Changing Colors: The Blog of Spectrum Pediatrics

June 13, 2014

Finger Food Fun – How To Help Your Child Learn to Self-Feed

By: Heidi Liefer Moreland, MS, CCC-SLP, BRS-S, CLC

Would you like to have your children feed themselves table foods?  Here are some strategies and ideas!  This process can be part of Baby-Led Weaning for a typically developing child, but it may also be used to teach food exploration for children who are reluctant to eat for sensory reasons or have a history of feeding tube-dependency.

1.  “Food Toys” – Begin with foods that are less likely to break.  This allows your child to work on hand to mouth movements, introduces textures and flavors, but doesn’t require any significant skills yet.  Try all foods in your own mouth first.  If you can clamp down with your lips covering your teeth and break it by bending it, you need to choose another food.   The foods listed below are “food toys,” that aid in starting mouth skills and acceptance; your child is not expected to consume them at this stage.

  • Celery sticks
  • Bagels
  • Pizza crust
  • Bell pepper strips
  • Orange slices (bigger pieces, not sections, we don’t want them to push the whole thing in at once)
  • Pickle spears
  • Beef jerky

2.  Mashable foods – Once your child is more comfortable with hand-to-mouth movements, some textures, and some flavors, you can begin introducing foods that will be easier to actually consume.  Choose foods that are easy to pick up, yet are mashable in the mouth without teeth.  Start with simple fruits and vegetables to introduce single flavors (Note: make sure there are no allergies!).  Pieces should be big enough to pick up easily with some protruding out of their hand, yet small enough that they can hold them with one hand.  A kid-sized marker is a good example of the appropriate size.  Nonetheless, some foods will need to be a little fatter to keep them from breaking too easily or providing your child with a good grip on the food.


  • Banana
  • Baked apple or pear slices
  • Ripe melon strips
  • Papaya or mango chunks


  • Baked sweet potato logs
  • Baked carrots (such as those served with stew)
  • Avocado
  • Steamed broccoli
  • Boiled or steamed zucchini
  • Baked butternut or acorn squash logs
  • Pickles
  • Steak fries or baked potato logs
  • Hash brown patties or potato pancakes

Breads and starches:

  • Muffins
  • Pancakes
  • Zucchini, pumpkin or banana bread
  • Soft cereal bars
  • Bread sticks
  • Bagels

Proteins: (Note: Many types of meat are fibrous and can’t be consumed easily without teeth.  Meat that is more processed has the fibers broken down. Also, vegetarian products are plant based, so obviously they don’t contain the meat fibers.)

  • Fish sticks (Not too crispy!)
  • Sausage patties (Not too crispy!)
  • Black bean burgers
  • Soy burgers or nuggets
  • Chicken or turkey (If it has been cooked in soup or stew, it may be tender enough.)

3.  Protecting the Airway – Remember, your child is learning to manage the foods in his/her mouth.  It is an important safety lesson for them to push foods out that are too big.  That does not mean they don’t like the food; it means they are learning how to keep their airway open and safe.  If they look frightened or seem to have difficulty managing a piece, SHOW them how to push it out, preferably with the same kind of food they have.

4. Enjoy food – Let your children enjoy foods at their own pace with their own agenda.  Many people find that they can give some table foods to allow their children to participate in the family mealtime if the child is on a different meal schedule.  This also allows you to be nearby in case they run into trouble, yet the adults are not scrutinizing them by staring during the entire dinner, which adds an adult-driven agenda to the meal.  Don’t be discouraged if feeding is difficult and doesn’t happen right away.  All development takes time!  In the meantime, continue with nursing, bottle-feeding, or puree presentations as their mouth skills for solids develop.  It will take time before they are efficient enough with table foods for any significant calorie consumption.

Check out this video, which gives you a good example of how to start with your little one!

Safety note:  Avoid reaching in to take a piece of food out of your child’s mouth; you are more likely to push it further back.  If they really appear to have a piece in their airway, the best way to dislodge it is to turn them face down over your lap with their face down and their feet up.  This allows gravity to dislodge the piece.

See the American Red Cross website for CPR information and classes near you.

Photo 1, Photo 2, Photo 3


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