06 Oct 10 Protein-Rich Finger Foods for Baby-Led Weaning
When your baby is starting solids it’s tempting to stick with fruits, vegetables, and grains like cereals or toast. But, babies need other nutrients, like protein and fat in their diets too. These mostly single-ingredient, protein-rich finger foods are an easy place to start.
There are good reasons to add protein-rich foods to your little one’s daily diet, beyond, well, the protein. First, if your little one is breastfeeding, at about six months she will need added sources of iron and zinc in her diet. (Formula is fortified, so if your baby is formula-feeding, this is less of a concern.) Iron and zinc are both crucial minerals for your baby. Iron allows blood cells to carry oxygen to muscles and organs and is key for brain development. Zinc is important for a strong immune system.
And, many protein-rich foods also happen to be good sources of iron and zinc, such as tofu, lentils, beef, chicken, and eggs. Keep in mind that the iron and zinc from animal sources is more easily absorbed than that from plant sources.
Protein-rich foods, especially dairy products, can also be full of beneficial fats (which babies need for vitamin absorption, satiety, and brain development) and other nutrients like calcium and Vitamin D. Just a reminder that babies shouldn’t drink cow’s milk as a primary beverage until age 1, but it’s a-ok to serve them yogurt and cheese.
Finally, when your baby is starting solids she’s also taste-training. If you introduce meat and/or other protein sources now, she’s more likely to continue to enjoy them as she gets older. Remember, your child will never be more open to new flavors than she is now, so take advantage!
If you’re spoon-feeding, consider stirring whole-milk Greek yogurt into fruit or vegetable purées for a kick of protein. And, of course, meat, fish, bean, and lentil pureés are also great sources. To get started you can try these recipes: Baby’s First Fish Dinner and Red Lentil and Spinach Purée, both from Real Baby Food.
But, what if you’re practicing baby-led feeding? Good news–there are lots of easy options! Here are my favorite, mostly single-ingredient options.
10 Protein-Rich Finger Foods for Baby-Led Weaning
- Cooked and flaked fish, such as cod or omega-3-rich salmon; spritz with lemon for extra flavor.
- Chickpeas or other beans, lightly smashed. If canned, choose low or no-sodium beans and rinse well and drain.
- Lentils. This will be messy, but your baby can pick them up by the handful. Or, smash with olive oil and smear on toast.
- Baked or poached and shredded chicken breast or thigh. This is especially nice tossed with a little veggie purée.
- Slow-cooked or pressure-cooked beef, pork, or lamb (RELATED: How to Prep Meat for Baby-Led Weaning)
- Chopped hard-cooked eggs, yolks and whites
- Shredded medium-firm cheese, such as cheddar, mozzarella, or Monterey Jack
- Cubed firm tofu
- Chopped meatballs or ground meat patties
- Toast strips spread with peanut butter, almond butter, ricotta cheese, cream cheese, or hummus (RELATED: 15 Toast Toppers for Babies and Toddlers)
Remember that finger foods need to be a safe texture and size to help prevent choking. They should be soft enough to be mashed with gentle pressure between your thumb and forefinger. In terms of size, they should either be shredded, cut into strips about the size and length of your pinky finger, or cut into chickpea-sized pieces.
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