Reader FAQ: When should a toddler feed themselves?

By : | 0 Comments | On : June 18, 2013 | Category : Fussy Eaters, Nutrition, Tips & Tricks, Tips from Mums

When should a toddler feed themselves? Kids will be kids, and there will be times when their behaviour is just plain random and confusing but will often go back to normal without changing anything. Sometimes, the answer to your problem is over a coffee with a friend, posting the question in an online mother’s group, or secret forum. A fellow mummy with experience can often provide that little bit of wisdom, the glimmer of hope that you have been looking for or at the very least, a new idea to try or some reassurance.

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.

“When should I take my 21 month old out of the high chair to eat? When should I teach her to feed herself with a spoon? She tries now with easy things like yoghurt but doesn’t get a much in her mouth. All baby’s are different but do you think she’s abit behind?”

Firstly, I don’t think your little one is behind at all. And, I bet you are doing an amazing job with her.

[ My personal opinion ] is that we shouldn’t worry too much about rushing independent feeding (when starting with a puree approach, this doesn’t apply when BLW). Fine motor skills take a while to develop and I think helping our young children to spoon feed is a way to get most of the meal in before they get bored/tired. Some children are taught to spoon feed too early and it can cause a lot of frustration as they really get bored before they are full and in turn are grumpy and go to bed hungry, wake early, etc.


Every child is different, and there are lots of different ‘styles’ of starting solids. Some begin with puree’s, others prefer baby led weaning and some children refuse the spoon and prefer to feed themselves from an early age. My style of feeding includes a bit of everything – providing some assistance with a spoon fed meal and also allowing for early experimentation with finger foods with a natural transition to enjoying family food.

  • Offer a nice nutritious meal first when your child is most hungry – give her a spoon/fork to practice eating with, and you can spoon feed her in the ‘gaps’ until she turns her head away.
  • Following the meal you can offer a tasting plate of steamed veggies, fruit, finger foods (or a deconstructed/unseasoned version of what you are eating) and she can practice using a fork or her fingers while you praise her efforts.
  • Try and eat as many meals together as a family. Simply by watching adults and siblings eat, young children will naturally want to mimic the behaviour. This is where they will see how you scoop around a bowl, twirl spaghetti on a fork and use a knife to push food onto a fork, etc.


As for moving your child from the highchair – this is really up to you. My style of a natural transition goes something like the following:

  • Continue to feed your baby/toddler in the highchair for as long as you are both comfortable.
  • While in the highchair work on some basic table manners, such as saying or signing ‘all done’ rather than throwing food.
  • When you think she is ready, remove the tray and push the chair into the dining table. Try this for a few meals, particularly when she isn’t tired and has other people to model her behaviour on.
  • While still in the highchair and being strapped in this is a good time to teach another table manner such as asking or signing to be excused. This is really helpful for when your child is in a normal chair and can climb down on her own.
  • The final step is removing the highchair and seating her at a normal dining chair with a booster seat to give extra height (make sure she is still comfortable and has somewhere to rest her legs). By this point she will have some basic manners to eat well and stay at the table.

My Harry is 23 months. He is still happy sitting in a highchair at the table when we are at home, and I help him with most meals. The majority of the children I nannied were 2.5-3.5 before they could eat the entire meal themselves using utensils.

Other FAQ’s

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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