When Should My Toddler Feed Himself

Updated on June 08, 2010
K.F. asks from Sunbury, OH
12 answers

My son will be 2 next week, he can use a fork and spoon pretty well, but I can't get him to sit there and feed himself more than few bites. If I sit there and feed him, he will eat an entire meal, but if I sit him down with a meal and give him the utensils to feed himself, he will either take 3 bites and be done, or just play with his food the entire time. I get so frustrated that I end up feeding him myself. What I want to know is, at 2 should he be feeding himself all of the time? My friends 2 year old feeds herself every meal and has for quite a while. I also think I remember reading somewhere that they should start doing this at 18 months? I just wonder if I am baby-ing him by doing something for him that he should be doing himself, or am I expecting too much out of him?

At what age did your toddler start feeding themselves their meals? How should I go about getting him to do this? I have a hard time letting him only take a few bites of a meal, I want him to have a good diet and I HATE wasting food. Thanks :)

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So What Happened?

Thanks everyone! I realize he should be doing this on his own and the only reason he's not is because of me! :( At lunch today I put his food in front of him with a fork...it took him an hour and a half before he wanted it, he finally sat down and fed himself! I clapped and made a huge deal about every bite telling him good job and what a big boy he was, he LOVED that!!

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answers from Los Angeles on

Don't sweat it. My kids are now 6 and 7, and I think my son (the 6 year old) did not feed himslef fully (i.e. all the time) until 4. He was slow on everything, and now is reading and doing math quicker than my 7 year old daughter did in Kindergarten, so be patient. If getting him to eat the food is more important right now, then keep feeding him until the time of the matter frustrates you, then have him do it himself.

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answers from Dallas on

if he is hungry he will eat by himself,let him feed without you steeping don't care about the mess .

1 mom found this helpful


answers from San Diego on

First thing, it sounds like you are a really conscientious mom, so trust your own instincts! If this is your first one, then don't worry. He will probably take his time and explore longer because he doesn't have other little ones to follow. I have four kids, and all were different. Keep giving him opportunities, enjoy the times he'll still let you feed him healthy stuff (my fourth one stopped letting me feed her before she even had teeth... which meant she lived on bread and soft fruit for months...), and he'll wake up one day and do it himself and surprise you both!

Enjoy the journey!


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answers from Los Angeles on

Just wanted to say I'm experiencing the exact same thing with my son (only he is even older). Reading your responses, I'm going to make a true effort to nip this one in the bud ASAP! Thanks for the question I never thought to ask :-)



answers from Salt Lake City on

since he's old enough to understand a few sentences see if you can try this..
"Mommy puts one piece of ____ in... now Billy does one piece!!!"
see if you can take turns and that will help EASE the transition



answers from San Diego on

Good morning, If he is capable of feeding himself, don't feed him, if he's hungry enough he will feed himself, but if you keep giving in and feeding him you are promoting laziness in your son. I have a 15 month old that feeds herself, and it's fun to watch her. One mom suggested to enjoy feeding him as lon g as he'll let you, if you do you may be feeding him when he's 3 or for children continuesly to develope and change, so there will always be things to enjoy with your child without promoting laziness, trust me I've been a mom for 26 years. Julia


answers from St. Louis on

My son is now 9.5 months old and he wants to feed himself most of the time! As soon as they are ready to feed themselves, I'd say to let them. Sure it takes longer and it's messier, but there is a sense of entitlement and independence that he will learn by doing this. And he'll learn how to use the utensils properly and well. My daughter at 2 was excellent about using a spoon with anything from cereal to pudding to ice cream and hardly if ever spilled!

I think you are just hindering him by feeding him. Give him a few bites of each thing on his plate so he can use the utensils or maybe his hands. When he finishes those few bites, give him more.



answers from Washington DC on

It does depend on the child , he probably has realised that you will end up feeding him so he is being a little lazy. My youngest (2 yrs old) , would not let me feed her from around 15/16 months , and she did it all with her fingers (cereals and yogurt included) , she now uses a fork or spoon instead. If you really want him to feed himself then just leave him , a few days of only eating a few bites and realising that you are not stepping in to feed him , he will get the message and start to do it himself.



answers from Spokane on

2 is pretty old to not be feeding himself! My 3 kids all started self feeding around 10-12 months. I have worked at many daycares and we start letting the kids self feed around 9-10 months and expect them to do it exclusively for themselves at a year.
If your baby is used to you feeding him, he is now old enough to resist a change and it may take a few meals for him to get the hang of it. Be sure you give him food at the same time as you or other family members are eating so he can watch you. He is also old enough he may understand you if you tell him "You need to eat by yourself, Mommy is not going to feed you today." (probably will still resist, but will understand) The first few times he may not eat enough and be hungry later. It won't hurt him and he needs to learn to eat when food is offered. Also if he is extra hungry at the next meal time, he will eat more and learn really quick.
It is very important that he learn to self feed soon, or he will stop trusting his body to tell him how much he needs to eat and when it is time to stop (causing health problems and tendency to be overweight). I have a good friend who is a dietitian and she told me that after the age of about 18 months, children really only need about one meals worth of food a day (unless they are going through a growth spurt), so in general at this age it does seem like they are not eating and only pick at their food a little. This is normal and healthy. If you are really concerned about waisting food, only offer him a little at time, then give him more if needed. It is healthier for them to learn to trust the fullness signals from their bodies, then to have an obsession with cleaning their plates. Good luck!



answers from Atlanta on


Laurie is right about trusting your instincts. If he's overtired and you feel like you need to feed him to help him, that's always fine But if you think he is capable and everything is normal, let him feed himself. If he only eats a few bites that's fine. NO snacks....When he sits down to his next meal, he WILL be hungry. He'll get more in his system then and he'll learn real fast that if he doesn't want to get hungry, he better do it mommy's way. At two, he can only think concretely and that is where his hunger comes in!

Once he is doing a good job, a healthy afternoon snack is absolutely appropriate.

God bless!




answers from Los Angeles on

As hard as it is...you need to let him do it himself. He's very capable. More than you realize. My youngest has been feeding himself since he was about a year old and is now really great with a fork and a spoon. He still makes a mess, but it's all part of learning.

The part about how much he eats...babies are VERY good, in fact, better than us, at eating the amount they need and not overeating. If he only eats a little, he probably doesn't need as much food that day or that sitting. If he eats a ton, he needs more. It's going to fluctuate day to day based on growth spurts, activity, etc. Don't worry about it. They will get what they need.

Enjoy! Your baby is trying to gain a little bit of independence.



answers from New York on

He'll let you feed him as long as you are willing, but this should stop now. If he can do it, let him do it. Make a smaller meal to avoid wasting. If he's hungry, he'll eat.

My son has been feeding himself alone since about 18 months. Sometimes we have to remind him (2 yrs) to use a utensil, but he prefers to do it himself now- including soups and noodles and other "slippery things".

You are better served in the long run if you promote independence now, even if dinner takes an extra half hour. He's learned what behaviors he needs to demonstrate to engage you, so start ignoring those and start cheering (literally) when he takes a bite himself!

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