If you’ve got a toddler on your hands, then you know eating can be a struggle. Finger food for toddlers facilitates the independence they desire and are seeking.
In this article, you’ll learn why it’s important to consider nutrients, child development, and my favorite nutrient-rich finger foods for the toddler.
Give the following toddler finger foods a try!
Liking Food Starts with Exposure
Getting children to eat and like a variety of foods begins in the high chair.
As a pediatric nutritionist and writer, I’ve written (and talked) about the tricks and strategies parents use to get kids to eat food, and the perils they face as a result.
Trickery often results in short-lived success.
Real success comes from exposing your toddler to a variety of foods so she learns to like them and wants to eat them.
One way to increase your chances for success is by introducing key finger foods for the toddler that will bridge the gap to variety down the road.
Try New Food Using Toddler Finger Foods
Trying new foods with children is something you should be doing regularly.
Repeated exposure to a variety of new foods is a scientifically proven path to learning to like and eat a variety of nutritious foods.
Although toddlers can be a finicky bunch, that fact shouldn’t deter you from giving it your best shot.
Some of my favorite finger food ideas to introduce to babies and toddlers are loaded with nutrients, can be eaten independently, and help build a nutritious diet for your little one.
10 Toddler Finger Food Ideas to Try
There are loads of toddler finger foods! Here are 10 favorites that will help you exposure your toddler to different flavors, textures and nutrients.
A magical fruit indeed! I started my little ones on canned beans as a wonderful first food. They’re loaded with fiber, iron and zinc which are key nutrients that are important for the ongoing brain development that’s happening during this stage.
Beans are perfect for the budding self-feeder who is using his pincer grasp. Plus, there are many different types of beans available, allowing you to ramp up the variety.
If you’re buying canned beans, rinse the salt and gooey stuff off before offering them to your young toddler.
Or, cook beans in the slow cooker from scratch. I use this pinto bean recipe from Mom’s Kitchen Handbook all the time.
I vary the type of bean, and for babies and toddlers, I cut down the red pepper flakes.
Another easy and nutritious recipe for toddlers are these Baby Bean Bites.
This is one of my top foods for toddlers to try because they’re rich in mono-unsaturated fats (the healthy kind), which are especially important for the brain.
Avocado is also creamy and mild in flavor.
You can brighten the flavor with a squeeze of lemon or lime, and prime the palate for guacamole (yum!).
It’s also a healthy sandwich spread alternative for mayonnaise.
“More trees please!”
Isn’t that the food request you want to hear?
Introduce this cruciferous vegetable early on, and the odds for future eating will increase—even if your toddler takes a break along the way.
Don’t forget to use dips for dipping (a fun hands-on experience for toddlers), and blanch broccoli to make chewing it easier.
Here’s a list of dips for veggies you may want to try out.
This is often an after-thought veggie, but it is widely available and one of the most versatile.
Because of its mild flavor, it pairs nicely with melted cheese, honey mustard, or as a substitute for mashed potato. How about adding cauliflower to mac and cheese?
I personally like to make this rutabaga mash using cauliflower.
You can blanch or steam cauliflower for an easy finger food for toddlers.
5. Tomato Sauce for Pasta
My son didn’t eat tomato sauce on his pasta until he was ten years old. He always had the option to add it to his pasta, but he was never interested.
If I could do it over, I would have continued to offer him pasta tossed in sauce when he was a toddler instead of letting him eat it plain.
Don’t forget to use pasta sauce as a dip, or on a pita or flat bread with melted cheese on top for a finger food lunch (just cut the “pizza” into strips).
6. Whole Wheat or Whole Grain Bread
I have met many families whose children refuse whole wheat breads and products, mostly because their taste buds aren’t used to the flavor.
If you have a little one, you’ll want to get started on this in the very beginning. It will help your toddler establish a flavor preference early on and be much easier in the long run.
Confusion about whole wheat and whole grain products shouldn’t stop you from venturing out!
Try some of these whole wheat recipes for starters:
7. Plain yogurt
Again, plain yogurt is an acquired taste. If you start your baby with this, he will be accustomed to the tart flavor.
If you start with flavored yogurt, he’ll grow to love the sweetness and you may have a tougher time switching over to healthier versions of kids yogurt.
There will be plenty of time for sweets and sweet flavored foods later on.
Yogurt is a fermented food and helps your child develop and maintain a healthy gut. That’s partly why it’s on my favorite finger food list for toddlers to try!
Ball it, cube it, or let your toddler scoop it with a spoon.
Ripe melon is loaded with nutrients and a great source of hydration in warmer weather.
It’s usually a winner with kids, and a great addition to any meal.
Otherwise known as pink fish in my home, we introduced salmon early in the infant and toddler years.
Again, this is a heart-healthy food and one that kids do better with over time if they are exposed to it early and frequently.
There are several ways to introduce fish to your toddler. Grilled, poached or baked and cut into manageable chunks or finger-like strips is the best way to go.
To keep salmon interesting, don’t be afraid to use some seasoning to flavor it up. Try soy sauce, ginger and garlic; Chef Prudhomme’s Redfish Magic; or lemon and dill.
10. Other Fish or Shellfish
Parents tell me all the time that they can’t get their kids to eat any fish. I feel this is often related to introducing it too late.
Sometimes, parents themselves don’t like fish. (Like my mom!)
If you want your picky toddler to eat shrimp, tilapia, codfish and other water-loving creatures, get these on the menu when she’s young.
Many toddlers don’t drink water. They prefer milk, juice, or some other sort of flavored, sugary drink.
Introducing water later on in childhood can be tough, as kids don’t have a taste for it, and want drinks with flavor.
Your best defense is to get plain water on board early, and offer it in between meals.
If your toddler refuses to drink water, try some of these homemade “soda” concoctions which use a splash of 100% fruit juice.
Finger Food for Toddlers Should Be Nutrient-Rich
Toddlers are still growing at this stage and there’s a lot going on. Much of it you cannot see. It’s happening in the brain and bones.
Toddler finger foods can help you bridge the nutritional needs while capitalizing on what toddler’s need to do, developmentally.
The good news? There’s a whole world of finger food for toddlers to experience.
Choose fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats so your toddler not only gets exposed to a variety of foods, but so he also gets abundant nutrients for that all-important “inside job” of growth and development.
What finger foods are you inspired to introduce?
Need More Help with Toddler Finger Foods?
Check out my website, The Nourished Child, where I have classes, workshops and guidebooks designed to help you nourish and feed your child better so he grows up as healthy as can be.
This post was originally published in June 2013 and updated in April 2020.