Beyond the Cereal Box: Wholesome Finger Foods For Babies
Photo by kona99
I’ve been following your column for about 6 months, and have picked up some very helpful stuff, Thanks! I read with interest your columns on feeding baby, and was converted. 2 months ago I ordered Lisa Barnes’ Cooking for Baby and my 9 month old has been chowing down quite happily since. Not that he wasn’t before, he didn’t mind Gerber at all. In fact Aidan has been the poster boy for good eating since his second week of life. Friends and bystanders have gathered round and watched him gobbled down whatever was offered to him in awe.
Well, that is until last week, when he slowly started rejecting food offered by spoon. By the end of the week all he’d take from a spoon was his breakfast cereal, and only at breakfast time. The only way to get him to eat anything else is by his own hand. But his own hands just aren’t that good at getting food to the mouth yet. I’m concerned that he’s not getting enough eat, surely 3 carrot sticks and 3 potato wedges aren’t enough for dinner? And he’s stopped sleeping through *sob*. “Cooking for baby” has some great finger food recipes which we are putting to use, but even that lovely book is geared toward a 9 month old that is still getting the bulk of his solids by spoon.
So guess what I’m asking is: what else can I try? Aidan can’t yet pick up small pieces of food. Even if they make it into his chubby fingers, they usually fall short of his mouth. And we have a limited amount of happy time in the high chair to spend with bread fingers and carrot sticks. What are the chances he’ll make friends with the spoon again? I have a freezer full of nicely frozen and packaged minced veg and meat going to waste.
Oh, any solutions need to be product neutral, because I’m from South Africa, and we don’t get all the cool stuff here that you do. No Philosophy for me.
Now what do I feed him?
Oy, the dreaded spoon boycott. We went through this with Noah. He just refused the spoon one morning and that. Was. That. And everybody told me it was a PHASE! Don’t worry about it! It’s a PHASE PHASE PHASE.
So it might be a phase. Unless we’re talking about Noah, who is currently attending his super-expensive fancy-ass summer camp, where one of his “Learning Goals” for the summer is to EAT WITH A SPOON.
So before we get to the finger food stuff, let me detail a couple things you should NOT do, when confronted with a spoon boycott:
1) DON’T FORCE IT. I admit I was terribly guilty of thinking that if I could just make Noah TRY what was on the spoon, he’d realize that he liked it. So I would wait until he was distracted and then shove the spoon in his mouth. Yeah. Brilliant parenting, there. Didn’t solve anything, made it worse, totally duh-ville move.
2) Resist the packaged foods of convenience. Once the spoon was out, I admit I really lacked any creative thinking when it came to alternative foods. So…okay, have some Cheerios. Have some cereal puffs. Have some crackers shaped like bunnies. If it came out of a box or was sold in the baby aisle, it became a diet staple, and I simply stopped challenging Noah’s palette all together. Because why would he eat steamed vegetables when he KNEW I had a container of puffed rice snacks that contained a ton of sugar (and a few stray atoms of dehydrated sweet potato, which TOTALLY made them healthy)? And why would I waste PRECIOUS SECONDS steaming veggies in the microwave when I know he’d just reject them? I have a container of sweet potato puffs! Done! In hindsight, I should have kept pushing the steamed and fresh fruits and vegetables, because he STILL won’t touch them.
3) Remember that solid food is still only practice food, for now. Up until 12 months, breastmilk and formula is your baby’s primary source of nutrition. Obviously we want them to eat a range of good, healthy, wholesome “real” foods as well, but if you’re concerned that he’s not eating enough and going hungry, up his milk/formula consumption while you figure out a new approach to solids. (The waking at night could be caused by a number of other things around nine months: teeth, growth spurt, etc. And for some reason sleep goes downhill in the days right before a baby masters a new skill like crawling or cruising, and will then regulate itself again afterwards.)
Okay. So. Ezra does not yet reject the spoon outright, but he is MUCH more enthusiastic about self-feeding. And he wanted to self-feed long before he had the coordination and skills to actually get much food in his mouth. But with practice, they get it, and they can get it fairly quickly. So let your baby feed himself as much as possible and you’ll see improvements and a good pincher grasp in no time. To cut down on looooooong messy marathon meals, put him in the high chair between meals for extra finger food snacks. That can cut down on your worry that he’s not getting enough WITHOUT having to spend another 20 minutes trying to ensure that the ratio of food on the floor vs. food in the mouth is even.
Here’s some of the finger foods we’ve had success with (of course ALL of this stuff is fed while he is sitting, closely supervised and cut up into appropriate sizes) (oh, and he has two top and two bottom teeth, for reference):
* Sweet potato, baked until soft but not mushy (I make one big one so I have leftovers)
* Defrosted fruit purees spread on bread (like jelly)
* Single servings of frozen veggies, steamed in the micro or boiled for a few seconds in Baby’s Veggie Stock (from Cooking For Baby). I like the peas-carrots-green bean medleys and broccoli florets.
* Fresh or frozen spinach, steamed and rolled up into little mushy balls — it sort of sticks together and to little fingers
* Polenta (we get the semi-solid tubes of it, though it does contain salt)
* Small pastas like orzo, elbows, cut-up rotini (a dusting of Parmesan cheese or breadcrumbs makes them easier to grip)
* Meatballs (there’s a recipe in Cooking For Baby that I modify a little and then I freeze them and reheat one or two per meal, cut up nice and small) (excellent for hiding leftover veggie purees!)
* All kinds of torn-up waffles and pancakes (again, Cooking for Baby has recipes that hide fruits and vegetable purees in them)
* Mini pita rounds with hummus or other spreads
* Hard-boiled egg yolks (crumbly and messy, but he LOVES them) (He’s officially a better eater than I am, because YUCK)
* Very ripe fruit, bananas, peaches, pears, etc. (I tried dusting these in crushed-up Cheerios at first but didn’t really notice that it made them any easier to eat. Mostly just made more of a mess.)
* Disaster risotto (we made it for ourselves but overcooked it — I pounded it flat on a baking sheet, covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated it, and the next day it was solid enough to cut into small squares and serve — am going to try it again on purpose with some brown rice next time)
* Pizza crust snacks (Whole Foods sells this frozen pizza dough? That I twist into little breadstick shapes, brush with olive oil and bake? And the result are these awesome little chewy snacks that are good for gumming and teething? WHO AM I AND WHERE ARE MY SWEET POTATO PUFFS?)
Anyway, I’m sure I’ve forgotten something, and I’m sure there are lots of other great ideas that our intrepid commenters will provide — the key really is to look at EVERYTHING you eat as a potential finger food, maybe with just some modifications, and get creative. Feed, supervise, remain on high choking alert (with EVERYTHING, even the mushy stuff marketed for babies), experiment and HAVE FUN. If there’s anything better than watching your baby happily eat vegetables from a spoon, it’s watching him eat broccoli with his hands, by his own choice, and then bang on the tray to demand MORE BROCCOLI.
(My current mission is to make something with Brussels sprouts that Ezra will eat, because I am insane.)