One of the most counterintuitive aspects of baby led weaning was the fact that babies need large pieces of food in the beginning, and smaller ones later on.
Until babies have mastered the pincer grasp (the ability to pick up a small object with a thumb and index finger), larger slices of food make eating an easier task. At around 8-12 months, the pincer grasp develops and you’ll find your little one will prefer smaller pieces of food to show off their new skill set. Until then, food that can be held in their fist with some of the food exposed to eat is actually the perfect size.
But “small” and “big” are pretty vague directives, so here’s some go-to tips on how to cut and serve food for little fingers just starting their baby led weaning journey. Sometimes just offering a child a previously rejected food prepared in a new way keeps their exploring minds engaged — and less likely to become “bored” with a food that they’ve gotten used to as they get older.
Keep the skin on.
Slippery foods like bananas and avocados are popular “starting” foods because they are easy (no cooking needed!), healthful and naturally tender. However, they are also extremely slippery and babies can become frustrated when their attempts to pick it up fail or when their hands become too dirty (a problem a couple of my daughter’s friends have, ha!). Cut a banana so there is a “handle” of skin, or leave the skin of avocados on. Just make sure to wash the skin well whether or not you’ve bought organic food. Your baby has a natural ability to quickly learn what is and isn’t edible — you’ll be surprised at how quickly they spit out the skin!
Cut crayon-sized strips.
Whether it’s meat, bread, veggies or fruit — try cutting strips about the size of a large Crayola crayon. The crayons are perfectly sized for little hands, so it’s an easy way to remember a good starting size when slicing up things to eat. Too long or thick, and it can be “too much” for little hands, making them reject the food (AKA you thinking your darling simply hates carrots!). Too short or thin, and it can disappear into their fists, making it also difficult to eat. Crayon size is perfect — enough to hold onto and eat at the same time!
If it’s hard, cut it thin. If it’s soft, cut it thick.
Their little gums are surprisingly strong — my daughter didn’t have teeth until 15 months and tore into steak, apples and lettuce. You’d be surprised at what they can do, and how neat it is to watch your 7 month old pull food out of her mouth because she knows she put in too much. However, I always felt a bit safer cutting an apple into thin, quarter inch sized slices instead of big wedges while she was still flashing her sweet gummy smile. For softer foods like avocados, however, I tried to keep the wedges no thinner than the thickness of a large crayon so it didn’t fall apart too easily. Stems of broccoli, lightly steamed, are also the perfect size for little fists to grab a stem and munch on the soft top.
If I’m not cutting easy-to-hold strips, I will often use a crinkle cutter to create some texture. The waves seem to make it a bit easier for their little hands to grasp. Also, I’ve occasionally rolled slippery mango or avocado in chia seeds, making it a tad easier to pick up (although beware, it’s messy!).
Offer opportunities to practice their pincer grasp.
Every now and then, even before her grasp was developed, I’d throw some blueberries or peas or diced chicken on her plate to let her start playing around with smaller pieces of food. Remember the difference between choking vs. gagging and continue to avoid round, hard foods like whole grapes, nuts and cherry tomatoes….but small blueberries, peas or diced yams are great ways to start on smaller whole foods. I typically cut anywhere from a Cheerio-sized bite to a penny — small enough to reduce choking but large enough to grasp with unrefined motor skills!