Most babies are ready to start self-feeding once they can sit up comfortably, without support, and bring their hands to their face. This usually happens around 8 to 12 months old. However, their food options are limited. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), they can only feed themselves “first finger foods,” which should be small, soft, and easy to swallow. But research recently presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies 2016 Meeting suggests that many products marketed as first finger foods fail to meet these guidelines.

“Not all products marketed for children have been tested in real-life situations,” said study co-author Ruth Milanaik, director of the Neonatal Neurodevelopmental Follow Up program at Cohen Children's Medical Center, in a statement. “Parents need to be aware that changes in consistency can occur in food products that are left out of the packaging for extended periods of time, resulting in a possible choking hazard.”

Researchers, led by Dr. Nicol Awadalla, tested nine products marketed as first finger foods for babies to see whether they met the AAP recommendations. All products were marketed with a "crawler" designation, which should indicate they are suitable for babies who still crawl. And Cheerios, commonly given to infants as a finger food, was the only cereal included.

The study involved 11 blinded researchers who were given each food at random and asked to consume or dissolve them in their mouth without using their teeth. The researchers sampled each product four times — twice when it was fresh and twice more after it had been left out of its packaging for at least an hour. They then recorded how long it took for the food to dissolve completely or for it to become small enough to swallow without being a choking hazard.

Unfortunately, the researchers found that only two of the nine products tested — Gerber Graduates Fruit Pick-ups and Gerber Graduates Veggie Pick-Ups — met all AAP criteria, Today reported. Many of these products were hard, and four of the nine products raised choking hazard concerns. However, despite being hard, grain products like Cheerios and Gerber Graduates Puffs dissolved quickly, making them suitable for very young children.

"We found there were significant differences among the products," Milanaik told Today. "To be honest, the best bang for the buck is Cheerios."

Two of the products tested also took much longer to dissolve after they'd been out of their packaging for a period of time. The researchers confirmed that the companies producing the products in question have been notified of the findings.

More research will be needed for brands to completely understand how to categorize and market their foods in relation to infants’ stages of oral development.

Source: Pediatric Academic Societies. 2016.