By six or seven months most babies can use a whole hand to grab food and get it to their mouths. And once they can do this, they want to do it. Hand-to-mouth feeing prepares babies to spoon-feed themselves later, at about a year. If babies aren’t allowed to feed themselves with their fingers, they’re less likely to have the ambition to try the spoon.
The traditional first finger food is a crust of stale whole wheat bread or toast. A dry bagel is also great for sucking or chewing on, especially if a baby is teething. As the bread or toast softens gradually with their saliva, some of it rubs or dissolves off into their mouths, enough to make them feel they’re getting somewhere. Most of it, of course, ends up on their hands, faces, hair, and the furniture. Teething biscuits often contain extra sugar, that tends to makes babies crave sweets. It’s better to let your baby get used to liking things that aren’t so sweet.
By eight or nine months, most babies have developed enough hand coordination to pick up small objects with their fingers. At this point, you can start putting pieces of fruit or cooked vegetable and tofu chunks on your baby’s high chair tray, for her to pick up with her fingers. (This is also the age when you have to make sure your floors are free of possible choking hazards. A good rule of thumb is, if it can fit inside a toilet paper tube, it’s a choking hazard.)
Babies love being offered pieces of food from their parents’ plates. Some babies happily feed themselves, but refuse the same food if their parents try to feed it to them. Many babies like to cram everything into their mouths all at once. A good strategy is to offer such a baby only one piece of food at a time, in the beginning.
With or without teeth, by their first birthdays almost all babies can handle the same foods as the rest of the family, as long as the pieces are cut up small enough and hard foods that are choking hazards are avoided.