How do I train my toddler to self-feed?

“How do I train my toddler to self-feed?” is probably one of the most asked questions of any parent as their baby grows. As you start getting back to work, you’d want your toddler to do as many things as they can on their own. Eating on their own improves their motor skills, and allows them to explore their tastes and preferences. Here are some must-knows when introducing your child to self-feed.

Things you should know as a parent

Picky eating is typical behavior for toddlers. This is one area of their lives where they have some control. By refusing to eat, your child is practicing his or her independence.

Different toddlers can have varied reactions to their food. Here are some things you can expect to see

  • Choosing a few foods and eating nothing but those
  • Refusing a food based on color or texture
  • Being unwilling to try anything new
  • Losing interest in a food they used to love
  • Only wanting to feed themselves with a spoon or fork
  • Messy dining space – you could try some easy clean chairs to help this.

Here are some starters for feeding your toddler

Ever asked yourself “How do I train my toddler to self-feed? When there seems no other way, you can’t force your child to eat. However, you can provide nutritious foods, demonstrate healthy eating habits, and set the stage for pleasant mealtimes.

According to some resources, toddlers need the following daily nutrients:

  • 7 milligrams of iron
  • 700 milligrams of calcium
  • 600 IU of vitamin D
  • Healthy eating habits

Children feeding themselves is a crucial stage of development because it reinforces their independence. This is a skill they need to develop for the later years in their life. Second, self-feeding involves a lot of feeling, squeezing, dropping, pulping, and picking up food. While this might seem messy, it is one of the ways your child develops fine motor skills like learning to hold cutlery. Thirdly, this is where your child learns more about tastes, temperatures, and smells of food.

Once you introduce your baby to solid food, which is generally around 6 months of age, most children will show signs of wanting to self-feed at their will. They might take food into their hands, and tr putting it in their mouth, or might pick at the food in your plate. This is natural, although frustrating and messy. Remember that its normal, and should not be stopped. Children must be allowed to explore where possible- even if it means extra work for mumma.

Introduce your toddler to finger foods 

When your child shows signs of wanting to self-feed, introduce them to finger foods to make it easier for them to learn to grasp food, as well as to reduce cleaning the mess they could make.

Finger foods are small pieces of food that are easy to hold in a child’s hand, and easy for them to bite and swallow. This could be something like banana slices, small pieces of chicken, boiled potatoes, grains and pulses like chickpea or beans.

At the beginning, you’ll often find the bowl of beans carpeting your floor instead of digesting in their little bellies. Be patient, they will catch up soon on this.

Introduce toddlers to cutlery

Wait! Before you expect your child to use their cutlery alone, know that most children don’t use a spoon or fork until about 1-1.5 years of age. Your baby would usually reach for the fork/spoon when they want to use it. In most cases, if they’ve seen you use your cutlery at the dinner table, they would want to replicate it when they feel ready. Here are some tips to train your toddler to self feed using cutlery.

  • Eat meals with your child.
  • Get them a highchair that is height adjustable so you can have them sit at the table with you
  • Get a pram that has an attachable food tray if they’re still feeding in a pram,.
  • Start by facilitating their grip by giving them plastic, or rubbery, and chunky, utensils.
  • Feed them with cutlery, and allow them to hold their own pair of cutlery simultaneously
  • Praise and reinforce their behavior when they use their fork/spoon
  • Be patient. Offer new foods many times. You may have to offer a food 10 to 15 times before your child will try it.
  • Make things fun. Cut food into shapes with cookie cutters. Display the food in a creative way on your child’s plate. Have your child come up with special names for their favorite foods.
  • Offer choices. Instead of serving a vegetable to your toddler, let them choose between two options. “Would you like broccoli or cauliflower for dinner?”
  • Mix new with old. Serve new foods alongside favorites. This may make trying something new easier.

What about snacks?

 Each day, your child should have 3 meals and 2 snacks. Toddlers usually don’t eat enough in one meal to remain full until the next meal. Offer your child small, healthy snacks between meals.

Healthy snacks include:

  • Low-fat string cheese
  • Yogurt
  • Apple slices or strawberry halves
  • Slices of lean turkey
  • Whole-grain crackers with peanut butter
  • Only offer a snack if the next meal is several hours away. If the meal will be within the next hour, skip the snack. If your child comes to the table hungry, they are more likely to eat.
  • If your child doesn’t eat at the meal, offer a nutritious snack a few hours later. If your child doesn’t eat the snack, offer food again at the next mealtime. A child will usually eat at the second meal. With this approach, you can help make sure your child won’t have problems with a poor diet.

Things to consider

There are many things you can do to encourage your child to eat. But there are things you should not do, as well.

Don’t force your child to clean their plate. Once they are no longer hungry, your child should be allowed to stop eating. Making them eat when they’re not hungry can interfere with their natural cues that tell them when they’ve full. Allowing them to choose when to stop eating teaches them how to listen to their bodies and make healthy food choices.

Don’t negotiate with or bribe your child. Threats and punishments, aren’t good ideas either. Avoid making deals. For example, don’t tell them if they eat 3 more bites, they can have dessert. This teaches them to make deals to get rewards for other things. In addition, making dessert a reward gives it higher value in the child’s mind. This can lead to unhealthy attitudes toward sweets.

Don’t let it show. If you’re concerned your toddler is refusing to eat, don’t let it show. They may be seeking attention, and your disapproval fills that need. That may lead to the same thing happening over and over.

Consider proper utensils and chairs for your child to start off with the correct habits from the start of their self-feeding journey.

This should to a great length, answer your question How do I train my toddler to self-feed? For any complications, if you need to consult a doctor, here are some ways to start the conversation:

  • How much should my toddler eat each day?
  • Are there certain foods I should try to have them eat every day?
  • Should I be concerned if my child doesn’t eat much for several days in a row?
  • Should I give my child supplements like protein drinks to make sure he or she is getting enough nutrients?
  • When will my toddler outgrow this kind of pickiness?

Speak to your sister, friend, mother or support groups if you feel alone in feeding your child.

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