10 of the Best Finger Foods for Toddlers

by Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD on December 3, 2010

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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?

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{ 42 comments… read them below or add one }

goodfountain December 4, 2010 at 10:02 pm

I think Cheerios make a good finger food.

My younger daughter did not like any babyfood-style food. No cereals of any sort, nothing pureed. Around 8 months she started eating Cheerios and b/w 8 and 10 months that was her only solid food. Cheerios and breastmilk. Then she started eating more. All regular table food. She totally skipped the babyfood thing. I was kinda worried at the time, but she was growing fine and it’s not like I could force her to eat the other stuff.

But because of that -I think of Cheerios as the perfect finger food. :)

Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD December 6, 2010 at 10:36 pm

Some babies are just not into puree food. Cheerios is great. My kids still eat it!

cathy February 15, 2011 at 2:33 pm

Quick question…I have a 15month old infant…is it possible for him to choke on peas???

Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD February 16, 2011 at 9:10 am

Cathy — peas, especially when they are cooked and soft enough, are not usually considered a choking hazard. In general, foods bigger than a pea need to be cut up. Grapes and hotdogs that are bigger, round and hard are choking hazards.

Amy Philip April 21, 2011 at 5:44 pm

This is the BEST list of toddler-friendly foods I’ve found!! So many websites are not mentioning foods like fish, eggs and kidney beans. My daughter just turned 1 and she eats a wide variety of foods. She will eat anything!! Thank you for adding the info about serving vitamin c rich foods with beans to increase iron absorption. Good to know! :)

Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD April 22, 2011 at 7:36 am

Thanks Amy!!

Absara September 15, 2011 at 1:18 am

A great help! My son just turned 1 two weeks ago. Since my mom won’t come for babysitting anymore, I desperately need more help!!!! So good to find this website….Still need helps though.

Mama Belfy October 9, 2011 at 7:46 pm

Great list! Meat is always a struggle for my 14 month old. I saute ground beef ahead of time. When cooled I refridgerate. When completely cooled I crumble it inside a ziplock and freeze.

When I need a quick lunch for Jace I heat a couple of tablespoons of meat with some grated cheese the spread onto bread. Fold and dice it up viola! Cheeseburger sandwich. Some sliced carrots and diced banana and avocado and we are good to go!

Cari October 17, 2011 at 3:23 pm

I would add tofu, especially Trader Joes Teriyaki Tofu!

Lacy April 17, 2012 at 12:30 pm

GREAT list! I hadn’t thought of grating apples.

My daughter LOVES avocados. She would eat an entire one at every meal if I let her! I didn’t know that they helped with iron absorption from beans, but that is great news, because she loves beans, too.

Charmaine June 6, 2012 at 3:32 am

I am a mother of 2 my eldest is 2 and my baby is a year old both my kids were born at the same weight, but we had problems with my one year old since birth she kept throwing up her fomula milk and refused breast milk even after I had pumped out and bottled it, my grandmother told me to try cows milk I had to boil it with brown sugar and finally she whas drinking milk I knew the milk wasn’t feeding her so I started with baby cereal. We went to a clinic to have both my girls checked out my eldest had tonsolites and they couldn’t find the problem with my baby, they sent us to the nearest hospital. The sister at the clinic said my baby was criticaly under weight and that she needs to get to a hospital now, after an hour they found that she had a bit of an ear infection. My worry is that she is still very tiny and weighs 8kg’s. I am sceard my baby is underdoveloped although she is a very happy and energetic child, but I don’t want her to grow into a eating disorder as she doesn’t want to be fed and eats very little when feeding herself. Please I am desperate and need help.

Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD June 7, 2012 at 7:46 am

Charmaine — you really need to see a pediatric dietitian or feeding specialist. Ask your doctor for a rerferal and visit eatright.org. Professional help in this case is key!

sami Ross July 2, 2012 at 1:50 am

Hi Ms. Jacobsen!

This is so good news to my 1 and 9month old daughter….

thanks.

Jennifer August 4, 2012 at 4:13 pm

I like to spread a tiny bit of peanut butter onto whole wheat toast and then cut it into strips. Is it safe to feed that to my 1 year old? Also, another quick lunch we do often is a chicken and cheese quesadilla on whole wheat and corn tortillas. Thanks for the great tips!

Ayanda Mcpholo September 28, 2012 at 8:09 am

Hi I would like to know if children under six months can be fed soft porridge made from mealie meal.My mom is giving it to my nephew and my sister throws a tantrum about it everyday so I would like to know if it is a danger to my nephews health.Thanks

Cathy September 28, 2012 at 9:38 am

Ayanda, how old is the child? Usually, no food until 6 months old. It used to be 4 months old but I believe they have not moved the age to 6 months old. Baby’s system is not ready for food at an early age. I think you can google some research studies…or consult a pediatrician.

Ayanda Mcpholo September 29, 2012 at 6:51 am

The child is four Months old.Thanks Cathy for replying:)

Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD September 29, 2012 at 7:46 am

The GI tract is ready for solids by 4 months (for term babies) but that is only part of the story. Single grain cereals are fine and that sounds like what this is. Babies also need to be developmentally ready for solids and by 4 months many are not. They should be able to sit in a hairchair, hold their head up and show interest and be able to let you know when they’ve had enough. Most major organizations recommend exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months so there are advanages (decreased infections etc.) to waiting to around 6 months. Whether or not it is safe for the baby to eat this, it really is up to your sister when to decide when to start solids. Good luck!

sami Ross October 12, 2012 at 2:51 am

Hi Ms. Maryann,

I really wanted to know if my/a 2 year-old has to experience bad bowel, if it is normal for her/their age. because my 2 yr-old daughter experienced this kind of bad bowel like sticky and watery… Oh, I really wanted to know if how am I going to deal with it…if this harmful or not or is it normal or part of her stage…pls tell/help me about this…what are the foods essential to her health….

Thanks a lot…

Sami Ross

Sujata November 18, 2012 at 5:47 am

The list is really exhaustive, thanks. I have a few questions that keep bothering me. My mother-in-law lives with us and irrespective of how I feel she feeds certain food items to my 20 month old boy. I want to know if they are good source of vitamins and minerals for my baby.
Potato, grapes, spicy food, white rice and white bread, chicken pieces (not grounded).

Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD November 19, 2012 at 8:18 am

Sujata — Grapes are a choking hazard so make sure they are cut and not served whole. Potatoes are fine (good source of potassium) and if your son accepts spicy foods go for it, especially if that matches your family’s food preferences. Kid are much more accepting when they are under 2 years of age and it’s a good time to get in a variety of flavors and spices. Chicken is a good source of iron just make sure it is soft and not served in big chunks. Of course whole grains are more nutritious than refined (white bread) but some int he diet is fine. Good luck with your mother-in-law….I know it can be challenging.

Danilsa Geronimo November 25, 2012 at 7:18 pm

My son turned 1 just 2 months ago, he does not want baby food since he was like 8 or 9 months old, but now he does not want to eat variety of food, how can I reintroduce nutritve food for him?

Danilsa Geronimo November 25, 2012 at 8:16 pm

My son is 14 months, he does not want baby food since he was 9 months old, usually he ate well, but now he refuse to eat variety of food, please advise me how can I reintroduce nutritive food to my toddlers?

DeAnna Bush January 1, 2013 at 9:56 pm

My son recently turned 16 months and still eats baby food (stage 3 beechnut brand). He has become so selective with what table foods he’d actually will eat. He does love broccoli and rice and chicken when he’s in the mood. He will eat bananas and grapes. Other than that his diet has caused me to become uneasy. The doctors advise that he is a healthly 28lb 35 in baby boy and quite strong if you ask me. Breakfast and lunch foods seem to b the most difficult to get him to eat. If it has a bit of texture he’s spitting it out. HELP! How can I get my son to eat table foods and retire the baby foods for good?!

Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD January 6, 2013 at 8:47 am

While it’s hard to tell for sure, a red flag for feeding is a child who doesn’t accept table foods by 16 months. I highly recommend not pushing the issue with him as it can create long-term food aversions. Provide the food in a relaxing and supportive atmosphere and he will do better with eating. I also recommend you have him evaluated by a speech or occumpational therapist who specializes in feeding issues to rule out any problems. Good luck!

Heather Johnson January 9, 2013 at 12:38 pm

This is one of the first sites that I’ve EVER found where the author of the articles (who also happens to be a professional on the topic) actually responds to reader comments. This is an OUTSTANDING article and a very helpful, wonderful website. Mrs. Jacobsen, keep up the good work for parents like me who need your advice! :)

Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD January 11, 2013 at 5:36 pm

Thank you Heather. This made my day!

Nicole January 16, 2013 at 10:18 pm

I have twin boys who are about to turn 3 and one of them is a very picky eater. He always prefers sweet foods, such as peanut butter and jelly, fruit and yogurt. If I don’t serve him something he likes, he won’t eat anything at all. Lately I haven’t been able to get him to eat his vegetables, any meat and most dinner foods I prepare. Any tips on how to get him to try new foods and to like vegetables again?

misty January 23, 2013 at 6:14 pm

.Is my 13 month old aloud to have stuff w peanut butter in it ???

Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD January 24, 2013 at 1:00 pm

The AAP no longer recommends waiting to introduce food allergens, like peanuts, but chunks of peanut butter is a choking risk. Just watch for signs of allergies if your child eats something with peanut butter/

shivam February 21, 2013 at 3:17 am

this is a important site for me i can adopt many ideas from this site.

Leanne February 27, 2013 at 4:59 am

My daughter is 16 months and is a nightmare to feed. She eats very little at every meal and rarely eats anything that I have prepared for her. I buy fresh meat and vegetables and spend hours cooking and freezing dinners for her but she wont touch them, instead she nibbles from our plate which I know is very bad. I have put her on multi-vitamins to try boost her system.
The only food I can get her to eat without a fight is cheesy scrambled egg – after reading your recommendations I am going to try her with eggs and spinach and she also loves raisins. But I would like to know what I can do about her not eating a full meal. I have spoken with the doctor who said this is fine and quite normal, she said that eventually my daughter will eat properly, but I don’t like to think of her been undernourished in the meantime.
Your help is appreciated :)

Carrie March 6, 2013 at 1:51 am

Thanks for such a helpful article!

My 16-month old has recently become very picky with what he will eat. He no longer wants to be fed and prefers to feed himself, so I’m always on the lookout for new ideas when it comes to finger-foods.

One thing he really loves is a big chunk of banana (like 1/3 of a banana at a time) that he can nibble on. I will also give him a small, peeled apple and he really likes that.

Just as an FYI — sweet potatoes can also be peeled, cut into bit-size chunks and then boiled until soft (instead of the microwave method mentioned here).

Also, I’ve read that, when serving meat to little ones, it’s best to not include cheese because calcium can hinder iron absorption.

If some finger-foods (like sweet potatoes) are too slippery for them to pick up, you can roll them in wheat germ (which is very healthy) to help give it some texture and make it easier for them to grab onto.

Eddie March 23, 2013 at 4:57 pm

i give my 9moth cerelac infant cereal, but dont know if i should continue. Though he dats any tin u give him

Tracy Reynolds June 2, 2013 at 9:30 pm

Thank you so much! My daughter is a year and we have been terrified about what we can feed her, this has been a big help!

Mrs. Black July 30, 2013 at 2:30 pm

I lightly toast a slice of whole wheat bread, spread low fat butter on it and then cut the slice into little strips. The whole wheat provides much needed fiber, and the butter provides energy. My 9-month old loves it so much…I don’t mind having to clean up after she butters up everything with her little hands, because I know she’s eating.

Fina November 7, 2013 at 5:23 pm

Thank you for writting such a great article that attracts such a responsive auduience.

FYI- We do a scrammbled egg with rice to round out my daughter’s breakfast. She loves it.

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Rhea December 17, 2013 at 1:46 pm

My 18 mo old refuses meats, fish, beans, peanut butter, and eggs. She will occasionally eat cheese. We feed her yogurt every morning, but she is getting frustrated with being spoon fed. She doesn’t like cereal either. Basically, she’ll eat fruit, some vegetables, and milk. I am concerned she is missing out on protein and iron. Any suggestions?

Aacia January 30, 2014 at 6:40 pm

Thanks so much. I have a shopping list now. My Granddaughter is lactose intolerant so it’s a challenge to come up with snack foods. If anyone else is in the same boat “Liddells” dairy products have been a life saver. They have a range of lactose free milk, butter substitute, cheese and yoghurt. I usually find them in the cold section at Coles.

Stacy February 4, 2014 at 8:17 pm

My new thing I’ve been giving my 1yr old daughter is strawberry cream cheese on a bagel. There are so many other flavors I haven’t even tried yet. This list was very helpful as well as everyone else’s suggestions. We all know what it is like to get in a rut with what to feed our kids.

Bettsy April 15, 2014 at 1:11 pm

Great blog and great questions from readers! This has been helpful, I have a 15 month old boy who is also still eating jarred baby food in spite of our trying to give him what we’re eating first…90% of the time he just picks at “our” food so we end up heating a jar. He’s about 80cm and 25lbs, it freaks me out when I change his bum and he can suck his stomach WAY in, makes me think he’s too skinny. He’s had scrambled egg a few times but it’s like if he has something a few times, he loses interest. I’m going to try baked sweet potato tonight. I just think he must be bored getting the same things all the time…

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