If you want your children to grow up lean, you might want to encourage them to eat with their fingers.

Infants given finger foods during weaning gain less weight than those who are spoon-fed purées by parents, a study shows.

Letting them choose what they want to eat from a selection of foods also leads to them preferring a healthier diet, say researchers.

Psychologist Dr Ellen Townsend, who led the study, said babies who take control at mealtimes have the best chance of avoiding obesity. This may be because they get used to several textures, she suggested.


"Control is the key thing, as well as sitting at the table with family, because it may help babies regulate what they eat in a way that will benefit them in later life," said Dr Townsend.

Her team looked at 92 children who had been weaned on finger foods - such as fruit cut into strips and bread sticks - and 63 who were spoon-fed between the ages of 20-months and six-years.

They noted preferences for 151 foods broken down into categories including carbohydrates, dairy and 'whole meals' such as lasagne.

The results showed no difference in picky eating, but slightly less obesity in the children feeding themselves. These youngsters also had a "significantly increased liking for carbohydrates", while those who had been spoon-fed favoured sweet things.

The Nottingham University researchers told BMJ Open journal: "Infants weaned through the baby-led approach learn to regulate food intake in a manner which leads to a lower body mass index and a preference for healthy foods."

Tam Fry, of the National Obesity Forum, said: "The value of experimentation in early months of nutrition is incalculable and babies won't willingly starve.

"If this has the advantage of reducing unhealthy weight gain and avoiding obesity, it's a win-win for mums."