Teaching How to Eat Properly With Utensils

Teaching How to Eat Properly With Utensils:

A Spoonful of Developmental Milestones

Teaching children how to eat properly with utensils is pivotal for their holistic development and paves the way for independence. At Blue Parachute, we understand that sometimes we can use some help when teaching children on the autism spectrum life skills, such as using a spoon. Discover the significance of this skill and explore a step-by-step guide to teaching your child to use utensils, starting with how to use a spoon. From developing fine motor skills to fostering healthy eating habits, learn why this seemingly simple task is a gateway to various aspects of your child’s growth.

When Do Babies Start Using Utensils?

Do you find yourself wondering, “When can babies use utensils?” Many children start showing interest and developing the motor skills necessary to use a spoon between 12 and 18 months. At this stage, they may begin attempting to feed themselves with a spoon, although they may not be entirely proficient.

When Do Toddlers Use Utensils?

Toddler fork and spoon use can vary widely, as developmental milestones are individual and influenced by factors such as motor skills, coordination, and exposure to utensils. Additionally, each child develops at their own pace. As they approach age 2, most children can start using a spoon more independently, refining their skills over time. This is also the age when many children may start using a fork with some assistance. 

At What Age Should a Child Be Able to Handle Useful Kitchen Utensils?

By age 4 to 5, many children can use a fork independently. But this doesn’t mean that all children will be proficient by this age.

It’s essential to remember that individual differences exist, and some children may take longer to master this skill than others. Children on the autism spectrum or those with developmental challenges may face unique challenges and preferences that can impact their use of utensils.

Patience and encouragement are necessary during this developmental stage. Tailoring the approach to the child’s pace and providing positive reinforcement can contribute to a successful learning experience.

Why Is Teaching Children How to Use Utensils Important?

Teaching children to use utensils is essential for several reasons, as it contributes to their overall development and prepares them for independence and social eating. This section details reasons why this skill is important.

Fine Motor Skills Development

Using utensils, such as spoons and forks, requires developing and coordinating fine motor skills. Learning to hold and manipulate utensils helps children refine their hand-eye coordination and dexterity.

Independence and Self-Help Skills

Mastering utensil use empowers children to feed themselves independently. This fosters a sense of autonomy and self-confidence, encouraging them to take an active role in their daily routines.

Social and Cultural Norms While Preparing for School and Public Settings

Learning to use utensils is a cultural and social norm in many societies. Proficiency with utensils enables children to participate in shared meals, which is a common social activity. It also helps them adhere to table manners and etiquette.

As children grow, they will likely encounter situations where using utensils is expected, such as at school, restaurants, or social gatherings. Proficiency in using utensils prepares them for these settings and allows them to comfortably engage in communal meals.

Helps With Language, Communication, and Cognitive Skills

Mealtime provides opportunities for language development and communication. Using utensils encourages interaction and conversation during meals. Children can learn the names of foods, practice requesting items, and engage in conversations about their day.

Using utensils also involves cognitive skills such as planning and sequencing. Children need to plan how to scoop food onto the utensil, sequence the steps of bringing it to their mouth, and coordinate these actions.

Establishing Healthy Eating Habits While Preventing Messes and Promoting Hygiene

The practice of using utensils helps promote mindful eating and helps children develop a connection between eating and feelings of fullness. It encourages them to eat at a reasonable pace while it promotes healthy eating habits.

As children learn to use utensils, they are less likely to use their hands to eat, reducing mess and promoting hygiene. Using utensils also helps prevent the spread of germs during communal meals.

Preparation for Academic Success

Developing fine motor skills, including utensil use, is linked to later academic success. Fine motor skills are foundational for various tasks such as writing, drawing, and other academic activities.

In summary, teaching children to use utensils is a holistic approach that goes beyond the mechanics of eating. It contributes to their physical, social, cognitive, and emotional development, preparing them for various aspects of life.

How to Teach Your Child to Eat With Utensils

Teaching a child how to eat properly with utensils involves a gradual process that considers their motor skills, coordination, and sensory preferences. Though using a spoon and using a fork are similar, it’s recommended to first start by teaching the child how to use a spoon.

Below is a step-by-step guide on how to teach a child to use a spoon.

Choose the Right Spoon and Model the Behavior

Select a child-friendly spoon with a comfortable grip. Many spoons are designed specifically for young children with features like soft handles and shallow bowls. Demonstrate using a spoon by scooping food from a bowl to the mouth. Use exaggerated motions and make it a fun and engaging activity.

Introduce the Spoon

Familiarize the child with the spoon by allowing them to explore it with their hands. Let them touch, hold, and play with the spoon to build comfort.

Start by Offering Finger Foods

Begin with foods that are easy to scoop and manage, such as soft or mashed foods. Offer finger foods like small pieces of banana or avocado that the child can easily pick up with their fingers and then attempt to use the spoon.

Provide Independence, But Assist as Needed and Encourage Self-Feeding

Allow the child to hold the spoon and attempt to scoop independently. Expect some mess, and offer positive reinforcement for their efforts. Depending on the child’s age and motor skills, you may need to assist them in bringing the loaded spoon to their mouth. Guide their hand and encourage them to try it on their own. You should encourage self-feeding as much as possible. As the child gains confidence, let them take the lead using the spoon.

Remember that each child develops at their own pace, and it’s normal for some children to take longer to grasp this skill. Celebrate their successes, no matter how small, and make mealtimes a positive and enjoyable experience.

There Will Be Gradual Progress, So Practice Patience

Progress gradually to more challenging foods, such as thicker purees or cereals. As the child becomes more proficient, introduce utensils during regular meals. Learning to use a spoon takes time and practice. Be patient, and avoid putting too much pressure on the child. 

Use Playful Techniques

Turn the learning process into a game. You can create a pretend “airplane” by zooming the spoon towards the child’s mouth or making a game of getting the food onto the spoon.

Are There Special Considerations for Children With ASD?

When teaching a child on the autism spectrum, some additional considerations and strategies can be beneficial. This section provides some considerations for teaching a child with autism to use a spoon.

Sensory Sensitivities

Children with autism often have sensory sensitivities. Consider the texture and temperature of the food being offered with the spoon. Some children may prefer certain textures, while others may find them aversive. Gradually introduce different textures to see what is most comfortable for the child.

If your child has sensory sensitivities and can’t eat with metal utensils, don’t worry. Eating with plastic utensils is common and acceptable. Whether you teach your child by using metal or plastic, they can learn the necessary skills with either material, and they can continue to use plastic forks and spoons even as they get older.

Use Visual Supports, Modeling, and Imitation

Visual supports, such as visual schedules or step-by-step visual guides, can be helpful. Use visuals to show the sequence of the steps involved in using a spoon, starting with scooping the food and then bringing the food to the mouth. This provides a clear and predictable structure. Children with autism often benefit from modeling and imitation. Demonstrate how to use the spoon by doing it yourself, and encourage the child to imitate your actions. Use simple and clear gestures.

Routine and Predictability

Establish a routine for mealtime. Consistency and predictability can be reassuring for children with autism. When you have a regular routine for using utensils, including spoons, this helps create a sense of structure.

Offer Choices But Use Preferred Foods

Provide the child with choices. This can include choices of different foods or allowing them to choose the type of spoon they want to use. Offering choices can empower the child and increase their engagement.

Begin with the child’s preferred foods. If the child enjoys a particular food, use it as a starting point. Gradually introduce other foods, maintaining a positive and supportive environment.

Adapt Utensils and Break Down Steps

Consider using adaptive utensils if needed. Some children may find using utensils with thicker handles or specific grips easier. Adaptive utensils are designed to accommodate different needs. 

Break down the process of using a spoon into manageable steps. Focus on one skill at a time, such as scooping or bringing the spoon to the mouth. Once the child masters one step, gradually introduce the next.

Positive Reinforcement

Reinforce positive behavior with praise or rewards. Positive reinforcement can motivate the child to continue practicing and using utensils independently.

Be Patient and Flexible

Every child is unique, and progress may occur at different rates. Be patient, flexible, and attuned to the child’s cues. If a particular approach is not working, try modifying strategies to suit the child’s needs better.

Remember that each child is an individual, and strategies that work for one child may not be as effective for another. Tailor your approach based on the child’s preferences, strengths, and sensitivities, and celebrate their progress, no matter how small.

Blue Parachute: The Silver Spoon of Autism Videos

If you want your child to learn how to eat properly with utensils, begin teaching your child to use a spoon once you have Blue Parachute by your side. Our video library, crafted by Licensed and Certified Behavior Therapists, serves as a form of autism home support services. These videos provide invaluable support in developing essential skills. Subscribe today and witness firsthand the transformative power our videos can make to help children and adults on the autism spectrum, their families, and the community.

If you have any queries about our video library and subscription plans, or if you have other questions or need guidance, check out our FAQ page. You can also contact us through our online form. Blue Parachute is here to assist you with every spoonful of your child’s progress.

Related Readings:

Blue Parachute – Who We Help

Blue Parachute – How We Help

Teaching Your Child to Prepare a Snack


Options Autism UK – Creating Mealtime Independence for Children With Autism

What to Expect – Does Your Autistic Child Use Utensils?