For anyone who introduced solid food with purees, the eventual transition to finger foods can end up being even more stressful than for the people brave enough to go with baby-led weaning from the beginning. I know it was for me.
Just when you've gotten the hang of watching your child happily eat pureed food and you've gotten over your fear of them choking, it's time to introduce textures!
But you can't wait forever, so if it's time for you to face the next step, this guide is for you.
This post is part of our Starting Solids series. if you haven't already read it, check out part 1 of our Starting Solids guide here. You'll find lots more general information on starting solids there. If you have already started solids with baby-led weaning or a combination of purees/mashed/finger foods, then check out part 2 here. The below is focused on how to move on after starting exclusively with purees.
Why Is It Important to Transition to Finger Foods?
Most guidelines on textured food advise babies to be introduced to chunkier purees around the age of 7 months and finger foods by no later than 10 months. (So just when you've gotten a bit more relaxed with smooth purees!)
This is really important for your child's development of their oral motor skills. Learning how to use all those little muscles in their mouth will not only help them to become a confident eater but will also assist in their speech and language development later on.
We've previously discussed the different stages of baby food, so if you haven't already, check it out to familiarize yourself with the terminology!
But more importantly, regardless of your child's age, if you've chosen to start with purees you will want to watch for signs of readiness to move to more textured stuff.
Signs of Readiness:
- Reaching out for utensils and food
- Moving food with their tongue around the mouth
- Imitation of chewing
I still remember the exact day I saw that my 7-month-old was ready for textured purees. I was feeding him a cauliflower lamb puree and all of a sudden I saw his jaw moving as if he was chewing. And it lasted a while.
I had no idea what he was chewing on since I was feeding him a smooth puree after all. Naturally, I started freaking out and opened his mouth to find a little chunk of the lamb that was not fully pureed. He didn't swallow it. He didn't choke on it. His instincts were simply to chew it. He was ready (I wasn't quite ready... but he was).
Step 1: Introduce Chunks
As the headline says, step 1 to transition to finger foods is simply to introduce more texture in the form of bits and chunks of foods in purees.
This might mean mashing soft foods like bananas and avocados a little less. Or adding less and less water to cooked food purees like meat and veggies. But it's important to know that you can make these changes as gradually as you like.
At first, your child might be resistant to chunky food as they've been used to smooth purees so far, but it doesn't mean they will never eat it. Alternatively, you might find them much more interested now. Remember when you introduced smooth purees at first. It was strange for them, right? Well, now it's the same thing. They just need to get used to it.
Step 2: Mashed Foods
Just as they've gotten used to lumps in their food you'll be moving onto the next stage that ultimately brings you to finger foods – mashed food.
The process is pretty much the same as with chunky purees but the difference is that with mashed foods you want your lumps and chunks to be much bigger and for there to be very little smooth textures within.
Think thick oatmeal with mashed berries. Or millet with shredded broccoli. In general, the blender shouldn't be needed at this stage.
Again, for some, it might take some getting used to (for others not at all), but stick with it and you should be just fine. At first, you can start with one mashed meal a day and the rest being chunky purees until they get the hang of it. And then move to all daily meals being mashed. The timeline here shouldn't be that long. Usually just a few days.
In case you feel you need to add a bit more moisture to the texture, don't use water but rather add some fats and/or oils like olive oil. It has healthy fats and adds to the calorie content of the meal as well.
Step 3: The Transition to Finger Foods
Your baby should not be older than 10 months by the time you get to step 3. This is of course the recommendation for healthy, term babies. For preterm babies or babies with certain medical conditions, discuss further with your doctor or pediatric dietitian.
So how can you be sure your baby is ready for finger foods? I'll tell you a secret. They were ready a few months ago. As far as chewing and swallowing go at least.
But now that you've started with smooth purees and gradually moved up to finger foods, you'll need to teach them how to eat by themselves. Finger food means you are no longer spoon-feeding them, but rather allowing them to eat with their hands or using utensils by themselves.
Realistically though, that really means they are eating with their hands. But the earlier you provide them with utensils to use, the sooner they will learn.
On that note, we can't recommend enough the Doddl Cutlery which allows your child to learn how to feed themselves with their hands in a more natural position (note: affiliate link).
From my experience, the best approach to the final transition to finger foods was the following.
Easy Way To Transition to Finger Foods
I baked our Blueberry Oatmeal Cakes and cut one cake into two halves – top and bottom. Then I took each half and cut it into thin long sticks. And put a few of them on my son's (Andrej's) high chair tray. He was 9 months old at the time.
Andrej took them with his little hands and immediately put them into his mouth. He chewed the bit that was sticking out of his palm (he had not yet mastered the pincer grasp then) and threw away the rest from his palm. And did the same with the remaining pieces.
At that point, I was sure he was ready.
This, of course, didn't mean that from that particular moment each and every following meal was finger foods. But I tried to make at least one daily meal a finger food meal. This allowed him to practice this new skill every day.
During this transition, they may not eat as much food as they would when you're spoon-feeding them purees. That's perfectly normal. Part of that finger food meal is for exploring and playing with food.
I still remember how happy Andrej was the first time I offered him a chicken leg. He didn't take one single bite. But the experience was priceless.
So bottom line – whenever you start to move on from smooth purees, trust that your baby is ready.
Follow their signs and move slowly and gradually through the steps. At the beginning of each step, even if they don't take to it immediately, just stick to the program and sooner than you expect your baby will be happily feeding themselves and enjoying those family meals beside you.