In my last post, we talked a bit about developmental readiness for weaning, espcially in the context of developmental delays and disabilities.
We’re going to expand today on the subject of finger foods, something that feeding-specialist Speech and Language Therapists talk about all the time!
This can be a bit of a complex topic, because, whilst the principles are the same, our advice might be a little different if your child has complex medical or developmental needs, compared to children with more typical developmental progress.
So, if you have a child with complex needs and you’re not sure, be sure to check with your own Speech and Language Therapist.
Baby-lead weaning is a big topic, and I’m not going to wade into it here, except to say that I do think it has got everyone feeling a bit differently about finger foods, and I think that overall, that is a good thing.
Adults tends to assume that there is a nice logical progression that goes smooth foods- lumpy foods-finger foods. In reality, when we ask children to learn to chew (one of the major oral-motor tasks of weaning), lumpy foods can give them mixed signals. They come on a spoon, great! I know what to do with these, I suck them. My tongue goes back and forth and – aargh, what is that lump, and why has it made me gag?
Dealing with lumpier foods is actually a really complex skill, you have to deal with the thinner smoother component by sucking, and sift out the lumps and deal with them by chewing.
When we give children finger foods, they can learn so many skills:
- Hand-eye co-ordination
- Fine motor skills
- Self-feeding (spoons are hard!)
- Biting skills (important for jaw skills, and therefore speech development)
- Tongue skills (moving foods from side to side)
In general, when it comes to teaching oral skill development, a finger food has many advantages over lumpier purees.
There is lots of good advice out there for good finger foods for children with typical development. (Try https://www.nhs.uk/start4life/choosing-first-foods). Don’t forget that your Health Visitor may have lots of good advice and resources too.
But maybe your child is higher risk for introducing finger foods because of medical or developmental issues? Maybe they have gagged a lot in the past? Maybe you or they are feeling anxious about finger foods?
Speech and Language Therapist’s go-to foods in these circumstances are ‘bite and dissolve’ finger foods. These are foods which will help your child along by dissolving on contact with saliva. This helps them practise skills, but reduces the risk of choking and gagging whilst they learn. What they are not is great all-round sources of nutrition. They are often relatively low calorie too, not great news if your child is struggling to gain weight. So if these things are a concern, your Speech and Language Therapist will run the recommendation past your Dietitian (I’ve never known one say ‘no’, yet!).
Some examples of bite and dissolve foods (not advertising here, there are lots of these about these days, these are just the ones that come up a lot in consultations):
- The Organix range of crisps that includes carrot sticks and sweetcorn rings
- Pombear crisps
- Heinz biscotti
If in doubt, buy some and see how long they take to dissolve in your mouth. Some take longer than others. Rice cakes, whilst they feel like they should fit in this category, are not bite and dissolve. Remember also that they need to be big enough for your little one to hold and bite through too, an important skill. When we give small children tiny cut-up pieces, we’re actually making it harder for them to gain control of these with their tongue.
Does your child have any favourite bite and dissolve foods? Spread the news below. And don’t forget that if you have anything you’d like to read about here, let me know in the comments below.
Posts from ‘Find the Key Speech Therapy’ are intended for information. They are not intended to, and cannot take the place of advice from an appropriately qualified Speech and Language Therapist who knows your child and their circumstances. ‘Find the Key Speech Therapy’ does not take responsibility for the use of any advice without appropriate professional guidance.