Tips for Teaching Your Toddler to Eat Like a Big Kid

15 Months-2 Years

By this age, your toddler has started to feed himself. This is a good and healthy step. In fact, by helping him with the right types of kids’ utensils at this crucial time, you’ll help him develop the fine motor skills and coordination he needs to keep mastering new skills down the road, like brushing his teeth, buttoning his pants and writing. Set him up for success with these tips.

Practice makes perfect

When it comes to food parenting and helping your toddler learn how to feed herself, practice (and more patience) makes perfect. The first time you offer your toddler a baby spoon, she might not be ready for it. Let her keep eating bite-sized pieces with her hands or start using her hands and a utensil until she’s interested in using just her fork and spoon. Other tips when your toddler is learning how to feed herself include:

  • Let her play with and explore her food.
  • When she throws food on the floor, gently encourage her to play with it on her tray or plate instead.
  • Put newspaper under her chair, or put her chair on an easy-to-clean surface to avoid getting frustrated over the mess.
  • Expose your toddler to lots of different textures.

Expect a mess, and remember that it will get better. In time, she’ll master feeding herself (under your watchful eye), which will make her feel “grown up” while still getting well-balanced, nutritious meals that help her grow strong.

Choosing the right tools

The right tools can make all the difference in helping your toddler enjoy using forks and spoons to eat bite-sized pieces of all the new, healthy foods you’re introducing. In general, look for utensils, bowls, plates and cups that fit his hands. Divided plates—or separate bowls—give him more places to ‘scoop’ the food into his spoon, which helps him learn and grow.

Experiment to find the right self-feeding tools for your child, and don’t feel pressured into buying the latest and greatest (and most expensive) items at the store. Just stick to the basics. Some kids prefer cups with handles, while others do better without them. If one isn’t working, try the other. This goes for plates, bowls and utensils too; keep trying until you find the one that works best for your little guy.

If he seems uninterested in graduating to big-kid plates and cups, get him excited about it by letting him pick items with his favorite color or character on them.

Getting the food ready

Not surprisingly, throwing a chicken breast on a plate and giving your 15-month-old a fork and knife to eat it isn’t going to end well. You can help her gain confidence and satisfaction in feeding herself by cutting up her food into bite-sized pieces that are small enough to prevent choking but big enough to stab with a small fork or scoop with a toddler-sized spoon.

Speaking of spoons, foods that stick easily to spoons, like yogurt, cottage cheese, applesauce, oatmeal and sweet potatoes, are great for boosting confidence.

If your child is still gagging or choking often, or has trouble chewing and moving food around in her mouth, talk to her doctor.

Preparing for cups

Giving your toddler a cup—uncovered or a straw sippy cup—can be a scary time for a parent. What will happen to the carpet, couch or clothes? Reduce your stress by introducing this new tool only with water because as your toddler learns to hold a cup and drink through it, he will probably drop it a lot.

Another great way to minimize the mess during this learning stage is to pick one meal to use an open cup, and use a cup and straw for other meals. When you’re on the go, grab a sippy cup with a straw or a child-sized water bottle with an open mouthpiece.

For more tips on how to say bye to the bottle and hello to the cup, click here.