Meals and snacks are important activities. They punctuate the child’s day just like taking a bath, napping and cleaning their room. Like all routine activities, eating should be enjoyable, educational and stimulating.
Meals are perfect moments for sensory exploration and the development of their autonomy and sense of accomplishment. The child learns to feed themselves, use utensils and discover food on their own. Mealtime is also an occasion for them to manifest their food preferences, and for the adult to respect those choices.
How to teach a child to eat on their own?
Everything depends on the child’s developmental stage. You have to adapt to their pace. For example, between 0 and 18 months, it’s giving the baby the bottle when they're hungry. It’s also waiting for their indication before bringing the spoon or glass to their mouth! It’s also gradually allowing them to touch their food to develop their motor skills and gradually feed themselves by bringing food to their mouth on their own.
Put the spoon in the bowl, and help and encourage your child to use it. Messes are inevitable! That’s what learning to be autonomous is all about. When they're a bit older, they will move on to using a fork and plate, peeling a tangerine and cutting soft fruits with a plastic knife. Once again, every child is different. It’s important to use simple, positive and clear instructions from an early age, such as “food stays in the bowl”, “please put everything back in your bowl”, “the cup and the plate stay on the table when you’re done”. It’s also a patience exercise!
|9 months||Is interested in the spoon/
|Early learning of drinking with a cup /
No control over the flow
Give them a spoon /
|Uses a drinking glass with a spout and two handles|
|18 months||Feeds their teddy bear with a spoon /
All fun and games!
|Learns to control the flow /
|24 months||Eats with a spoon without making too much a mess||Drinks without a lid, and then through a straw|
|3 years||Prefers the fork|
|4 years||Cuts with a fork / Uses a knife
for spreading / Then cuts soft foods /
Will cut their meat at 6 years old
By Nathalie Regimbal, Dt.P. and the dietician team at chez Manger Futé
1 F. Ferland, Occupational therapist, Bien grandir, p 10, June 2009.