Do you hate mess? I do. I had a whole system down to feed my first baby, Teddy. I’d put down an old bath towel, bring the food out, then bring Teddy out.
Even though it was not my favorite, the more I learned about sensory development, the more I realized that mess, especially with food, is a necessary part of babies learning about food and their environment.
And now as a dietitian who works with babies and toddlers, one of the things I always encourage parents is to allow their babies to self-feed, which is messy.
It can be a little nerve-wracking to get started with, too. When are they ready? What can they feed themselves? How do you serve it? I’ll be answering all those questions, plus giving you my top easy (and healthy) ideas for baby to self-feed.
In this article 📝
- When are babies ready to self-feed?
- What can babies feed themselves?
- What if they don’t have any teeth?
- Healthy and easy choices for baby to self-feed
- How to steam-roast veggies for a 6 to 9 month old
- Adapt food size as baby develops
- More ideas for healthy foods baby can self-feed
When are babies ready to self-feed?
There’s no one age that is right for all babies. It depends on their own development and personality! Some babies show interest in feeding themselves right at 6 months; others are slower to gain interest and it’s closer to 8 or 9 months.
Neither way is wrong. I encourage you to provide opportunities for them to try it, but there’s no need to force it before they are ready.
Here are the signs of readiness and independence you’ll want to look for:
- Reaching for food or the spoon when you’re feeding them
- Trying to grab food off your plate
- The ability to bring objects to their mouth (like toys)
- The ability to sit on their own or with minimal assistance
What can babies feed themselves?
In general, avoid anything hard, crunchy, sticky, or chewy. Choose foods that are pureed or very soft.
To test for softness – see if you can smush the food between your fingers easily, or smush it with your tongue to the roof of your mouth.
What if they don’t have any teeth?
It’s not necessary for babies to have teeth in order to eat solids or progress past purees. If you put your finger between their gums where their molars will eventually pop up, you’ll see that it’s pretty strong. They can manage better than you’d think without any teeth.
Healthy and easy choices for baby to self-feed
- Banana slice coated in ground flaxseed.
- Orange wedges with a thin layer of almond butter.
- Steamed cauliflower florets tossed in avocado oil.
I love these options because combining fruits and veggies with fats is really beneficial for babies. Here’s why:
- It’s more filling when you add a fat, so they will be more satisfied after their meal.
- Babies have high energy needs; they triple their bodyweight in their first year of life!
- Fats add calories to the limited amount they can consume, which can help support their growth.
- Fat helps the body absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K. So without fat, they aren’t getting the full benefits of the vitamins they are eating.
- Fat is needed for neurological development and brain function. Do not be afraid of fat.
How to steam-roast veggies for a 6 to 9 month old
This is one of my favorite ways to cook veggies for babies!
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F
- Slice vegetables into sticks (about the width of 1-2 adult fingers)
- Toss veggies with avocado oil to fully coat
- Optional: stir in spices; some suggestions are garlic, onion, cinnamon, paprika, tumeric or curry powder. Not all together, of course!
- Add to sheet of heavy duty aluminum foil, and fold up so it’s fully closed
- Roast for 30-45 minutes or until soft
- Let cool and serve
Adapt food size as baby develops
When baby can use their pincer grasp (like they could pick up a crumb with their thumb and forefinger, usually around 9 months), then cut foods into small bite-sized pieces, like the size of a chickpea.
Still make sure that food is nice and soft.
More ideas for healthy foods baby can self-feed
Here are some other foods that both my kids fed themselves as babies.
- Easy blender banana oat pancakes
- No sugar added baked oatmeal bars
- Steam roasted carrot wedges tossed in peanut butter and cinnamon
- Avocado slices tossed in ground chia seeds
- Spinach omelet strips
- Ricotta cheese spread on lightly toasted sourdough toast strips
- Roasted salmon with olive oil and lemon
- Shrimp sauteed with garlic and oil (remove tail and slice shrimp lengthwise)
You might notice that I have included some bold flavors, like lemon and garlic. Babies are great flavor explorers, so don’t be afraid to experiment! And if you’re nervous about introducing top allergens to your baby like peanut and fish, check out this post.
You’ve got this, mama.