Whether Baby self-feeds or eats from a spoon you hold for them, the first stage of messy-faced solid-food-eating is adorable. It’s also a little labor-intensive though, and as the months go by, hungry parents start to wonder if they’ll ever be able to eat a meal at the same time as their little bundles of joy, or if they’ll be stuck supervising every meal before they get to eat it. Baby is growing more independent every day though, and before you know it, they will be ready to start using utensils to feed themself.
First, second, and third place
While it’s true that every baby develops at their own pace and in their own way, it’s also true that there is a general trend most parents follow in introducing silverware to the newest diners at the family table. Babies generally do best when they start by working out the mechanics of using a spoon, which is one of the easier concepts in eating with silverware to grasp, and has the least chance of food falling off of it. Foods with a sticky or gelatinous texture, like oatmeal, hummus, yogurt, or mashed potatoes can also help with the transition to spoon-use. After Baby shows spoons who’s boss, forks are next on the list, and knives probably won’t make it onto the list until a while after that, because using a knife is a whole other level of coordination that involves teaching Baby to use two utensils at once, one in each hand.
On the other hand, some parents swear by starting with forks, which can withstand being turned upside down by curious little fingers without losing all of the food, just as long as it’s been stabbed on firmly enough. If Baby seems to be having trouble starting with a spoon, and you think a fork might work better for them, it’s definitely worth a try.
If you’re spoon-feeding
If you’ve been spoon-feeding Baby even just some of the time, they are already at least a little familiar with what spoons are for, and how they work. They also might start telling you pretty directly that they are ready to start using one themself just by grabbing the spoon away from you and giving it a try. That doesn’t mean that they will necessarily have the skills they will need to get the nutrients they need with it yet, though, so many parents find that a good compromise is to give Baby a toddler spoon of their own to hold onto and try without actually stopping spoon-feeding. Another option is to try pre-loading the spoon with food and then handing it to Baby to let them try to work out how to get it to their mouth on their own.
If Baby doesn’t start reaching for the spoon and taking control, but you think they have built enough coordination to try to use a spoon for themself anyway, giving them a toddler spoon and the chance to test it out sometime between 9 months and a bit older than a year may be all they need to catch their interest.
If you’re self-feeding
Babies who have pretty much exclusively self-fed since they started to move away from the bottle or breastfeeding may need a little bit of a crash-course in what a spoon is and does before they get interested in trying to use one. The way they approach their finger food can let you know when they are ready to try, though – when they are still raking to pick up their food, they probably won’t have the coordination for utensils. As their pincer grasp starts growing stronger and more precise, though, it’s a good sign that they might be ready to give a spoon or fork a shot.
Once you’ve decided your finger-feeding Baby is ready to discover the wonderful world of slightly-less-sticky fingers, try giving them a demonstration of just how these ‘spoon’ things work by slowly, and with exaggerated movements, sharing a few spoonfuls of something delicious with them before handing the spoon over and letting them try it out.
How long will it take?
The time until Baby is a fork-and-spoon master depends not only on their pace at mastering the concepts, but also on when they get started and the rate that their body is growing at. Part of the mess of learning to eat is just that they doesn’t have the coordination skills yet, and that takes practice, but another part of it is that their fine motor control will get better as the bones in their hands and wrists start to harden, which usually happens sometime between their first and second birthday. The mess can be frustrating, but it’s an important part of Baby’s learning process. So if you can find a way to be amused by it, or to minimize the damage it does, you and Baby will both have some much happier mealtimes in the meantime.