It’s easy to take silverware for granted when you’ve been using it for as long as you can remember, but being around a 16-month-old toddler can be a sweet little reminder of just how challenging a skill it is. The precise movements it takes to get the food on there. The steadiness it takes to get it all the way from the plate to your mouth without having it fall right back off again. You need a lot of practice to become good at it, and that’s a tall order when you’re little and impatient and just want to eat your food.
We’ve been spoon-feeding Lillian since she started on solids at four months old, and she’s been feeding herself various snacks and finger foods since she started to get teeth to chew them with, but only since the start of this year or so (at around the 14-month mark) did we really get into a consistent routine of giving her a spoon during meals to see what would happen.
Right from the start, she seemed to be pretty interested. (Sometimes, she would even insist on two spoons so she could have one in each hand.) And right away she mastered the basic movement of dipping the spoon into the food, and then moving the spoon to her mouth, though the most this tended to accomplish was a bit of sauce or flavor to lick off.
The challenging part was learning to scoop actual substantive mouthfuls up. For us, what really seemed to be the ticket here was to (1) give her one spoon to practice / play with, while (2) using another spoon to shovel food into her mouth as fast as she could eat it. Sometimes for number two we would instead load up the utensil and hand it to her and let her move it to her mouth, but in either case it seemed pretty important to keep the food coming to keep her from getting impatient and just abandoning the spoon in favor of fingers.
Using this method, she began to get the hang of it, and we started to see her manage two or three bites per meal all on her own. This gradually increased over the course of a few weeks as with practice she got better and better, until now she’s practically a pro. I shot this short video around two weeks ago, when Lillian was really starting to get the hang of things:
This little clip shows the full range of what happens during a typical meal around here:
- Lillian easily scooping up peas and successfully eating them with the spoon.
- Lillian taking a few bites with her fingers, with me giving gentle encouragement to use the spoon instead.
- Me loading a spoon and handing it to Lillian to eat.
- Lillian requesting a second spoon and then randomly switching between spoons.
- Peas flying everywhere (bound to happen).
And just in case the video isn’t working or you can’t watch it right now, here are a few still frames just for fun:
One day at daycare, Lillian picked up a spoon and fed herself an entire bowl of rice all by herself, leaving the owner impressed at how good she was at it for her age. And surprisingly she even has decent luck with real adult-sized (plastic) forks, though for the most part she uses the same scooping motion she uses with the spoons and any actual food-spearing seems to be mostly accidental. Here’s a recent adventure to our favorite noodle restaurant, with Lillian enjoying a big bowl of penne with marinara sauce:
(We forgot to bring a bib that day, and while amazingly she didn’t get too messy, it certainly felt lucky that she was wearing a shirt the same color as the sauce!)
So anyway, that’s the story of the latest big grown-up skill acquired by our little Lillian. All I can say is I’m really proud of her, and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say she’s really proud of herself, too. Sometimes she’ll scoop up a spoonful and hold it up for a few extra seconds for Daddy to see, beaming all the while. And every once in a while she’ll offer a bite to me (it’s quite the feeling to find the baby you’ve spent so long spoon-feeding suddenly spoon-feeding you!) or to Grendel (interestingly enough, our cat likes peas and will eat them with gusto.)
To anyone reading who’s been down this road before, how did it go? Any tips for teaching the little ones to eat with utensils, or table manners in general? Did your pets hang around like vultures waiting for the inevitable bits of dropped food, possibly surprising you with an unexpected enthusiasm for vegetables? Feel free to share in the comments!