How to teach your little one to use cutlery

Little Tummy

A common question we receive is how and when to teach your little one to use cutlery. We asked our in-house paediatrician Dr Sophie for her top tips.

Children develop self-feeding skills from birth, and it often amazes me how they manage such complex tasks such as latching onto a breast or bottle and slowly massaging it to increase flow.

Around the age of 6 months, babies will start grasping for food and munching on finger foods. When it comes to using a spoon, fork and knife most children take much longer than parents would expect, as these are rather complicated motor skills.  

At what age do children usually master cutlery skills?
Most children will be able to eat from a bowl with a spoon shortly after their first birthday. Around their second birthday, children are usually able to pinch food with a fork. Using a knife to spread and cut is usually accomplished by the ages of 4 and 5 respectively. 

When should I start offering utensils?
You can start from the very moment you introduce solids. Some babies will enjoy playing with a spoon while you use one to feed them. It will also get them used to the idea that food and cutlery go together. Just keep in mind that it will take a long time until they use the utensils in a meaningful way and there will be a lot of mess involved. 

How can I support my little one?

  • Role modeling: Show them how you use your own utensils during family mealtimes. Babies learn a lot by imitating others and using cutlery is no exception.

  • Positioning: Make sure your little one sits comfortably and can easily reach for the utensils on the table. It can help to put the cutlery into the same position before every meal so your child can easily find them. 

  • Timing: When your little one is very hungry and just wants to dig in, it might not be the right time to learn complex motor skills. It is sometimes easier to wait until the end of the meal or to try during a time when your little one isn’t too hungry, for example during snack times or even play time; you can practice using the fork with play dough or using the spoon with water or sand.

  • Hand-over-hand method: Some children learn practical skills by being guided whilst completing them. Simply put a spoon into your child’s hand and then guide them with your own hand to load food onto the spoon and bring it towards their mouth. 

  • Food texture: Especially in the beginning, it can be easier to use cutlery with semi-sticky food, such as rice or chunks of banana. It will need less force and balance to handle these foods.

Which utensils should I use?
The right spoon or fork depend somewhat on your child’s age. In the beginning, it might be best to use utensils with thick and/or textured handles, as they are easier to hold. Equally, the shorter the handle, the better it is to control. As your little one gets older, you can use increasing sizes of handles.

Placing a non-slip mat underneath the bowl or plate will prevent it from sliding when your little one tries to scoop or stab. 

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