Encouraging Mealtime Independence

Encouraging Mealtime Independence

Learning to self-feed is a big milestone for your toddler – and for you!

As your baby grows and begins to transition into a toddler, it’s important to encourage them to feed themselves. When children feed themselves, it helps to develop fine motor skills through touching, grasping, spooning, squeezing and of course, dropping food items. In addition, self-feeding allows your child to explore sensory skills as they experience the taste, texture, smell, color and temperature of different foods.

As they begin to mature and move into the “I do it myself” stage, capitalize on the independence streak and encourage them to feed themselves. It’s important to remember not to panic if your child still prefers you to feed them; every child develops differently. Continue to provide opportunities to practice independent eating.

As a guide, here are some age appropriate skills you can work on at meal time:

10-12 Months: 

  • Can bite soft cookie
  • Baby can drink from straw but may bite straw while doing so
  • Begins to drink from open cup with an adult holding the cup
  • Begins to move food from one side of mouth to other to chew
  • Begins to use thumb and tip of index finger (“neat pincer” grasp) to pick up small food items and can finger-feed at least half of a meal
  • Holds spoon to play, bang, and mouth

13-15 Months: 

  • Toddler drinks from a cup
  • Starts to close lips while chewing
  • Bites hard or crisp cookie
  • Dips spoon in food and brings spoon to mouth (turns spoon over but is able to get some food)

16-18 Months: 

  • By 18 months, can hold own open cup and is able to pick it up, drink, and set it down with good control
  • Finger feeds an entire meal and continues practice with utensils

18-24 Months: 

  • Chews food completely (including meats)
  • By 24 months, feeds self with spoon with some spillage (“sticky” food such as mashed potatoes, thick oatmeal, pudding)
  • Uses tongue to clean lips
  • Drinks from a straw using lips (not biting straw)
  • Moves food from one side of mouth to other (across midline)

If you notice that your child is having continual issues or is completely uninterested in self-feeding, it may be a good idea to talk to your pediatrician or a therapist at Woman’s Center for Wellness. Click the link or more information about Pediatric Therapy.