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Finger feeding

Some children struggle to move on to finger foods and can need a bit of extra encouragement. If your child is struggling, stat off with very soft food and make sure they’re not offered any food that’s unsafe for them to swallow.

If you’ve noticed them choke or you’re already being guided by our Feeding Team, please get in touch with our CYPIT team before you try any of the advice below.

If your child is struggling with finger foods, you’ll notice that they:

  • Will avoid picking up food or getting their hands messy
  • Have difficulty picking up food
  • Can’t or won’t eat lumpy food

There are a number of different techniques you can try to help your child develop finger feeding.

Movement skills

You can try:

  • Making sure they have head control and can sit unsupported before giving them finger foods. If they have special needs, make sure you have the right seating equipment
  • Making sure they can easily reach the finger foods and bring it up to their mouths on their own
  • Giving them food that’s the right size for their development level, e.g. younger children will use their whole hand to pick up food and will struggle with things like raisins

Sensory skills

You can try:

  • Letting them get messy and not wiping their hands unless their clearly unhappy
  • Reassuring them that the mess is okay and having a cloth nearby so they can wipe their hands if they want to
  • Using foods that don’t make much of a mess, e.g. baby bread sticks, rice cakes or dry cereal
  • Drying off fruit with a paper towel so it’s not as juicy or giving them cooked vegetables instead

Mouth skills

You can try:

  • Making sure they’re confident with pureed and lumpy foods first
  • Making sure they can move their tongue up and down and from side to side and spit out food if they’re not happy
  • Starting with ‘bite and dissolve’ foods first as these are safer
  • Making sure food is cut up properly so there’s no risk of them choking, e.g. cutting up tomatoes or grapes
  • Starting with toasted bread when they’re ready to try sandwiches as it’s less likely to get stuck to the roof of their mouth
Start off with soft finger foods that break up easily in their mouth, and ensure they are long enough to grip (about the size of your finger). 

First finger foods:

  • Soft cooked vegetables, e.g. potato, carrot, courgette, swede and broccoli
  • Ripe peeled soft fruit e.g. pear, avocado, nectarine and banana
  • Hardboiled eggs
  • Cheese
  • Soft cooked pasta
  • Maize snacks

As they become more confident, try:

  • Soft cooked meat and fish (avoid processed meat such as ham or sausages as these can be high in salt)
  • Breadsticks and crackers
  • Toast and pitta bread

 

Avoid chunks of hard fruit and veg such as raw apple or carrot: try grating this instead. Avoid whole grapes and small hard foods such as nuts or popcorn as these can be a choking hazard. Provide plenty of fresh plain water, from a beaker or cup with a free-flow lid.

If you’ve tried all of these techniques and they can’t use their hands to eat finger foods or hold a beaker to lift it to their mouth by twelve months, or if they dislike certain food textures such as lumps, please speak to your health visitor.

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