Before I begin, let me be point out that I said your baby can eat with utensils – not that he or she will do so consistently, or even effectively right now, or even in the next couple of years. Your results may vary but, more than likely, your baby can indeed eat with utensils. Details below!
Like many things that are challenging for small hands at first, our culture seems to wait on putting spoons and forks into the hands of small children until more or less random ages. Spoon feeding, of course, is a common way of delivering baby’s first foods, and often continues through the end of the first year and beyond. More and more families these days are opting for Baby Led Weaning instead, allowing their babies to feed themselves. In this case, first foods are usually self-fed, by hand.
While Baby-led Weaning (or some version of the same) was the best approach to first foods for us, I offered utensils from day one. This may seem silly and unncessary, but to me, it just made sense. The phrase, “food before one is just for fun,” is often repeated in some parenting circles to highlight the idea that babies under one get most everything they need to grow and thrive from their mama’s milk, if it’s available, or whatever alternative works best for their family if it isn’t. We give them food as a way of letting them practice, of introducing them to new flavors and textures, of allowing them to explore and to build their fine motor skills – and of course they do get some nutrients while they’re at it.
All humans, no matter how small, are social beings, and there is far more to eating in our world than just flavors, textures, and nutrients. The social aspect of eating is incredibly important and, as with most activities, children are watching the behavior we model while we participate in the process of eating. They see us using utensils, and are no doubt curious about what we’re doing. In our culture, (most) food is always eaten with either a spoon or a fork. What better way to make this food-utensil connection feel natural than by helping our babies to experience it from the very start?
When I gave my babies their first meals, I always put a spoon, a fork, or both at their place until, as in Annabelle’s case now, they were old enough to do this part of the meal prep themselves. Now, we have a silverware drawer just for child-sized utensils at child height and Annabelle usually gets her own utensils plus one for Elliot, before dinner each night. Elliot loves having his own silverware, even though he doesn’t always use it, and I believe that these practice sessions afford him the opportunity to practice social behavior and fine motor skills in an enjoyable and contextual way. I never correct his use of a spoon or a fork, unless of course he’s doing something that causes dings in our wooden dining table, so there’s no pressure at all. It’s all about exploration, and as far as I can tell it’s quite beneficial.
My children have been very different on this one, with Annabelle, now three, mostly ignoring spoons and forks until later in toddlerhood. From them on, she used them about half the time until sometime around her last birthday. At this point, I’d say she uses a spoon or fork 95% of the time, but still reverts to using her hands when she’s faced with a particularly difficult to eat meal. Elliot, however, almost always tries to use his utensils throughout the entire meal, and has done so since he was probably eight months old. He may wield a utensil in one hand while scooping food with the other hand, but he’s still trying, enjoying, and building those fine motor skills, so it all works out.
If you haven’t tried offering your baby or toddler his or her own spoon or fork yet, why not give it a try? Just place it within reach during meals and let them explore as they’re ready. You may be surprised by how quickly they become skilled at feeding themselves this way!
Does your baby eat with utensils already? Any tips for introducing them? Favorite flatware sets?
I am often asked about places to buy child-sized utensils that aren’t plastic. Below is a list of what we’ve found and use. Note that some links (the amazon ones, to be precise) are affiliate links:
World Market doesn’t sell utensils for children, at least not last time I checked, but their cocktail silverware is the perfect size for the smallest hands. Most of our first flatware is from here. I imagine other stores sell cocktail silverware as well, I just happened to find cute, complete sets here.
Ikea sells a three piece set of stainless steel flatware for around $5. This set is a good size for older toddlers or for preschoolers. It’s my three-year-old’s go to set right now.
Both of my kids were given fancy Reed and Barton sets by their great aunt as babies. There are far less expensive options that work just as well, but if you’re looking for a special gift, these are pretty sweet. While looking around, I just found this Oneida one, too. We haven’t used it, but it looks lovely, doesn’t it? Heck, a few teaspoons from the thrift store would be perfect for a baby’s very first meals, too.
For the classroom, Constructive Playthings has this great set, which we use for snacks at school. They’re a bit on the small side, but a great value for the number of pieces you get – and the three section tray is wonderful for keeping them in. I love that they’re dishwasher safe, too.
Oh, and I was pretty excited when I found these bamboo spoon/fork combos at a local store recently. I keep them in my diaper bag now, and they’re a perfect, no fuss option for restaurants, picnics, and such.
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