When Should I Introduce a Spoon to My Toddler?

Knowing When to Start and Which Foods to Choose

Toddler girl feeding herself yoghurt in a spoon
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Your toddler's journey into self-feeding starts with the introduction of finger foods and will gradually progress to spoons and forks. Some parents are understandably reluctant to introduce utensils because the feeding process can become such a messy affair. There are ways, however, to minimize the mess and allow your child to master the skills of self-feeding.

Before You Introduce the Spoon

All children develop skills at their own pace, so there is no set time by which to introduce the spoon. Not only will your child's motor skills determine the "right time," so, too, will other factors such as:

  • How long your child has been eating solid foods
  • When you first introduced finger foods into the eating routine
  • How interested your child is about eating independently

If you have been feeding your child soft or pureed foods but haven't yet introduced finger foods, you may want to wait awhile before challenging the child with a spoon. Start instead by offering foods like cereal O's and well-cooked vegetables so that the child can begin the process of moving food into his or her mouth.

If your child is mainly eating pureed food, move to more chunky foods into the diet. At 12 months, your toddler is quite capable of handling chunkier pieces of fruits, vegetable, and pasta so long as the pieces aren't too large and are adequately cooked. In the end, the food should be soft but not completely mushy.

Signs Your Toddler May Be Ready for a Spoon

Generally speaking, most children will be ready to start using a spoon by around the first birthday. There are common behaviors that will tell you it's time.

As babies, children will usually turn their heads and clamp their mouth to signal they are full. As they get older, they will often exhibit the same behavior before a meal, sometimes throwing a tantrum or appearing disinterested when presented with a spoonful of food. In some cases, the toddler may even grab the spoon as it approaches his or her mouth.

These can all be signs that your child is ready and willing to use a spoon independently.

Picking the Right Spoon

If your silverware isn't too heavy and your forks aren't too sharp, by all means, use whichever utensils you have on-hand. There is no rule stating that you must buy all new utensils for a toddler.

With that being said, it can make things easier if the utensils are properly sized and shaped for a toddler's hands. If buying new utensils, look for ones with chubby handles and blunted fork tips. Be sure to read the product label closely and be doubly sure they are free from bisphenol A (BPA).

When starting, provide your child with softer foods that he or she can readily glob into the spoon. If the child is having problems scooping, load the spoon yourself and hand it back. In time, your child will get the idea and follow your lead.

Ideal foods for a spoon include:

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

Introducing the Fork

Once the child has gotten used to a spoon, try introducing a fork. Demonstrate the poking action of the fork and hand it back to the child to do the same. It may take awhile, but, if you make the process fun, the toddler will eventually get the hang of it.

Some of the foods to try with a fork include:

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

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

After a few months (usually when the child is around 18 months), you can start introducing more fun and challenging foods into the diet, including soups and longer noodles.

How to 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 so that it can be tossed into the washer once feeding time is over.

Be sure to dress the toddler in clothes that can easily be tugged off and tosses into the laundry. You can also leave the child in a diaper and bib only if the temperature allows.

To minimize fuss, keep to an eating routine that the child can become accustomed to. Toddlers typically thrive when things are kept to schedule, and they are given fewer, rather than more, choices to make.