Encouraging finger foods

Following on from my last post – What finger food is my 7 month old eating? This week I’d like to discuss the importance of finger food and give you a few ideas, if your baby isn’t the biggest fan. 

Children who don’t eat very well, are also often those who don’t enjoy touching many different types of finger foods, especially those with a more moist or ‘messy’ texture.

If this is your child, you are not alone!

The beautiful photo above is of my niece Paige and she doesn’t like touching many foods, especially soft sticky ones! During this messy play session, all the other babies loved getting their hands covered in food . . . but not her! After a quick initial touch, she just sat there with her hands in the air refusing to do it again!

Food acceptance

You may wonder why it’s important for children to enjoy getting their hands full of food and how this relates to how well they may or may not eat?!?

Let’s explore this a bit further . . .

If a baby isn’t happy touching a food it’s unlikely that they will open their mouth and eat the same food.

You might not have thought about this before but we too are very similar! If you visited a foreign country where you were offered something that you’d never eaten or maybe even never seen before, it’s unlikely that you’d happily open your mouth and eat it if you weren’t happy to touch it with your hands first! And babies are no different.

There are stages of food acceptance and we have to be happy with one stage before we’ll progress onto the next one. For example, firstly, we need to be comfortable having a food in front of us. Then we have to be happy to pick it up, then smell it and then lick it. Only when we’re comfortable doing all of these things would most people put the food in their mouths!

Encouraging young children to pick up a food is an important first step in helping them to happily eat it.

If your baby’s a fussy eater it’s even more important to give them lots of opportunities to play with food. And as they get more comfortable with it, hopefully they will put some in their mouths too! 

Activities to help encourage your baby touch different foods

To help your baby get more comfortable with touching foods, here are a few activities you could try with them:

  • ‘Finger painting’ with food on their tray table, plate or placemat. Foods like yoghurt, pasta sauce, purees and porridge work well.
  • Building towers with vegetables or fruit sticks.
  • Play a game of who can squish the most peas or blueberries with your fingers.
  • And if your child is a bit older you could encourage them to touch foods by involving them in the cooking process and asking them to pass you foods while you prepare the meal.

Which foods to try first

I’d recommend using food that you’d like them to eat for these activities. The aim is to just have fun and get them comfortable with touching different foods. Remember, when babies and children are happy to touch a food, it’s much more likely that they’ll then put it in their mouths!

If your child doesn’t like getting their hands dirty you could also do some play activities with sand, shaving cream or foam. A few ideas include driving cars through it, hiding toy animals in it or burying their hands. Activities like these will help them get used to different textures and feelings on their hands, which in turn should help them feel more comfortable with picking up various foods.

And remember to not wipe their hands while they are playing . . . the idea is to get them used to that messy sticky feeling!

Happy playing!

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