Simple tricks to teach kids to feed themselves (2023)

Want youfeeding baby or toddleritself🇧🇷 Follow these simple tips and get the best supplies to encourage your baby or toddler to feed themselves!

Simple tricks to teach kids to feed themselves (1)

One of the most frequently asked questions I get is..."How can I teach my child to feed themselves?"Feeding yourself is a big problem for weary parents with babies, toddlers and in some cases older children!I was motivated from a very young age to teach my own kids because it meant I could sit down and enjoy my own food again...well, mostly. It's also a skill I've worked on A LOT with children of all ages and abilities as an occupational therapist.

How to teach babies, toddlers and others to feed themselves

In this comprehensive self-feeding guide, I'll walk you through how to teach your baby or toddler to:

  • Fingervorschub
  • eat with a spoon
  • eat with a fork

Each is actually a separate, independent skill, and is typically attained at different ages. I'll give you age guidelines to keep in mind as your child works to master eating, and my OT/Mom strategies for helping your child learn these skills. Of course, I also share the best baby and toddler auto-feeding tools! So let's begin...

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When do babies start feeding with their fingers?

Most babies start feeding these little fusible puffs straight from the bowl by around 8 months. At first you'll find them picking up the food with their whole hand in a scraping motion. They usually have a bundle in each hand and try to get the whole hand in their mouth.

This is a fairly ineffective method, but they survive.

In the next few weeks and a month or two, they will start picking up their food with multiple fingers instead of using their whole hand. They will continue to refine this movement until around the age of 9 months (but can be between 7 and 11 months old) they will only use their index finger and thumb in a pinch (see image below).

The pincer grip is important because it lays the foundation for later fine motor skills like handwriting.know more about itWhen to give snacksfor your baby andHow to teach them to eat snacks.

Simple tricks to teach kids to feed themselves (2)

How to teach your baby/toddler to finger feed

If your 1-year-old baby or toddler isn't making an effort to use their fingers to feed, give them the opportunity to keep trying and even give them a little struggle. That's how they learn! Give them food likePuffsthat they are dry and big enough to pick up but not so big that you drown them. (I like to use that tooCheese snailsĂ–Chipsfor babies broken into small pieces).

Most children are motivated to eat and figure out how to get it in their mouths.For those who want to eat but cannot understand, the problem with the grip of the tweezers sometimes arises.

If he's not isolating his index finger and thumb, take some time at the start of the meal to give him a piece of food at a time.Try putting a single puff on your tablet first, without a few puffs they can isolate those fingers for you. When not using the tongs, keep them in front of you as they are easier to hold with your fingers than the tray or plate.

Don't let go of the piece of food until you see him grab it with his thumb and forefinger. Just spend a few minutes "practicing" at the beginning of the meal, and then let them finish their meal as usual so they don't get too frustrated. It probably won't be long before they master this new ability!

For other foods, try dicing them, and when they're as soft as a banana, roll the pieces in shredded dry granola so they have something to stick to.

When will your child or baby eat with a spoon?

Occupational therapists look for young children who are spoon fed unaided up to the age of 2. However, most children learn much earlier when given the opportunity. By the age of one, many children are spoonfeeding competently and messily.If you're struggling with a self-eating disorder, read:Why you should let your child eat dirty food.

Teach your child (or baby) to feed themselves with a spoon

As with finger feeding, the most important thing you can do to start teaching your baby or toddler how to use a spoon is to give them lots of options to try.

This too will be difficult. He's fine! The jumble is really helpful in desensitizing them to different textures and helping to avoid picky food in the future.

For the first few days of feeding, this means giving your baby their own spoon to practice inserting into their mouths while feeding. This allows your baby to associate the spoon with food and it can also work on its fine motor skills. Hopefully your child will put it in their mouth at times during feeding, encourage them.

Simple tricks to teach kids to feed themselves (3)

Once they start raising the spoon to their mouth, place your hand on theirs and dip it into the bowl they've been feeding together, putting just enough on the spoon for them to taste. Do this several times during the meal until they get used to it themselves.

Once he dives in and raises the spoon to his mouth a few times, it's time to give him his own bowl while you feed him. I know they're going to drop the bowl, but you can keep a hand on it or a...

Simple tricks to teach kids to feed themselves (4)

... suction cupsThey are awesome and will help them not drop the whole bowl on the floor. The trick is to only feed them a little bit of food in the bowl at a time. At this point you are still feeding them most of the food. If they are eating well and putting at least some in their mouths, keep adding more food to the bowl for them to feed.

By the time you're at this point, your little one will likely be around 8-10 months old, assuming you started feeding him baby food at 6 months. If the mess becomes too bothersome, which it probably will, gently remind them that the food is in their mouths. Try to remember that messing and playing with food is part of the process. I know it's a challenge, but it's short-lived.

Another frustration that usually arises is throwing the plate or food. CheckHow to prevent babies from spilling foodfor more tips.

You'll continue doing 2 bowls this way until you're giving them more and more real food and fewer bites from your spoon. Once they've eaten most of their food, you can no longer use the bowl itself. Soon you'll only help them occasionally with a big bite or when they turn their spoon the wrong way.

If you've consistently taught them how to use utensils, they will likely be independent by 14-16 months of age.

Although it will remain a monitored process for some time. Also, they will be pretty messy eaters for a while, don't worry about food falling on their bibs and chins. I hope I'm not the bearer of bad news, but you'll be eating like this until 2-2 1/2. On the plus side, his independence gives him the ability to eat his own food!

It also helps to note that thicker foods like yogurt and custard are easier to serve and hold on the spoon. Finer textures can be frustrating at first.

If your child isn't showing much interest or is having trouble handling the spoon, help them by placing your hand on theirs and following all the steps to insert and remove the spoon (as pictured below).

See my top tips for spoons at the end of the post!

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When does your child eat with a fork?

Introduce fork feeding after he's mastered spooning and has a good pincer grip for self-feeding. Again, we expect children to be able to use a fork by age 2, although most prefer to use their fingers, which is fine. Children can use a fork around 15 to 18 months.

Simple tricks to teach kids to feed themselves (5)

Teach your child to eat with a fork

First, place a child-safe fork on the high chair's plate or tray with a really easy-to-pierce food, like cheese cubes or chicken nuggets. Pasta and fruit are soft but slippery and can fall apart.

First, we want to keep their frustration down and give them a chance at success, which motivates them to keep trying. If he has trouble putting food on the fork, go back to that hand-to-hand help until he gets used to it. However, help them as little as possible.

Keep offering them a fork and at least encouraging them to use it several times a week until they reach preschool age and eating with their hands becomes more inappropriate.

The best spoons for toddlers learning to feed themselves

Simple tricks to teach kids to feed themselves (6)

All three of my kids have used these.spoonand spoon.Simple tricks to teach kids to feed themselves (7)I love them for their wide, curved handles as well as the shape that allows them to dip a bit and still grab a spoon. This is important in the first few days when your coordination is not that good. I also love the royal spoon deep bowl because even if some of the food falls out it doesn't all go away which can be very frustrating when they are trying so hard.

The best forks for toddlers learning to feed themselves

Simple tricks to teach kids to feed themselves (8)

i love these little onesforksSimple tricks to teach kids to feed themselves (9)Because they also have a soft, wide handle that makes them easy for 1-year-olds to use and feed. The best part is that they are metal and will actually pierce something. But the tips are rounded enough not to be dangerous for little ones.

How to encourage a child to feed themselves when they don't want to

If your child is already a childand you skipped the steps i just outlined, that's ok, you'll still continue the same way. In these first few steps, you will probably progress faster. Many parents don't think twice about giving their young child a spoon, or are genuinely impressed by the mess it makes.

With a young child, it's important to follow their example and give them all the help they need, although it's okay to let them struggle a little here too. Consistency, how many times you spoon them, and patience goes a long way!

I should also point out here that sometimes young children know how to feed themselves, or at least can, but they may refuse because they are overly picky about what they eat. Read more below5 reasons why children refuse to eatif you think this could be the reason your child is refusing to drink.

If your child has problemsTo get used to self-feeding or not to try it, make sure it's not the potential mess that's bothering him. If you suspect he doesn't like getting dirty, show him you have a napkin nearby and give him his. If they get a little dirty and it bothers you, clean them quickly. See how you can help childrensensory sensitivities.

Regardless of why they are struggling:Consistency, patience, and practicing together are the keys to progress.

To get the ideas, take mineEssential FREE: 9 tips to improve your diet,We'll send it straight to your inbox!

More on infant and toddler nutrition

Baby and toddler feeding warning signs

How to give up the bottle

How to teach your baby or toddler to drink through a straw

The ultimate list of baby and toddler meal ideas

did you fix it

There are many tips and tools in this guide, you might want to keep this one!

Alisha Grogan is a licensed occupational therapist and the founder of Your Kid's Table. She has over 18 years of experience in sensory processing and food development in infants, toddlers and children. Alisha also has 3 children at home. learn more about themhere.

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