Most children prefer to eat with their fingers by the time they reach their first birthday. While the mess is not easy to watch (or clean up), it’s good for toddlers’ development — and it frees up mom and dad to eat right along with their little ones.
While I’m still in the messy-eating toddler stage, I wanted to compile a list of my all time favorite finger foods. This list takes into account nutritional needs at this stage, appropriate textures and ease of preparation.
1. Sweet potatoes: High in both vitamins A and C, sweet potatoes pack a nutritional punch and sweet taste. To prepare, poke both sides of a washed potato several times with a fork. Cook in the microwave for 2-5 minutes on each side. Smaller potatoes take less time while bigger ones take more time.
When done cut the potato in half and let cool. Spoon out the soft insides and top with butter if desired. Cut into small pieces and serve.
2. Frozen peas: A good source of fiber and several vitamins and minerals including iron, green peas make a great food for growing toddlers. To prepare either cook according to the package directions or let the peas thaw on their own. It doesn’t get easier than this.
3. Soft meat: The American Academy of Pediatrics recently released a report saying 15% of kids under 3 don’t get enough ironwhich is essential during the first few years of life. It’s important to remember that the type of iron in meat is highly absorb-able making it an ideal food for little ones.
Tough meats are not only a choking hazard but are not appealing to small children. Try cooking meat in the slow cooker to keep it moist. Good choices include drumsticks, pork and ground meat.
4. Fish: A child’s developing brain needs essential fatssuch as omega-3s DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid). Since these fats mainly come from marine sources such as fish, it’s an important part of a toddler’s diet.
Try low mercury sources of fish like salmon, light canned tuna and tilapia, which are also soft and easy to break up into little pieces. You can also look for fish sticks made with salmon such as these from Happy Baby. For more on feeding kids fish safely, see Kids Safe Seafood.
5. Eggs:With high quality protein, iron, choline, B12, riboflavin and other key nutrients, eggs are the perfect food for toddlers. You can scramble them with added veggies like sautéed spinach and mushrooms or boil them ahead of time. Either way, eggs make a quick and nutritious protein source for growing children.
6. Soft fruit/veggies: Fruits and veggies make great additions to any meal. Cut soft and ripe fruit into small pieces. Make sure to include at least one vitamin C-rich fruit and veggie daily such as cantaloupe, papaya, mango, kiwi, broccoli, cauliflower and strawberries.
Steam veggies until they are soft and cut up into small pieces, season and serve. Make sure to include at least one vitamin A-rich veggie or fruit daily such as winter squash, carrots, cantaloupe, sweet potatoes and spinach.
7. Grated apple: Apples are usually left out of toddlers’ diet because of their hard texture. But by peeling the skin and grating apples, you get a nice finger food that, thanks to its soluble fiber content, helps boost kids’ immune systems.
8. Grated cheese: Add grated natural cheese to veggies, beans, eggs and fruit to round out a meal or snack. Cheese is a good source of protein and calcium and it contains fat which is especially needed the first 2 years of life.
9. Beans: Rich in protein, B vitamins, iron and fiber and easily picked up by little fingers, beans make an excellent substitute for meat at meals. Make sure they are soft and cut larger beans in half. Serve with avocado and a vitamin C-rich fruit or veggie to help increase the absorption of iron.
You can cook straight from the can or soak dried beans overnight and cook them in the crock pot. Either way, beans are so nutritious and filling, you’ll want them to be part of your child’s diet for years to come.
10. Whole grains: From pastas to iron-rich cereals (like Cheerios) and pieces of bread, there are many whole grain choices to include at mealtime. Remember that whole grains contain all parts of the grain including the germ and bran, which contain fiber and plenty of nutrition. Look for “whole grain” as the first ingredient and the Whole Grains Council stamp to let you know you have a winner.
And please don’t forget about choking hazards. For more info on feeding toddlers see my book: Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School.
So tell me, what are your favorite healthy and easy finger foods you feed your toddler?