FAQ: How to encourage toddlers to use cutlery

By : | 2 Comments | On : August 4, 2015 | Category : Blog, Fussy Eaters, Tips & Tricks, Tips from Mums

Do you have a toddler who continues to refuse the spoon or attempt to self feed unless you offer finger foods? 

If you started solids using the baby led weaning approach or your baby refused the spoon early on your toddler might still be resistant to attempt to self feed using cutlery. If they are happily enjoying a wide variety of nutritious foods and you feel no reason to change their eating behaviours then that’s perfectly OK but if you feel you want to begin to transition to a wider variety of meals, particularly those that require a spoon then this FAQ is for you.

We certainly don’t have all the answers. So these FAQ blog posts are to be seen like this… if our closest friends were to ask our advice, these would be our answers. But don’t let it stop with us, if you have an idea that might help others, we would love to hear it. Leave a comment after this post, or join our Facebook page to talk to other parents. It’s always great to hear the experiences of others who are in the same boat as well as look for trusted, professional advice to know you are on the right track.

Q. Hi there, my 2 year old refuses to eat with a spoon or fork. It’s almost like he doesn’t know what they are for or what to do with them. He does let me spoon feed a few mouthfuls of cereal for breakfast and happily eats a tasting plate of a variety of nutritious finger food for lunch and dinner but I would love to encourage him to begin to use a spoon to help with transition to a wider variety of meals – particularly family foods. Do you have any tips on how to do this? Thank you! – Samantha, NSW.

A. Hi Samantha,

Firstly, it’s great to hear your little man is enjoying a variety of nutritious finger foods and you have embraced the tasting plate. Secondly, it’s important to remember every child is different and will meet different milestones at slightly different times. This is particularly true for children and self-feeding therefore it’s important you don’t push him into using utensils before he is comfortable as he may develop a negative association with this and resist it further.

Some babies show a keen interest in the spoon from an early age and try to grab the spoon from you while you are feeding them. If they are given a spoon to hold and play with while you feed them with another they will begin to associate spoons with eating and feeding. If you embrace the mess and encourage them many children are ready to start eating with their own spoon around their first birthday. However, it’s not until the bones in their wrist harden and their coordination develops that they will actually be more successful with self-feeding and this happens around 18 months of age. By the age of 2 most toddlers will have mastered the ability to feed themselves with a spoon and fork. Note, we recommend introducing the fork once they have demonstrated some coordination to prevent them poking themselves in the eye.

Here are few tips to help your child master the art of using utensils to self-feed:

  • Make meal times enjoyable and relaxing – if mealtimes are stressful it will create anxiety within your child and resistance to change
  • Use age appropriate cutlery e.g. rubber tipped spoons
  • Give your son a spoon at breakfast time and encourage him to use it when you are feeding him. He may even be inspired to use the spoon if you ask him to feed you with it.
  • Embrace the mess – it’s hard to be neat when you’re learning to eat. If he doesn’t like to get too messy keep some wipes or a cloth handy so you can clean up some of the mess if they become upset
  • Make it a game – for example use a spoon or fork to transfer food from one bowl or plate to another, or let him pretend to spoon feed his favourite stuffed animal. He may be more likely to interact with the utensils when there is no pressure or expectation to bring it to their mouths
  • Begin to place a spoon (and fork if appropriate) at his table setting for each meal so the begin to associate cutlery with eating
  • Eat meals requiring cutlery with your son so you have an opportunity to demonstrate how you use them
  • Initially encourage your son to use a spoon or fork with foods that he is familiar with and you know he will enjoy
  • When you begin to introduce family meals that require the use of spoon continue to offer a tasting plate of food you know he will happily eat with his fingers
  • Avoid bribing or forcing your little boy to use cutlery as this will only create habits they will continue to expect and may even create negative associations with using cutlery
  • Be patient and encourage and praise any interaction and progress with learning to use utensils.

We’ve given you plenty of ideas to try with your son to encourage him to become more familiar with the spoon and to give it ago, however be mindful of not making too many changes all at once of forcing progress faster than he his comfortable with. Good luck and please let us know how you go. – OHCs x

This reader question was featured in the One Handed Cooks Magazine Issue #7Yep, you can buy it online while stocks last here. For more great recipe ideas pick up the latest mag today in all good Newsagents. 

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Don’t forget to read our disclaimer.  If you have any specific questions or concerns regarding the nutritional adequacy of your child’s diet or their health and wellbeing please consult a medical practitioner or an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) for individualised advice.

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  1. posted by Jessica on October 10, 2015

    My 13 month old daughter will spoon feed herself if I load the food onto the spoon. Do you have any tips for encouraging her to “load” her own spoon? Thanks!

    • posted by Jess on October 10, 2015

      Hi Jessica,
      The best advice I can offer is giving your little girl a spoon too and let her practice as much or as little as she wants. She may get frustrated and will likely make a lot of mess and prefer to use her hands or want you to feed her but going with the flow and praising any positive interactions with the spoon will keep her happy and motivated. My little Hamish is 14 months and I posted a little video of his recent attempts with cutlery on out Instagram page of you want to take a look. Happy eating, jess x


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