Experts agree that by nine months, most babies are ready to start eating finger foods. You’ll know when it’s time because she’ll start reaching for the spoon and grabbing at your sandwiches. While it’s exciting to progress from bowls of mush to ‘real food’, be prepared for meal times to take even longer and be a whole lot messier when your baby’s in charge!
At first, your baby will simply be able to grasp a piece of food and suck, but by nine months she should have a better grip and will be able to pick up pea-sized items with her thumb and forefinger. This milestone opens up a whole world of edible options, however it also means you have to be on constant standby for gagging and choking.
Your baby’s menu should consist of foods that are soft and melt quickly in the mouth (test them yourself), offered in non-round pieces less than half an inch in size. You may be used to eating on the run but for your baby, this is a recipe for disaster, so only offer foods when she’s sitting down safely. Start by putting four or five pieces on her baby dish or high-chair tray and if she finishes these, you can always offer more. Here are just a few fun, healthy foods to offer in baby-safe pieces:
- lightly toasted wholemeal bagels or bread
- crackers, rice cakes, and puffed wheat or rice cereals (do the melt test in your mouth first to make sure they dissolve quickly)
- soft cheeses, such as cottage cheese or shredded mozzarella
- ripe, soft fruits, such as avocado, peach, apricot, melon (remove watermelon seeds), and mango
- well-cooked bits of green bean, sweet potato, broccoli florets, carrots, and cauliflower florets
- well-cooked pasta, shredded chicken (no chunks), scrambled egg yolks
It’s best to keep the following foods – all prime choking hazards – off limits until children are at least four years old.
- nuts and seeds
- whole grapes (peel and cut into halves or fourths)
- hard, gooey, or sticky sweets
- chewing gum
When it comes to choking, your baby is not the only one to watch. Keep a sharp eye on big brother or sisters, who may slip them a potentially hazardous ‘treat’. Also, whenever you introduce food that’s new to your baby, be on the lookout for an allergic reaction. It’s best to try new foods in isolation, leaving a few days for any symptoms to show up.