Transitioning Your Child to Eating on His or Her Own

Staff Writer
Tips and advice for teaching your child to feed themselves — and how to make mealtime fun
Baby eating
Istock/artistic captures

Baby eating

It’s a stage that many parents remember well — transitioning their son or daughter off the bottle and onto solid foods. The rejected spoonfuls of puréed carrots and apples that would dribble down chins. Bits of cereal that would make it to the mouth, but then somehow off the highchair table. And, of course, the oatmeal for breakfast that always seemed to end up in the hair, down the shirt, and all over — just never in the mouth.

Now that you’ve got them eating solid foods, it’s time to get them to start feeding themselves. But where to begin? We went straight to Catherine McCord, a mom of two young kids (who both now feed themselves), and author of the kid-friendly blog, Weelicious, for advice.


When to Start

According to McCord, every child is different. “My son took a while to get a hang of it and my daughter was the baby that wanted to feed herself from day one.” It comes down to how curious — then comfortable — the child is with the spoon.

You can give your child a spoon as soon as they are eating solid foods (McCord likes to use BPA-free spoons that are soft on small mouths (that may be teething), often choosing spoons that are made of wood, bamboo, or even silver). “Start feedings by offering your baby a spoon and showing them yours,” advises McCord. It will empower them and give them the independence some want. And if they’re not interested in it, that’s fine — they’re just not ready yet. If they’d rather hold onto the spoon and play with it like a toy, that’s OK, too. In the end, “practice makes perfect,” McCord says, “it’s a big part of the learning curve.” (Photo courtesy of


Introducing the Fork (and Knife)

Don’t introduce the fork until your child is eating small pieces of small food like melon, cut up chicken or hot dogs, or even macaroni. Show them how it’s used by example and then have them do the same. McCord adds, “chasing food around on their plates and learning how to fork it is a ton of fun for kids.”

McCord recommends waiting until your child is around four before introducing the knife. It will take some time for your child to learn how to hold it and how much force is necessary to cut through chicken versus pancakes. And even then, most kids will still ask for mom and dad's help, adds McCord, “and it's probably for the best.”