Babies have a wonderful time learning to self-feed with finger foods, but there are a number of risks associated with finger foods. Follow this checklist for finger food safety to avoid putting your child at risk of choking.
Cook It Very Well
Adults prefer their vegetables with a little bit of crunch and their pasta al dente, but for a baby to eat these foods they must be a lot softer than how you might serve it on your own plate. Foods like peas, diced carrots, green beans, kernel corn, and potatoes all make excellent choices for finger foods, but need to be cooked until they are very soft. Gently squeeze a piece of the food between your thumb and forefinger. It should require very little force to break the piece down. Although this will also mean that your baby may accidentally crush it before getting it to her mouth, it’s better than trying to dislodge it from her airway. Pasta should also be cooked until it is very soft. Small pieces of meat can be served as finger food, but must be cooked until they are very tender.
Place the baby food in your mouth, and see how easily you can crush it without using your teeth. This is a good test of how well your baby will be able to mash it with her gums.
Cut It Small
Bites of finger foods should be small enough that they won’t become lodged in your baby’s throat, causing choking. Never serve baby a round food without cutting it up further. This applies to foods such as hot dogs, grapes, and other similarly shaped foods. Cheese is also a common choking hazard; cut it into small strips rather than chunks or cubes. Shredded cheese is a great idea for babies, but use shredder with large holes to make pieces big enough to grasp.
Serve It Slowly
Babies don’t always wait until they have swallowed before shoving more food in, which can cause choking due to too much food being in the mouth at once. Place only a few bites at a time in front of your baby to reduce the likelihood that he will cram too much into his mouth. Watch carefully, and remind him to chew and swallow before taking another bite.
Only At the Table!
Don’t let your baby run around with finger foods, or even crawl if he isn’t walking yet. Serve finger foods only at the table or in the high chair, where your baby will be focused on what he is doing and not on the move. Running with food in his mouth will increase the chances of food accidentally entering the airway rather than being swallowed. Keep feeding times calm and relaxed to make sure your baby eats at a reasonable pace.
Test It Before You Serve It
Just as you tested how cooked a food is with your fingers or mouth, you should test any new food you are thinking of offering to baby as a finger food. Make sure that your baby is capable of gumming the food, bearing in mind that he doesn’t have the molars to chew that you have. Even if you think it looks soft enough, it’s best to try it yourself. It also carries the bonus of checking cooked food for appropriate temperature.