I get asked about cutlery and utensil use in babies and toddlers a lot. I actually have started to add lots of my IG stories to a highlight titled “utensils” as I know it’s something parent’s want to know about.
Things I’m often asked include:
- When should we introduce baby to cutlery?
- When should baby be feeding themselves using cutlery well?
- How is Raffy so good with his utensils?
First and foremost – remember that ALL babies are very different and will develop skills around eating and feeding at very different paces. I know it’s easier said than done, but try not to compare. Your baby is unique and, as my dear friend Joe Wicks always says “all kids will be able to use cutlery eventually”. They will get there.
Also remember that Raffy is almost 3 and has had a lot of time to practice.
Cutlery use is a skill that needs to be developed…
Babies develop the skills to use cutlery with experience. It’s not something they will master straight away so it really is a case of practice makes perfect. However, here are some of the feeding skills relevant to cutlery use that a baby will begin to develop during weaning:
- Before 6 months a baby will usually open their mouth or a spoon that they are offered.
- At around 7 months a baby will start to develop the skill needed to close their lip around the spoon and use their top lip to clear food from the spoon.
- At around 9 months babies usually start to show more of an interest in self-feeding. They also start to use the pincer grip to pick up foods with the thumb and forefinger which can aid in self-feeding.
- Most infants will start to hone their spoon feeding skills so that they can do it pretty well between 15 and 18 months.
The best way to get your baby to have a kick start with their cutlery? Role model! It’s absolutely key that baby sees you using utensils and feeding yourself with them as they will learn so much from these observations.
How to start your baby with cutlery?
Below are my tips on introducing cutlery to baby, based on my experience with Raffy as well as experience from others too and starting with a SPOON!
- I’m an advocate for a mix of finger foods AND offering purees/mash from a spoon (not solely BLW), so if you’re going down this route too, I recommend offering a spoon to baby from day one in the weaning journey.
- Ideally it’s best to start your baby with just a spoon to allow them to focus their practice and skill building on this one implement. Try to choose a spoon that is nice and soft so the edges are easy on baby’s gums. Additionally a small spoon that doesn’t conduct heat is good. I actually really like the Tommee Tippee temperature control spoons as a first spoon, as they tick all these boxes and also babies often love to chew on them when teething (no Ad, FYI)
- As soon as baby starts to show signs of wanting the spoon off you – go for it and let them have a practice! Load the spoon for them first, as they won’t have the skills to do this yet and let them pick it up and feed themselves. Raffy actually grabbed the spoon off me pretty early, and I didn’t ever discourage it.
- If you find not much food is going in, try having one spoon for you and one for them – the two spoon trick –and just keep rotating between them. This helps to ensure you’re getting some tastes and flavours of solids into their mouth if they aren’t yet quite there with their spoon/mouth coordination.
- For babies who don’t show interest in grabbing the spoon you can absolutely try dipping the spoon in some mash and simply handing it to baby/placing it next to them and letting them explore. Remember the early weeks of weaning are about getting them to taste foods, they don’t need to gobble it all up.
- Try a variety of spoons – some babies like bigger ones and other babies like to hold larger handles etc, so if you can, try a variety. We always got Raffy used to having a variety as we didn’t want him to only be able to use one type and I wasn’t ever organised enough to pack them when we ate out!
- Do lots of role modelling so baby sees you using the spoon yourself – they will learn and copy so much of what you do.
- As soon as baby starts getting more confident with using the spoon and more adventurous with self-feeding (often from around 9 months), you can start holding baby’s hand and showing them how to scoop food onto the spoon themselves and feed themselves. This takes a lot of work and development, so be patient and do expect a lot of mess.
Once you feel your little one has really mastered the spoon (not necessarily the scooping action, this often comes later), you can start to introduce a spoon and fork together. This could be at 9, 10 months or when baby is over a year. They are all different and just go at baby’s pace. They’ll get there.
Cutlery options moving forward?
There are plenty of options for baby spoon/fork combos on the market, and I don’t necessarily have specific ones that work fantastically. But to be honest, I haven’t tried many of the special ones available. We were sent some lovely Done by Deer ones from Daisies and Dinosaur (gifted) and we’ve used those mostly, but my mother-in-law also got Raffy some big boy metal ones for his 2nd birthday and he always likes using those – just because he then thinks he’s got the same as us. They are standard fork/knife and spoons, just a little smaller.
Ones with grippable plastic handles and a metal but soft, rounded edges, are good, I find. Mainly because metal prongs are more efficient than plastic forks at picking up food (I always found Raffy got frustrated with the plastic forks as he couldn’t pick much up with them).
Make sure you’re sitting with baby when they are eating using cutlery (as always), so you can help guide them with this (and, again for more role modelling!)
Using spoon and fork combo is, again, simply about showing them how to stab food with the fork and scoop food with the spoon – remember, it’s still all work in progress and these skills won’t be perfected until they are much older – usually around 5years.
Introducing a knife?
A soft, rounded knife with plastic large/grippable handles is helpful when you decide to go about introducing these. Raffy is now almost three, and probably from around the age of 2 and a half we got him to gently start practicing with the knife – he loves trying it out, but it’s quite there yet. Again, practice makes perfect and there is no rush for him to be able to do this either. It takes a great deal of coordination!
Ultimately getting little ones to use cutlery is about practice! They will develop the skills and coordination to use them as they practice with using spoons/forks and other utensils. You don’t need to worry too much about getting them to use them super accurately, as long as you’re exposing baby to them, role modelling and giving them the opportunity to try them out themselves.
Using cutlery efficiently takes a lot of experience and time – they won’t master it right away.
N.B. I did some research when writing this blog, but was amazed by the variation in ages that was suggested for different skill abilities on different blogs/research papers and factsheets online. For example a few papers/blogs I read said that babies will start self-feeding from around 2 e.g. “by 24 months children are usually keen to feed themselves and be independent”, but I know that many, many children self-feed from 6 months. Therefore, in this blog I have used the research and interpreted it in my own way with my own experience helping thousands of families with weaning and in my own experiences of feeding Raffy.
Filling the spoon causes great difficulty and often requires adult assistance; the child simply engages in an ineffective dipping-in motion. In lifting, the wrist is frequently rotated inwards, which causes the spoon to turn upside down. The way in which the spoon is grasped also shows variation. A few children show a well-controlled radial grasp, holding the handle of the spoon between the distal phalanx of the thumb and index finger. More commonly the grip is palmar, with the handle of the spoon resting between the thumb and index finger and locked by the palm. Toward the end of the second year, the manner in which the spoon is transported to the mouth changes