So your little baby isn’t so little anymore, and she’s decided that hey, enough is enough – it’s time she fed herself! This may happen as early as 12 or 13 months, but some littlies will be much older. The transition from spoon-feeding your toddler to letting her take care of it herself is a long (and messy) one, but there are things you can do to help make the change a positive and relatively pain-free one for both of you.
Is my toddler ready to use a fork and spoon?
Kids who have been helping themselves to finger foods may be ready to try cutlery sooner than those who haven’t – they’re already aware of how to bring food from their bowls to their mouths. Toddlers will often reach an age when they refuse to be fed and insist on independent eating, so you’ll be left with no doubt it’s time to try something new.
My toddler’s not interested in using his spoon!
Yes, some kids prefer to let Mum and Dad continue the spoon-feeding routine and won’t initiate the move to using his own spoon or fork. Others opt for their using hands, even at age two or three. Continue to serve his meals with cutlery and encourage self-feeding, but prepare food in a way that makes eating with his hands easy. And wrap things up when he’s finished eating and starts mucking around.
But it’s so messy!
Yes, things will get messy. Often. Very likely, at most meal times, at least until your toddler has learnt those important skills necessary to get a spoon or forkful of food from plate to mouth with spilling and/or getting distracted along the way. Serve food in a meal zone, either the high chair or a toddler table, to limit the disaster area. If you want to use one, a type of drop sheet underneath her seat can help with clean up. You may also want to keep a few old bibs on hand to protect her clothes.
And it takes so long!
Also true. It’s much quicker to spoon the food straight into her mouth than let her work it out for herself. And in our rush-rush world, it’s tempting to take the easy option. But practice makes perfect and it’s important that she is given the time to refine her cutlery skills.
How do I know he’s eating enough?
One worry of self-feeding is you no longer have a way to measure how much food is making it into your toddler’s tummy. Try not to let this concern you too much: offer a variety of healthy foods throughout the day, monitor his growth, and take note that he’s generally happy and well. These are your best indications of whether or not he’s eating enough – not what’s left on his plate (or the floor) at the end of a meal. If in doubt, talk to your GP.
What about cups?
You can offer your baby sips of cooled, boiled water in a cup from about seven months of age. With your help, he can start learning early how to drink from a beaker rather than a bottle or sippy cup. Only offer a tiny amount at a time, and use plastic to avoid breakages.