Back in the day, as recommended by a bazillion baby rearing books on the planet, most parents chose white rice cereal for their baby’s first solid food. Then the great white out debate began, not to mention arsenic scares in rice, and baby advocates started telling parents to start Baby off with healthier fare, like brown rice cereals, brown rice mash or vegetable purée. Now, it’s a whole new game, as brand new research says you should consider starting your baby off on solids with healthy finger foods. Researchers on the study compared a group of spoon-fed babies to a group of self-led weaning babies. What they found is that babies who are allowed to self-wean and who are then introduced to solids by feeding themselves versus having a parent spoon feed them, were able to better master skills related to self-food regulation. In turn self-food regulation is directly connected to health benefits for life such as a lower BMI and a preference for healthy foods like carbohydrates.

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Image by Flickr User eyeliam

This new research could have many long-term benefits for your baby, as researchers found that babies who started with finger foods had healthier food preferences as they grew. For example, while sweet foods were the most preferred food for spoon-fed babies, better-for-you carbohydrates were the first choice of self-fed babies. Although there was a variable involved – an increased liking for vegetables was also associated with higher social class, not just self-fed babies, there were also some other long-term health benefits for the self-fed group. The research shows that as the babies grew, there was an increased rate of obesity in the spoon-fed group not seen in the self-feeding baby group. This is significant, as childhood obesity is a current serious health concern in the United States. The researchers aren’t totally sure why self-feeding babies showed a preference for carbohydrates but guess that it may have to do with ease of chewing plus a more pleasing presentation and texture in finger foods vs. purees.

If you’d like to start your baby off on finger foods, see our list of top healthy finger foods for babies. If you’re sticking with soft, spoon-fed meals, skip the jarred food and make your own homemade baby food – it’s easy as pie, we promise.

+ The impact of weaning style on food preferences and body mass index in early childhood in a case–controlled sample

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Lead image via Flickr User Nadia Phaneuf