Written by Smita Srivastava
Once your little one starts munching on solid food, get ready to teach your toddler to eat independently. Letting your tiny tot self-feed can be a daunting job in the beginning. You might feel annoyed when those tiny hands spill food here and there. Clearing food messes is even more frustrating, but teaching your toddler to eat independently and develop motor skills is equally important.
Some toddlers show a keen interest in grabbing food and putting it into their mouths. On the other hand, some toddlers don’t show a desire to hold food by themselves. In this case, developing their ability is crucial. By following the below-listed practices continually, your toddler will start eating independently in no time!
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According to CDC, toddlers start showing interest in self-feeding by 9-12 months. At this age, they start feeding on solids and feeling the texture of different food between their tiny fingers. Some toddlers may attempt to take some food in their hands and bring it into their mouth to taste. This may look like grasping food with their whole hand in a running motion.
Your little one may try to throw food that they are holding in hand. You may notice them trying to mash food with their fingers and thumb. This is one of toddlers’ crucial fine motor skills, also known as pincer grasp. These are some good signs your toddler is ready for self-feeding.
Usually, little ones start to handle a spoon by themselves at around 12-13 months old. Your toddler continues to use tools such as a spoon by this age. However, they start to feed with the help of a spoon when they are 18 months old or above. By that time, give your toddler a chance to handle the spoon and be ready for a mess. Avoid giving a spoon with sharp edges as it may harm or injure them.
When your toddler begins to pick up a spoon, give them ample opportunities to learn how to handle the spoon. Again, giving them spoons can be messy because they throw away food. That’s okay! This strategy helps to encourage them to learn about textures. Research suggests that this also helps to prevent picky eating habits in toddlers.
At the beginning of self-feeding practice, give your toddler a tiny spoon to practice bringing food into the mouth when feeding them. This practice helps the toddler to associate eating food with a spoon. They also work on their fine motor skills this way.
Once they put the spoon nicely into their mouth, dip a spoon into the bowl you’re using to feed them. Put enough food on a spoon and let your toddler taste it. Practice this throughout the meal timing with your toddler.
When they learn to dip a spoon into a bowl and bring food into their mouth, give them a small bowl and encourage them to feed. Don’t worry! We know they might throw the bowl, and you must clear the mess. But let them make that mess to encourage them self-feeding.
Once your toddler masters using a spoon to eat food and develops a pincer grasp for independent feeding, you can start practicing with a fork. However, a fork can be dangerous for the toddlers to handle. The pointed edges may harm your toddler. You can easily wait for your toddler to reach the age of 2 or 3 years old before introducing a fork to them.
In the beginning, give your toddler a safe fork specifically designed for them. Give them soft food which can easily be pierced with a fork, such as cheese cubes, soft fruits, or chicken nuggets. At first, try to keep them calm and not be impatient with them. Motivate them to pick up a fork and handle food with it. Help them to learn how to pick the fork.
Also, provide them with a fork a few times in a week. Practice with a fork until they start going to their preschool. Once they adapt to it, your toddler can easily eat food with a fork.
If you are struggling on how to get your toddler to eat independently, don’t worry. Here are some interesting ways to encourage your toddlers to self-feed-
Ask your toddler to hold some pieces of fruit or other food in their hand. Make sure to offer them soft, small, and spice-free food so they can easily hold and chew it. Also, try to give them soft food items which don’t cause choking hazards even if they swallow them by mistake. You can also give food that quickly dissolves into the mouth. Some examples of soft food are mango, peaches, watermelon, sweet potato, carrot, and pasta.
Once your toddler starts showing readiness to self-feed, pay attention to their hunger cues. Based on these cues, offer them some food items which are easy to grab and eat, so that they can hold them with their hands and munch on them.
Always encourage your toddler when they finish the food on time or pick up food independently. This way, they will become interested in picking up food or learning to eat themselves.
Begin by showing your toddler how to pick food and put it in the mouth. Then, ask them to show you how to do it. It may take them several attempts to do it correctly. Be patient and keep on encouraging while teaching toddler to eat independently.
Don’t make it grueling for them. Give a break and try again at the next meal or on the next day. Also, start feeding your toddler with the entire family. You can also start eating with your toddler and offer them food to hold in their hands.
In order to teach your toddler to eat independently, let them try over and over again. Give them plenty of opportunities to hold food in their hand. Serve fruits on the plate and let them pick with their hand. Make them sit on a high chair to play with food and practice picking up food and eating by themselves.
Like other motor skills development, eating independently is also a development of fine motor skills. As soon as a toddler starts eating solid food and showing interest in grabbing food, encourage them to pick it up and learn to eat independently. Mess is unavoidable, especially while learning to self-feed. But don’t worry, let your toddler enjoy the new skill and encourage them by offering different fruits and food items. Make use of special spoons and forks for toddlers to avoid injuries and ensure hassle-free learning.
You can introduce a spoon to your toddler between 10-12 months of age. However, it is somewhere between the ages of 18-24 months that they can begin to eat properly with a spoon on their own.
Yes, you can feed your little one with a spoon. But, try to slowly let them feed themselves. Give them chance to try self feeding. By 1 of age they are quite capable of feeding independently.
It is totally safe to feed your toddler using a metal spoon. Just be careful that the spoon is made from nontoxic material and doesn’t have sharp edges which can hurt the toddler’s mouth.
Read Also: The Right Nutrition for Your Toddler
With a background in Mass media and journalism, Smita comes with rich and vast experience in content creation, curation, and editing. As a mom of a baby girl, she is an excellent candidate for writing and editing parenting and pregnancy content. The content she writes and edits is influenced by her own journey through pregnancy and motherhood. When not writing- She can be found curled up with a book. Or, bingeing on Netflix.Read more.
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