Whether you’re flying the baby-led weaning flag or going down the traditional weaning route, don’t dismiss the importance of finger foods. They are essential for your child’s development beyond basic nutrition! Read on to find out what finger foods do for your child.
WORDS CHIA YING MEI
Eating is such an ingrained part of our lives that we often forget that it is a learnt skill. It takes the average human two to three years to learn how to eat, and letting your baby explore different foods at a young age can accelerate your child’s accomplishment in this area. Most babies can sit up unassisted by around six to eight months, making this the perfect time to introduce finger foods. Not only will your child pick up the all-important skill of eating, finger foods will also aid in these developmental skills:
1. Oral Motor Development
Moving past purees and porridge (or completely skipping this stage, if you’re doing baby-led weaning) and introducing solids helps the muscles in their mouth develop.
Different textures will require your child to work the muscles in their jaw, lips and
tongue by chewing and biting. This strengthens their muscles, equipping your child with
the ability to handle an even wider range of textures and making them a better eater.
It’ll also make meal planning more interesting as you can feed your budding gourmet a greater variety of food and ensure they’re getting all the micronutrients they need.
2. Speech Development
Flexing those oral muscles doesn’t just help with eating. It also helps with healthy speech development. All these muscles are needed to vocalise different sounds. Chewing, for example, gives the tongue a good workout and enables your child to produce the “l” and “th” sounds. By using their lips to keep the food in their mouths, their lip muscles are strengthened which aids in creating the “b”, “p” and “m” sounds. Who knew that eating would help you talk to your child earlier?
3. Developing the Pincer Grip
One of the first fine motor skills your baby will display is the pincer grip, where they use their index finger and thumb to pick up a small item. Raisins and puffs are the perfect foods to entice them into practising the pincer grip, building up their control over the teensy muscles in their fingers. Being able to master the pincer grip is an important developmental milestone. Your baby will build upon this fine motor control to eventually develop more sophisticated skills such as feeding themselves, doing up the buttons on their clothes and painting.
4. Hand-Eye Coordination
All of us have some degree of hand-eye coordination, even the clumsiest among us. Your baby’s ability to put finger foods in their own mouth is simply the natural progression of their hand-eye coordination development. As a newborn, your baby begins by following objects as they come into their line of vision. Then, they’ll be able to swipe at and reach for objects such as rattles and move toys from one hand to the other. By the time they’re ready for finger foods, they’ll be able to pick up those delicious puffs and pop them into their mouth with increasing accuracy. Soon, they will be able to pick up spoons loaded with food and bring them to their mouths successfully.
5. Sensory Processing
Food isn’t just for nutrition at this age. It’s also a way to expose your child to different smells, textures and flavours. This can get a little messy as your little explorer will prod, squish, smell, throw, taste and smear the new foods all over themselves, their food tray and onto the floor. Hang in there!
Resist the temptation to continue spoon-feeding them.
This is an important part of their development as their brains
absorb all the new information they are presented with. This is known
as sensory processing and will improve their five sensory
skills as they discover new and exciting foods.
They’ll learn new tastes, feel different textures, smell delicious smells, listen to splats and see bright colours during their meals.
6. Less Fussy Eating
Which mother doesn’t want that Holy Grail – the child who is willing to eat everything? While there are no guarantees that you’ll be able to inculcate that ideal sort of openness and willingness to try in your child, it has been proven that you can reduce instances of fussy eating in the future by exposing your child to different foods at an early age. Babies have incredibly adaptable brains, a trait known as neuroplasticity. At six months of age, they are more likely to accept new and different tastes and textures so go ahead and let them try everything from sliced avocado to baked zucchini.