When Should I Introduce a Spoon to My Toddler?

Toddler girl feeding herself yoghurt in a spoon
Albert Mollon/Moment/Getty Images

Your toddler's journey to self-feeding starts with the introduction of finger foods and gradually progresses to using a spoon and fork. Some parents hesitate to introduce utensils to the toddler feeding process because it can be a recipe for a mess. There are ways you can minimize the mess as you help your child master the skills of self-feeding.

Signs of Readiness

Generally speaking, most children will be ready to start using a spoon by around their first birthday. There are common behaviors you can watch for that will let you know your child is ready to try a spoon.

Infants will usually turn their heads and clamp their mouth to signal they are full. As they get older, babies and toddlers often exhibit the same behavior before a meal. They might throw a tantrum or appear disinterested when presented with a spoonful of food. In some cases, a toddler may even grab the spoon as it approaches their mouth.

Choose the Right Time

All children develop skills at their own pace. There is no set time or age by which you should have introduced a spoon to your toddler. Your child's motor skills will determine the "right time," as well as other factors including:

  • How interested your child is in eating independently
  • How long your child has been eating solid foods
  • When you first introduced finger foods to your child

If you have been feeding your child soft or puréed foods but haven't yet introduced finger foods, you may want to wait a while before challenging your child with a spoon. Move more chunky foods into the diet first.

Start by offering foods like cereal Os and well-cooked vegetables so that your child can begin the process of moving food into their mouth. The food should be soft but not completely mushy.

By 12 months of age, your toddler should be able to handle chunkier pieces of fruits, vegetables, and pasta—as long as the pieces aren't too large and are adequately cooked.

Choose the Right Spoon

As long as your silverware isn't too heavy and your forks aren't too sharp, you can use the utensils you have on-hand. There is no rule that parents must buy all new utensils for their toddlers.

However, when the utensils are properly sized and shaped for a toddler's hands, it can make the process easier. If you decide to buy utensils for your toddler, look for ones with chubby handles and blunted fork tips. Be sure to read the product label closely to make sure that they are free from bisphenol A (BPA).

Offer Soft Foods

Start by giving your child softer foods that they can easily glob on to a spoon. If your child is having trouble scooping, load the spoon yourself, and hand it back to them. In time, your child will get the idea and follow your lead.

Ideal foods for a spoon include:

  • Chunky applesauce
  • Cottage cheese
  • Mashed peas and carrots
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Oatmeal
  • Pasta dishes with thick sauces
  • Pudding
  • Scrambled eggs
  • Thick yogurt

When your child is about 18 months old and has been using a spoon for a few months, you can start introducing more fun and challenging foods like soups with longer noodles.

Introduce the Fork

Once your child has gotten used to a spoon, try introducing a fork. Demonstrate the poking action of the fork and hand it back to your child to encourage them to do the same. If you make the process fun, your toddler will eventually get the hang of it—even if it takes a while.

Some foods to try with a fork include:

  • Chunks of canned fruit
  • Cooked potato chunks
  • Green beans
  • Melon chunks
  • Pasta shells
  • Pieces of soft fruit like peaches or half-grapes
  • Toast squares with peanut butter

Always make sure the foods are soft enough to prevent choking, but still firm enough that they won't slide off the fork tines.

Minimize Mess

When a child first starts using utensils, expect mealtimes to take longer and the process to be messier. You can make clean-up easier by laying a towel or sheet under the high chair. When feeding time is over, it can easily be tossed in the washer (along with any clothes).

Dress your toddler in clothes that can easily be tugged off and tossed into the laundry. If the temperature allows, it's sometimes easier to let your child be in a diaper and bib.

To minimize fuss, stick to a predictable eating routine that your child can become accustomed to. Toddlers typically thrive on a schedule and do well when they are given fewer (rather than more) choices to make.

4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fingers, spoons, forks, and cups.

  2. Almeida S, Raposo A, et al. Bisphenol A: Food exposure and impact on human health. Comp Rev Food Sci Food Safety. 2018;(17)6:1503-1717.  doi:10.1111/1541-4337.12388

  3. American Academy of Pediatrics. Selecting snacks for toddlers.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Building structure.

By Stephanie Brown
Stephanie Brown is a parenting writer with experience in the Head Start program and in NAEYC accredited child care centers.