Toddler self-feeding tips

Hi! I've been struggling with changing my approach to feeding my 18-month old for various reasons. Actually, he eats well because 1) we have a more authoritarian style of feeding (i.e. his grandparents or I feed him), and 2) we tend to feed him throughout the day (so even if he doesn't eat much for meal, he will get lots of snacks). However, I have been getting signals that this needs to change for various reasons, like establishing better boundaries for eating in general and encouraging him to self-feed. I should note that our son happily obliges with the authoritarian style of being fed because he is a very busybody with his toys and books... not sure if this is truly a problem? Open to thoughts. My other questions to folks are:

  • How do you prioritize wanting him to self-feed and therefore preparing a menu where he can do that (i.e. diced carrots and chicken pieces) but also cultivating his taste for your food? Ideally we want him to eat what we eat, but what we eat (rice, noodles, stews, etc.) often requires utensils where he would clearly need some help managing. When he sees us eating those things, he doesn't want his carrots and chicken anymore. That is a big reason why we still feed him because we are feeding him 'our food'.
  • Related to above - Do you all eat together, and if not, when does that start? I find if he eats by himself, he more readily self-feeds because he only sees his own food. But if we all eat together, it's actually more work because I have to make sure dinner is prepared for everyone at the same time and can't just open up a Tupperware of diced chicken to feed one tiny stomach, plus we end up feeding him because our food is less manageable with little hands. However, I don't like when he has meals that are separate from us - both in timing and in substance. So either we eat together (and we feed him our food), or he eats alone and feeds himself his own food - is the current situation...
  • How/when do you also teach not wasting food? I have never forced our toddler to finish anything, but eventually I want to teach him the value of food and how one should endeavor not to waste it.

Thanks in advance!

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RE: Toddler self-feeding tips ()

You are obviously a caring parent. I think your instincts are right on this. Your child is ready to eat with the family. Take advantage of this interest and let him join regular family meals. Don't worry if it is messy. Tidiness only comes with practice which has to start some time. Give him a spoon and let him try a small bowl of soup. Learning to eat 3 regular meals plus one snack is important too. If you constantly feed him he won't learn to listen to hunger cues of his own body. Please don't talk about food wastage. It is MUCH more important that he grows up listening to when he is hungry or full and to not force food on him just because it is on his plate and you don't want to waste it. To combat waste, have two plates, one family style plate that you dish small portions on to his plate. When he is done he can ask for more. 

RE: Toddler self-feeding tips ()

I’m no expert, but as a parent of an almost-two-year-old whose eating habits change and develop constantly, as I’m sure your toddler’s does/will too, my primary response to your question is: Stop overthinking it. Sit down to eat together and give your kid whatever the rest of you are eating, served in smaller chunks. If your “adult” food is truly non-kid-friendly, e.g., way spicy or too many unfamiliar ingredients, let him try it if he wants to, and, if he objects, give him his diced chicken instead. Let him feed himself with his utensils. Let him feed himself with his hands. Let him get messy. Whatever works for him. This stage of eating is as much about learning and playing as it is about actual eating. If he wants help getting the food to his mouth, he’ll let you know. If he’s distracted with his toys and books, periodically offer him a spoonful while he plays. And unless he’s trained early to stop paying attention to his own body’s signals around food, he’ll eat as much as he actually needs and then stop, food waste be damned—so if you’re concerned about food waste, try serving him a bit at a time and then give him more if he finishes the first serving.

RE: Toddler self-feeding tips ()

An 18 month old should be able to use utensils. So just put some of your food on his plate (cut up if necessary) and give him a toddler spoon or fork and let him have at it. And of course at that age meals should be together. And you limit food waste by only putting an amount on their plate that they will eat and make sure they know they can have seconds (and thirds). Great way of slowly teaching them to only take as much as you will it.

RE: Toddler self-feeding tips ()

We gave our kiddo a spoon and let her go to town. We also accepted that some things that might be eaten with utensils by us adults, could be eaten with fingers by her. So noodles, the chunky parts of the stew, mashed potatoes, we would place on her plate or tray, give her a toddler spoon, and then let her figure out how to get it into her mouth. She learned a lot about texture, hand-eye coordination, dexterity. It was (and still is) great. She's 2.5 now and eats like a pro (no good with forks just yet however). 

You can look into infant led feeding - they have a lot of ideas on how to make "your food" easier for your kiddo to manage. 

It's gonna be messy. Super messy. It's part of the growth and the fun! 

RE: Toddler self-feeding tips ()

I second the previous poster on letting your child get messy. It is a pain to deal with but their abilities will improve quickly. I had my children practice using a cup, and a spoon and bowl while in the bath. Just fill a metal or plastic bowl with water from the tap and let them try to drink it with the spoon. The kids loved it and it let them practice with the utensils without making a mess.

RE: Toddler self-feeding tips ()

Feeding children is so challenging!  My favorite book is Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense by Ellyn Satter. She is a dietitian and a therapist. Very practical guidance with the goal of creating children who are “competent eaters”   She has a good website as well. https://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org/  wishing you all the best. 

RE: Toddler self-feeding tips ()

Serve your child table food. For soups and stews, you can fish out the noodles and veggies and meat and put it on a plate. Put the broth in a sippy cup if you want. My daughter loved the tofu fished out of miso soup. She also proved that rice is a finger food. I remember Chinese New Year when she was 8 months old happily eating rice at a restaurant. It's been a few years now, but I think she was eating with the family before she hit 1 year old. Once she could handle food with texture, she pretty much graduated to table food. 

RE: Toddler self-feeding tips ()

I actually answered a question a while back that was similar.  Please go to: https://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org  She has what she calls the "division of responsibility."  Basically, parents decide: WHAT is served; WHEN it's served; WHERE it's served.  Kids decide: WHETHER to eat and HOW much.  So you decide that dinner is at 6:30pm at the kitchen table with the highchair pulled up and it's rice, baked chicken and broccoli.  Your son chooses whether he eats and how much of it.  Then you all enjoy the meal!  There is no "just one more bite," and "if you eat X, you can have Y for dessert."  On the flip side, your son can't dictate that he wants pizza in front of the TV right now.  (Well, an 18 month old can't do that, but in 1 year he can, so it's good to start this now.)  Actually, you are starting at the perfect time.  You can easily develop positive eating habits at this age.  The website also has information on when to start solid foods; what to do at various stages/ages etc.  This is really a no-nonsence, common sense way to approach meals.  I strongly recommend looking at her website.  It's information packed and extremely helpful.  She has a book as well, but the website gives the information in a much easier way and is free.  Win-win!

Full-disclosure:  I'm the daughter of a nutritionist; my mother knew Ellen Satter professionally.  We dealt with all the cajoling with my first born.  Then the light-bulb went on with my 2nd child and we've followed her system for years now.  My 3 kids all eat well and varied.  Some meals they don't like, so they don't eat.  My teenagers come down later in the evening for a snack, but they are growing teenage boys.  After dinner snacks only just started in their teenage years.  And they make their food and clean up after themselves.  

Best of luck to you!  

RE: Toddler self-feeding tips ()

Another plug for Child of Mine. Our 6 and 2 yo have a very wide palate- Chinese to Indian. There’s never any anxiety about food. If they’re hungry they’ll usu eat anything served to them. We never do kids’ menus. We aren’t short order cooks. When others take care of them they eat well. We make food we want to eat so it’s easy to eat their leftovers eg. When we (rarely) serve desserts they’re allowed to eat as much as they like. A result is they’ll share such treats with us. We of course don’t want them to gorge themselves on sweets- they usually stop anyhow- so we just don’t serve it often. Easy. Such a great book.