19 answers

Eating with Utensils

At what age is it inappropriate for a child to not eat with utensils? My son is going to be 2 in January and he absolutely refuses to eat with utensils. I give him a fork or spoon with every meal. He'll start off with what I put on it, but then it goes flying across the room, and he starts shoveling food into his mouth with his hands. I've tried using the gerber lil dippers, and the same thing happens. I know he is physically capable, it just seems like he's too impaitent to eat properly. How old should he be when I need to put my foot down? How do I go about getting him to eat properly? We've been working on this since he turned a year old, but he's not responding to my techniques, I need new ones.

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Thank you so much for everyone who answered. A lot of great advice for me to put into motion. I really appreciate everyone's support. To the other moms who are going through the same thing, good luck to you as well!!! :)

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In addition to all of the great advice here, try heaping praise for each time he uses the fork/spoon for each bite (I also agree that he might be super hungry and that shoveling in with hands is simply faster!) Rewards often work better than punishments and kids get the attention they crave.

There's no innapproiate age for him to learn. When you start training him with utensils, you can' stop. You must be firm. Hold his hand grip on the spoon and guide it to the mouth. If he throws it, pick it up and do it again. If he persists, take the food away while you're eating and let him throw his fit. Tell him when he behaves, he'll get his food. After a couple of minutes, try again. It's all tral and error. Just keep with it mommy.

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I have a 7 and 10 year old. When my girls did things like this it was because they enjoyed my attention. Imagine: "If I through my fork across the room mommy will come running and do all sorts of stuff for me". They are smarter than we are at getting attention. It's hard, but I'd ignore it. Let him use his hands. I assure you he will use utensils, he will grow out of it. He won't be able to go out on a date unless he does ;)

1 mom found this helpful

Hi J.,

I have absolutely no advice for you, but I love your question because I'm going through the same thing with my boys. Honestly, I don't know that there is a "magical" age when kids eat with utensils. All children develop at different times/ages. I think Beverly's advice is very useful, and I will also try out some of her suggestions. Best of luck to you. Just know, you are not alone.

J., Eating with a spoon is a pretty sophisticated motor skill which requires fine motor development, eye hand coordination and patience. Most children slowly begin using the utensils more and more. You mentioned "puttiing your foot down" which usually doesn't work well with twos as you may have found out. You don't want to make meal time negative either because it could spill over to feeding issues.

My advice would be casual about the utensils. Present them and reward him for the couple of bites he takes with the spoon. Before he throws it say, "Are you tired of using the fork/spoon now?" Take it away and let him continue with fingers. Eat at the table with him so he can see everyone role model using utensils. I think these behaviors are better encouraged with "gently nudging" rather than being strident. On his wedding day he will be using a fork at the table!! A.

We use regular utensils for our kids (1 and 3). Our 1 year old gets a spoon or fork to try but eventually tosses it. At 1 year I just ignore it if she drops the utensil and she finshes eating w/her hands. She tends to clear the table (imagine broad sweeping motions here) of food when she's thirsty so you might want to look out for that also. I do not allow her to dump her plate, I hold it down at this age and tell her the rules (even though she doesn't understand all the words yet). Starting around 18 months if they dump their plates or throw food, we take the food away, end of story (no "snack" later, if you're feeling really guilty, you can provide more "dinner" later). It only took our older daughter 2 times to figure out we were serious about it. Our 3 year old starts with utensils and sometimes uses her hands to help or to finish the meal. I think you can find real forks, etc. for children (I'm not talking about the plastic bulky ones, I mean real silverware) which might help them manipulate the utensiils better. Don't underestimate the value of talking to him about what's going on. Tell him you understand he might be frustrated (that it's ok, it's part of learning) and that you'll help. We had to help get the meat on the fork for a long time with our oldest. We use lots of praise for trying too. Good luck!

I think I'm actually disturbed by some of the suggestions to take the food away from your child and not give it back. Kids are just that, kids. They're learning so much everyday. He's not even 2 yet. Let him be a kid. Our society places so much attention on kids growing up so fast and they forget the fun stuff. My 3 1/2 year old uses her spoon and fork now but still loves to eat some things (especially spaghetti) with her hands because it's fun. We honestly haven't even started silverware with our 1 year old yet. I agree with the poster that we shouldn't compare our kids and we really should pick our battles. Sure I have more clean up at the end of dinner but we spend our dinner together and happily. We're not chasing silverware around the dining room or making our kids cry by yelling at them to hold a spoon or fork when they don't understand more than half of the words we're saying. Good luck and enjoy them while they're small.

Hi there, I agree with the other moms that it might be to early to expect this but its never to late to start. I saw this children's cutlery set at One Step Ahead and until he learns it might be worth a try. It sticks to the table so he can't throw it and its the appropriate size. I have always liked the product from One Step ahead so go have a look.


There's no innapproiate age for him to learn. When you start training him with utensils, you can' stop. You must be firm. Hold his hand grip on the spoon and guide it to the mouth. If he throws it, pick it up and do it again. If he persists, take the food away while you're eating and let him throw his fit. Tell him when he behaves, he'll get his food. After a couple of minutes, try again. It's all tral and error. Just keep with it mommy.

of course he's going to use the utinsils as a sling shot, that's what they do, at first. what you have to do, because you started kinnda late in the training, is sit whith him hold his hand with the utinsil and show him how to use it and then let him do it himself when he goes to put it down or sling the food stop him then show him again. it takes a little work and a little patience, it also helps to sit and eat with him and let him mimic you. he's just eating the way he's been use to eating all this time. traing him now he may get frustrated after a min. because the food aint makin to his mouth as fast as it would if he uses his hands, and they see the utinsil as a toy (a new way to entertain themselves)

In addition to all of the great advice here, try heaping praise for each time he uses the fork/spoon for each bite (I also agree that he might be super hungry and that shoveling in with hands is simply faster!) Rewards often work better than punishments and kids get the attention they crave.

Hi, J., sounds like you are right that he's impatient rather than lacking the skills to use utensils. I don't know at what age the children no longer use hands, but 2 seems a little early.

Have you tried giving him a snack before dinner so he's not too hungry and impatient? Maybe giving him milk an hour before dinner may be helpful. This will allow him to take your guidance during the meal without being afraid that there won't be enough food to satiate him.

Changing forks to "big boy" forks may help. The little dippers or other kiddie utensils seem too bulky for little hands. If he does something that he should, take the fork away along with the food for 10 or 15 seconds while you explain to him how to use the fork, not to throw it, etc. Pour on the encouragement when he attempts to use utensils, even when he doesn't make it to the target.

Making sure that the food is easy to stick to a fork is also key. I use cheese a lot, for instance. If the food isn't easy to pierce with a fork or stay on, it's going to inevitably end up in his hand.

I don't know how much this impacted my son's table manners, but I wash his hands A LOT lately while at the table. I find that he's getting them less and less messy with the meals, although he still uses hands with his favorite dishes. We stopped using the plastic forks a few months ago, and his utensil use improved greatly.

Just don't put all the food on his high chair. Have a couple utensils handy and place a fork with food on it in front of him. When he eats it, give him another bite. There won't be an opportunity to use his hands. When he uses good manners and doesn't throw the fork, he can start getting the entire bowl in his tray.

This will take more of your time, as you'll have to sit down with him, but use this as quality time to just look him in the eye and talk together.

Hi J.,
We are going through the same thing right now. My son is two and does the SAME thing. I do try and remind him to use his utensils as much as possible throughout the meal...but the minute he throws his utensils he has to go into time out. Then come back, pick them up off the floor and we start again. If it happens a second time.....then no more dinner. He is getting better about it and I have started to give him "grown up" silverware....the spoons are bigger and he doesn't seem to get so frustrated.....
Good luck!

Hi J.,
Starting to utensil train at 1 is NOT starting too late. You're right on time with all that you are doing. I have four kids and not one of them used a utensil through the entire meal until they were at least 4. Some people's expectations of children are not always realistic. Your baby is not even two years old and should not be expected to completely understand or display good table manners. Reinforce what you are teaching but allow him to use his clean hands to assist. He will perfect his fork holding as his hands mature and become able to hold it better. Work on the manners he's more capable of at this age (please, thank you, excuse me, etc.). Kids need patience and understanding as they find their way. We eat out often with our children and have been told time and time again that they have great manners. Continue to try different age appropriate utensils. The last thing you want is for your little boy to hurt himself (or someone else) with a big fork. You are doing everything right.

I got my daughter a set of utensils from IKEA. They are really cute. She doesn't seem too interested...but she will sometimes attempt to use them at least. She will be 2 in November. Regular utensils she wants nothing to do with, but the fun colored ones she really likes. As for easting with the hands...she still does that a lot too. I figure if we go out to eat somewhere I get her finger food, and don't worry about it. :) They'll come around then they are ready.

yes at that age you start being more insistent and by 2 it should be ONLY utensils. To accomplish this, give him 2 spoons. You will have to pay close attention to him the first week and everytime he starts using his hands, put a spoon in the hand and say, "only spoons for eating" or "we use our spoon to eat." If you are consistent for a week, then he will get it and you will be done. But you MUST be consistent every meal of that week and really enforce the saying and putting the spoon in his hand every time he goes to using his hands.

Hi J.,
There are lots of great ideas and suggestions here. I would only like to add the following thought...choose your battles wisely. In this case, looking at the "big picture", how important is this issue to you? If it seems to be very important, then pursue it consistently. If you think it could wait until he shows some interest, it might be worthwhile for everyone's (fill in the blank here--well-being, sanity, survival, happiness--anyway, you get the idea). It seems like there is always a well-intentioned , but apparently competitive mom who will compare their "perfect" child to your child. In reality, does it really matter what age a child is when he potty trains or walks, or eats with utensils or whatever milestone is in question? They usually grow up and hopefully, will be well-adjusted and able to succeed in the world.
No matter what you decide, good luck to you and your husband and son.

Both my kids were using utensils by 18 mos. That doesn't mean they never used hands, just that's when they had the dexterity to use utensils. My 3.5 year old still needs to be reminded not to eat with his hands. I used to always serve one "finger food" and then the rest he had to eat with his utensils. I also bought a set of child sized utensils for each of them (www.forsmallhands.com). For my son, I bought some construction themed utensils from the "Chalboard" store on rte. 30 in Crest Hill. It was a dump truck spoon, a forklift fork and a bulldozer for pushing stuff around his plate. Those worked ok for awhile, but lead to a lot of playing with the food. My daughter is easier because she doesn't like her hands to be dirty.


I was to impatient to read all of your responses, so maybe one of the other mother's mentioned this already. However, my son was the same way. One thing I started doing with him was waiting until snack time to really push the utensils. I found at dinner time for whatever reason, he was starving and to impatient to use his utensils and stuffed food in his mouth with his hands. If I gave him utensils and cottage cheese say for snack then he was a little more patient and not so hungry. We would work with his spoon then. One thing I found to is that he loved blue's clues. I bought the blue's clues spoon and he was so excited to use it. After working on it for a while at snack time, he became better at using it instead of tossing it at meal times. Also, I know this is no fun for you, but I tried to give him foods that would be messy with his hands. Such as cottage cheese and peaches, or mashed potatoes. These things were not so easy to eat with his hands and he didn't like getting his hands so dirty so I would push the spoon.

Good Luck. My son is 5 now and I have noticed a great improvement on table manners this year. Of course my one year old daughter is as neat as a princess! LOL! You've got to love boys!

not really sure if this will help, but here is what i would do.

say to him, feel free to feed yourself with your (spoon, fork, whatever is appropriate) or I will be happy to feed you.

good luck.

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