, I have found that whilst most tots will give them a try more often than not they do tend to end up underneath they high chair instead of inside your tot’s tummy!
For a quick, easy and very healthy lunch pieces of avocado are an excellent finger food. I normally accompany this with a mixture of cream cheese and yoghurt, which my tot loves as it creates a lovely messy highchair!
Cooked vegetables Boiled cooked pieces of vegetables, such as carrots, parsnips, broccoli, butternut squash and sweet potato can be used as a finger food however I have found more success with roasted vegetables. The roasting process sweetens the vegetables. I roast my vegetables in olive oil as this oil is one of the healthiest oils and unlike other oils it will retain more of its good fats even after being heated. Roasted vegetables therefore have the added advantage of containing those all important calories and they make an excellent and tasty lunch. You can accompany this with a dip. When your tots become a little bigger accompany the vegetables with a dip of cream cheese and Greek yoghurt, tots just love this!
Quick and Messy For a quick and easy lunch, try baked beans and toast. Tots love getting messy chasing these little beans round the highchair tray! You can now buy beans in ‘snap pots’, these are small pots, the equivalent size to the small bean tins, they also come in low sugar and salt versions too. These pots are microwaveable. Just make sure that you stir the beans well to mix in any hotspots of heat from the microwave.
Spaghetti hoops also make a great messy lunch. These come in various shapes and sizes. They are slightly more difficult to eat than beans and may require a helping hand for those tots just learning to eat with their fingers, but are great practice just make sure you have a lot of time to watch!
You can of course make your own pasta shapes and tomato sauce. You don’t have to stick to a tomato sauce either. Macaroni cheese makes a delicious lunch and of course can be eaten with tiny fingers too. You can add small pieces of vegetables to the tomato or cheese sauces which can be eaten as finger foods. Frozen peas and sweet corn make a delicious addition to any sauce and can easily be taken straight out of the freezer to add. My tot loves peas, once she had had her fill of them she had a great time sweeping them all over her highchair tray! They are a pain to clear up off the floor though!
Slightly Less quick and but still messy! Eggs are a great tasty lunch. Scrambled eggs are quick and easy to make, add some cheddar to make them more interesting. Scrambled eggs can be eaten with little fingers or from a spoon. My tot was a little unsure at first I think this was due to the strange texture, but she loves them now. I have also found that omelettes make great finger food too. I add finely chopped vegetables to my omelettes to incorporate those all important vitamins. Top off the omelette with cheese and chop into pieces. Tot’s love them!
I’ve found that even messy purees can be eaten with fingers. Once they get a taste for it there will be no going back your tots will want to eat everything with their fingers. My tot even wants to spoon feed herself now! She normally turns the spoon upside down though! The more practice they get the more they will want to do it.
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