12 answers

How to Teach Toddler to Eat by Himself

My son is 17 months old, shows interest in eating by himself but because mealtime is always a mess, i always spoon-feed him yogurt, soup, noodles, etc., while only letting him eat pasta or chunks of food by himself. Should I let him eat by himself for everything? I'm afraid he won't be able to eat as much by himself and everything will end up on the floor.

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This has been harder for me than for him! He definitely doesn't eat as much when he eats by himself, but I'm hoping in the long run that this will pay off!!! Thanks to all your support!

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2 spoons. One for him to try his hand at feeding. I for you so he doesn't starve, get completely frustrated or so you don't go insane waiting for him to finish a meal :)

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My 20 month old only now just mastered the art of the spoon and yogurt pretty much by herself. I would let her try when she was 17 months like your son, but I supervised and intervened when she was making a huge mess, or if it wasn't really getting into her mouth but getting all over everything else. At his age, let him try a couple of spoonfuls, then you do a couple to show him the right way. He'll get it in no time, but you do have to let go a little of the worry about the mess so he can learn. Take it from me, I am very anal about messes and all that, but I just grit my teeth and hung in there for times like these! For soup, I'd make sure he mastered the yogurt first, since soup is not only messier, but could end up spilling on him. Remove some of the broth so it's easier to get the noodles and chicken, and obviously make sure it's not super hot. Also, at around 18-19 months, I let my kids use a fork at mealtimes where appropriate, like if there were chucnks of food on their tray they could spear. Again, model it first by doing it yourself, then let him try. You'll be surprised how quickly he catches on! I hope this helps... Oh yeah, at my kids' day care, they sometimes take my little one's shirt off when she eats yogurt to make for an easier clean up. I don't tend to do this, but it might be worth a try for you! Good luck!!

1 mom found this helpful

Hi B.
My feeling is if you feed him, he won't learn to eat by himself.
But at the same time-I understand your concern for his nutrition.
A good balance might be to give him a nutritional shake in the morning so his
body has all the vitamins and nutrients it needs and then he can learn to eat on his own
(with mom's loving guidance of course!). This way you both win.
Reliv has an awesome kids formula called Kid's Now.
Safe, effective, patented and money back guarantee.
Love to share
J. H

ABSOLUTELY let him feed himself...As a former teacher in toddler programs it is so frustrating when the parents do everything for their child including feeding. Self feeding is a great skill which fosters independence. Your child can probably accomplish more on his own than you think. In the classroom I ran the children were roughly 12 months and up and they fed themselves yogurt, applesauce etc. Toddlers are never going to starve, and its ok to make a mess, it is part of the learning process. Just put a bib on him and let him go to town!

I've been letting my 17-month-old eat with a spoon and a fork for a while, and it is a mess but definitely worth it. They do improve their skills quickly, especially when they're eating something they like. For practice with the spoon, I've been using thicker foods (soup is too thin) - like hummus, applesauce, cottage cheese, baby food or yogurt thickened with cereal, etc - then he can get the hang of getting something to his mouth and not getting too frustrated. And he loves trying to spear things with the fork! It sure makes meal times easier when he can eat by himself - I can eat too! Hope this helps...good luck.

2 spoons. One for him to try his hand at feeding. I for you so he doesn't starve, get completely frustrated or so you don't go insane waiting for him to finish a meal :)

Kids know how much food they need. If either of your sons don't want to eat... let them not eat. When they are hungry enough they WILL eat something. When my daughter (who is 3 now) hit about one and a half it seeemed like she just stopped eating. it drove me NUTS. I can't tell you how many times i went to the doctor to make sure that she was ok. BUT she WAS ok. When she is hungry she will eat and when she is full she will stop. It is also true that they will get the nutrition that they need even if they only eat one green bean and mac and cheese. Just keep putting the good food on their plates and if they don't eat it. Ok... maybe next time they will. I have two daughters... both on the small side. We cheered when my second daughter (who is two now) hit the 5% mark for height. My other daughter has been in the 10% and lower her whole life. They are just small kids.

By feeding the kids you are teaching them to ignore the feelings that their bodies are telling them.

As far as messes go... that's what toddlers do! That is how they explore.. through their mouths, hands.. you name it etc. I don't think i ever fed my kids after they turned 12 months old. by 15 months both kids were using spoons and forks -- well, sort of. :) I never did much baby food. Something else i never thought of..is that it also teaches small motor skills. at 17 months he shojld be able to pick up even the smallest of objects and get them into his mouth.

I know it's tough to do, but let your son try things on his own. I know what you're going through. I have 3 kids 6,5,20 mos and I know how messy it can be, but they have to learn sometime. Let im have some fun. You can always just throw him in the bath after!

My now 8 year old is on the 5% of the weight chart and always has been. She started on Pediasure when she stopped formula at 1 and lost weight! My doctor said that the worst thing I could do is make a naturally slim child heavier just because I think she should eat more. That really made sense to me so since then I have let her choose her own foods. She likes the vanilla Pediasure and recently we switched to Vanilla Carnation Instant Breakfast (a LOT cheaper). We add Nestle Chocolate powder to make it chocolaty tasting, and she loves it.
AS far as letting a 17 month eat by himself: it will be messy, and we always let our kids have some alone time with the food, and if nothing seemed to go in, then I would help with a spoon. The Right Start sells spoons with little holes in them that the food clings to even when the spoon it upside down, which were very helpful (http://www.rightstart.com/global/store/product~item~480~d.... Good luck!

give him the spoon and let him go to town! Its okay if he makes a mess its part of the fun if he doesn't get enough you can always give him some more.

I agree, let him have at it.

I did start with thicker foods. Yogurt was too runny, for example, but oatmeal was better. They really do get the hang of it fast.

Also, I started by just letting my daughter feed herself for one meal. She got her daily practice, and I only had to clean up after her once.

I give my 16 month old her own small spoon. She likes to 'mix' the food, then when she pulls out the spoon from the bowl with food all over it, I say "put it in your mouth". Still makes a mess, but at least I'm getting the food into her while she's distracted, plus she gets to feed herself. Much less fussing from her about eating food when she has her own spoon.


Absolutely let him try. It's the only way he will learn to do it himself. Just prepare yourself for the mess. Instead of having our daughter in the dining room for such occasions I put her in the kitchen and layout newspapers below her high chair. I strip her down to just a diaper and onesie or just a diaper if possible. Then I put a bib on and encourage her to do it herself. I am close by to help her get the angle of the spoon right and that kind of thing but I definitely let her try. I generally do this for dinner and just put her straight into the bath afterwards. That way I don't feel like there is food in her hair and she is sticky and all that - I let her have fun with it and that is that.
I don't do this everyday but a couple of times a week. She is getting the hang of it but she is not there yet. I do have to warn you though once I let her try to feed herself she didn't want ME to feed her these foods again. I got around this by only letting her feed herself a couple of messy things and I do the others until she is better at it. This way I feel like I know how much she is getting vs I have no I idea if any actually went in feeling.

Good luck, have fun, laugh and take lots of pictures.
L. M

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