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Feeding and mealtimes

Helping your child learn to feed themselves can be a lot of fun. Do not expect every mouthful to be a success, and be prepared for a mess!

Strategies for helping your child develop their feeding and mealtime skills

Follow our tips and strategies below. Having a routine can help your child understand what to expect.

Sitting at mealtimes

Encourage your child to sit at a table while eating. Your child should be able to comfortably and rest their elbows on the table. Make sure they do not sit too low. It may help to have a support in place for their feet.

You may find it helps to use a booster cushion, a ‘tripp trapp’ style seat, a box or step under their feet.

Early days

Finger foods will help your child to be more independent at mealtimes and to explore different textures. Encourage your child to hold their own bottle or beaker while drinking.

When helping your child to eat, it will be easier for you both if you sit on their preferred side, for example, if they’re right-handed or sit to their right.

Using a spoon

To begin, support your child’s hand while they hold the spoon. Hold their elbow with your other hand to guide the spoon to their mouth. Gradually reducing the support you give them, eventually offering help only when needed.

Take your time. It can be a slow process but it’s important for them to learn the sequence and movements required. Give your child lots of praise and encouragement, otherwise they may lose interest and prefer to let you feed them.

Encourage your child to hold the bowl steady with one hand whilst holding their spoon in the other hand. This will help them to scoop food in order to load their spoon. If the bowl keeps slipping, use a non-slip mat or damp cloth underneath or a suction bowl.

Start with foods that stick to the spoon which you can easily scoop up such as yoghurt, custard, porridge and mash.

Using cutlery

Introduce a fork when you think your child can ‘stab’ small pieces of food.

As your child’s skills develop, you can let them try using a child’s knife to cut toast or spread something on it. This will encourage them to use two hands together and help them learn how much pressure to use.

Hand coordination

Play games or try activities that encourage your child to hold one hand still while moving the other. This will help them develop the skills to use a knife and fork.

For example:

  • using spoons and scoops during play, such as feeding dolls, sand and water play
  • using a dustpan and brush – keeping the dustpan still and move the brush
  • using scissors – keeping the paper still and moving the scissors
  • playing with Play-Doh – practicing cutting with cutlery
  • cooking and baking – holding a bowl while mixing with a spoon, or spooning the mixture out of the bowl
  • opening screw top bottles and jars
  • colouring – holding the paper with one hand whilst the other hand does the colouring.