British researchers say allowing babies to feed themselves fruits, vegetables, meat and bread—known as baby-led weaning—may teach them to better regulate their own appetites. The study showed that 6-month-old babies introduced to finger foods they could pick up and eat on their own rather than being primarily spoon-fed were less likely to be overweight or obese through age 6 ½.
“With spoon-feeding, there may be a temptation to go past what the child needs or wants,” says Ellen Townsend, Ph.D., study author and an associate professor of psychology at the University of Nottingham in England.
Good foods to try? Bits of soft fruits like melon and banana, baked or steamed vegetables, hard-boiled eggs and even meat.
You can also pre-load a spoon with mashed food—just let your baby figure out how to get it into his mouth. In the study, babies fed finger foods were no more likely to choke, although they were somewhat more likely to be underweight, so keep an eye on their weight gain, Townsend says.