It is important for children to continuously improve their overall feeding abilities for the purposes of safe chewing and swallowing, as well as developing an appropriate dietary repertoire and achieving accurate milestones. For example, utilizing utensils such as forks and spoons and appropriate cups can improve hand-eye coordination as well as provide the strength to perform daily life activities (cutting, coloring, writing, etc.) Children who are found to have impaired motor skills or developmental disabilities can often face challenges in achieving feeding milestones for their chronological age, and may require support in order to reach these significant developmental markers.
Where should I begin?
After your child has reached 2-4 months of age, he should typically be moving his hands up to the bottle or breast during feeding. By 6-9 months, he should be able to independently hold his bottle with both hands and begin to utilize a cup with assistance. At 15-18 months of age, it is helpful to begin giving your child straws to use, as by 2-3 years of age he should be using a cup (without a lid) without spilling its contents.
When you’re introducing your child to baby foods it is important to consider the appropriate hierarchy. Parents typically should first introduce fruits and vegetables, beginning with a variety such as pears or apples, and sweet potatoes or carrots. After these food groups have been trialed and tolerated, the next step is to introduce meat mixtures. However, it is crucial to be aware that most children need to try a new food approximately 10 times before they will consume it consistently.
It is also crucial to test for possible allergies or food sensitivities by introducing no more than one new food to your baby every three days, while monitoring her for any congestion, rashes, diarrhea, or vomiting. In addition, postpone introducing dairy products until your child has reached the age of 12 months, and fish or any form of nuts until 2 years of age. It is also helpful to wait until later years to introduce any form of gluten or corn, as opposed to too early within your child’s feeding development.
When should my child begin to try self-feeding?
Typically, by 6-9 months of age, your child should start to assist you with her feedings. For example, she might hold or mouth foods presented to her that are simple to eat (such as crackers or her favorite cookies!) and play with any utensils you give her with her meals, such as a spoon. By 9-13 months, she should begin to finger feed with soft-textured foods without difficulty and demonstrate some engagement in/enjoyment of the process. Approaching 12-14 months of age, she should typically be dipping her spoon in her food and bringing it to her mouth (but maybe not always hitting the bullseye—cue the wet wipes!)
When should my child begin feeding herself independently?
She should be scooping her food and feeding herself between the ages of 15-18 months. Finally, by 2-3 years of age, your child should begin utilizing a fork, starting by pushing her fork onto her food. She also should be able to use a spoon without causing any spills.
My child does not enjoy eating/My child has not met these milestones! What can I do?
It is crucial for children to meet these milestones for overall feeding development and functioning in daily life. Therefore, take initiative to improve these skills the best you can. Try utilizing a spoon with fun snacks that are easy to scoop, or have your child practice the act of scooping at the beach with a pail and shovel! In addition, it could be helpful to have your child first ‘feed’ his favorite toy (perhaps an action figure or baby doll) to improve his comfort level and skills. Play-based activities, such as picnics, pretend tea parties, or playing kitchen and cooking a meal with you are helpful in engaging children—especially younger ones—in the components of feeding. However, if your child has not met these milestones and continues to struggle, it’s crucial to contact your child’s pediatrician/and or a speech language pathologist to evaluate your child’s current skills. It’s important to be aware that if these milestones are not achieved, therapy can become a medical necessity. Otherwise, your child could eventually be at high risk for a future limited dietary repertoire, which can often lead to social isolation, as well as possible mental/behavioral difficulties.
Super Duper Handy Handouts: The Guidelines for the Development of Self-Feeding Skills by Kimberly Mielke MSOT OTR/L
“Order for Introducing Baby Foods” by Kay A. Toomey, Ph.D.
“Beginning Food Exploration” by Kay A. Toomey, Ph.D.
“The Role of Jaw for Feeding and Speech” by Sara R. Johnson, MS CCC SLP