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The ten most nutritious finger foods for babies, according to a child nutrition expert.

Finger foods – when should they be introduced?  A common question that so many parents ask. I see many families in my clinic who have fussy eaters, and one of the contributing factors is often the delayed introduction of lumpier textures and finger foods, as fear of choking often prevents well-meaning mums and dads from introducing their babies to these types of foods.

Offering your child finger foods early in the solids journey brings with it many benefits – including improved oral motor development, which impacts the ability to eat and chew.  Other benefits include improved early speech development and improved fine motor skill development given the increased handling of the food.

Providing finger foods helps to encourage exploration through seeing, touching, tasting and smelling of food, and needless to say little ones thrive off the sense of independence and control that this allows. Some babies refuse spoon-feeding, and finger foods are often a successful solution.

In keeping with the recommendations, I do advise parents to serve finger foods alongside purees in the early stages, especially purees which contain iron, as finger foods are more likely to be explored (squashed and squished) than eaten. Patience, persistence and tolerance of mess is key.

When it comes to making the most nutritious finger food choices for the youngest members of one’s family, it’s important to introduce them to a variety of nutritious wholefoods, rather than refined or processed baby snacks such as sweetened crackers or teething rusks. These early food choices can help shape taste-bud preferences and train little appetites to enjoy the delicious tastes of natural, unprocessed foods.

Ten delicious and nutritious finger foods for babies:

1. Berries – Blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and strawberries are rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals and are an excellent nutrient boost for babies as they help to oxygenate the blood and boost the immune system. However, they can present a choking hazard if offered whole. Instead, add to smoothies and freeze into ice trays or popsicle moulds. Not only will they keep your baby entertained, they are also really soothing for sore gums.

Berries are an excellent nutrient boost for babies. Images supplied.
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2. Sweet root veggies baked into wedges with a chip shaped handle - Sweet potatoes are perfect first foods as they contain vitamins, minerals and are high in fibre. They help to stabilise blood sugar levels and keep little stomachs feeling fuller for longer.  You could also include pumpkin and parsnip. See our sweet potato wedges recipe.

3. Wild Salmon - Rich in Omega-3s, a powerful anti-inflammatory and brain boosting oil for babies. Babies whose diets are rich in these oils may suffer from fewer infections, can display enhanced brain function and improved vision. Wild salmon, along with sardines are our favourite choice as they are free from antibiotics and GM feed. If wild salmon is too hard to source or too expensive to include, choose wild canned salmon or sardines in springwater.  They are not only a fantastic source of omega 3’s, but also high in calcium. Grilled, baked or pan- fried, be sure to include fish right from the start to ensure your baby develops a taste for it.  Popular finger food recipes include mini salmon quiches, tasty salmon and millet rissoles, or simply baked.

Popular finger food recipes include mini salmon quiches (pictured on right) and tasty salmon and millet rissoles (pictured on left). Images supplied.

4. Avocado - Nutrient dense and delicious, avocados contain healthy fats and are incredibly filling for little tummies. It can be offered as whole chunks, mushed slightly or added to smoothies and homemade popsicles. Babies tend to love avocado simply on its own. It’s also a perfect spread for toast fingers or whole grain crackers, making them more nutritious and filling.

5. Mango and mango pips – In fact, all soft seasonal fresh local fruit are a nutritious option. However, mango is a clear winner and one of the most widely consumed fruits, rich in vitamin K, beta carotene and fibre. The first time I offered my son a mango pip, it was amazing to see and hear his squeals of delight as he had his first taste of this sweet fruit. The reason why I love mango pips is they pose no choking hazard and it gives time poor mums a chance to gobble down their lunch or enjoy a calming cup of tea. It can keep babies entertained for ages.

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6. Grass fed beef or lamb – Both a rich source of iron and immune boosting zinc. Iron rich foods are especially important for breastfed babies from around six months onwards. Grass fed meat also contains higher amounts of vitamin A, vitamin E, (CLA) and Omega 3’s, important for immune health and cognitive development. You could offer as cooked beef strips, lamb cutlets, lamb koftas, or beef and veggie meatballs.

Lamb koftas are iron rich, which is especially important for breastfed babies from around six months onwards. Image supplied.

7. Wholegrain sourdough toast fingers – Babies love sucking on toast fingers, be sure to choose a preservative- free variety which is low in sodium. When choosing your baby’s bread, the word whole grain should appear first on the ingredients list, the label should state at least 2g of dietary fibre per serving and if the ingredient panel contains more than 4-6 ingredients, I’d suggest choosing a different option.  Avoid bread with added gluten, sugar and anything with high sodium (more than 400mg per 100g).  Avoid likely GM additives such as canola oil and soy lecithin. Some bread contains calcium propionate which is not suitable for infants. I feature a simple, delicious and nutritious Gluten-free Yoghurt Bread recipe on page 55 of my book.

8. Bliss balls – Basic bliss balls which blend dates, seeds, nuts and chia seeds are a powerhouse of healthy fats and nutrients for babies and an excellent finger food. No need to add any sugar. The dates are sweet enough!! They are also very high in omega-3s, magnesium, fibre, iron, potassium, and protein. A fantastic idea is to blend baby’s first bliss ball with added veggies, as I do in this beetroot and spinach bliss balls recipe.

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9. Eggs – A great source of high quality protein, providing growing bodies with essential amino acids. They are one of the few foods that naturally contain vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium and supports proper bone growth and development. A perfect first food for babies, as long as they do not have an egg allergy! Offer boiled, scrambled or as an omelette and cut up into small triangles. Other suitable options include French toast, mini quiches, slices, frittatas, veggie muffins and sweet potato pikelets.

Image supplied.

10. Hormone and antibiotic-free chicken – Chicken is a valuable source of protein and the dark meat (such as the thigh or drumstick) is best for babies as it’s higher in iron and more tender than the white breast meat. See our popular chicken drumstick casserole with orange and thyme recipe. It’s important to remove all bones before serving.  All chicken, unless certified organic, can be treated with antibiotics - even free-range chicken - so I always encourage my clients to purchase organic as much as possible.

*It’s important to never leave your child alone when they are eating, in case of choking.

Visit the Wholesome Child website to learn more about Mandy Sacher.  Her book “Wholesome Child: A Complete Nutrition Guide and Cookbook” is available to purchase online and through iTunes here.  Connect with her on Instagram and Facebook.  If you’d like more practical advice on first foods, then you may be interested in Mandy’s workshop: Introducing Solids the Wholesome Way.  For more information contact Mandy Sacher.

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