As cute as it when children feed themselves with their tiny fingers, we do have to give them cutlery eventually.
Fortunately, it's potentially easier than you'd expect. So read on as I break down the steps of teaching your baby (yes, baby!) to use utensils right from the start.
This post is part of our Starting Solids series. If you haven’t already read it, check out part 1 of our Starting Solids guide here. You’ll find lots more general information specifically on starting solids there.
Learning to Use Cutlery – When?
Right from the start...when we given them the food, we give them the cutlery.
Obviously no one can expect your baby to be able to use a spoon, fork, and knife at 6 months, but they can start getting used to them at that age simultaneously as they're being introduced solids and drinking from an open cup.
And one of the reasons we recommend this is so that your baby makes the association between cutlery and solid foods right from the start.
At 6 months you're teaching them a whole new skill (eating) so you might as well use it to introduce all those things they'll be needing to feed themselves as they grow older.
That said, in case you don't feel like introducing cutlery right from the start, that's ok too. You won't be doing your baby any harm. Although it may make things a little more difficult later on.
If you do wait longer, then babies should really start learning to use cutlery by about 12 months. This, of course, depends on your baby and their phase of development.
Their progress will depend on whether they've been self-feeding with their hands or been spoon-fed by you so far.
Learning to Use Cutlery – How and What?
So if you're going to start early, you're probably asking yourself how. And what kind of cutlery to use first.
I would recommend starting with a baby spoon. The reason being that it's far easier for your baby to load a spoon than to pick something up with a fork.
Age: 6 - 7 months
This is about the time you've started to introduce solids. And if you've decided that now is the time to learn to use cutlery too, then keep on reading.
The main goal here is for your baby to just get used to cutlery. So if you've decided to spoon feed purees, start by giving your baby another spoon for them to play with during meal-time.
"Play" is important here as well. This "play" is the oral-motor play that we need for them to be able to master feeding skills later on. The act of putting a spoon in their mouth is helping them locate their mouth with more consistency.
The "so-called" pre-spoons are a great choice here because they are also made to let your baby practice dipping them in food without creating a huge mess. They are certainly not a "must-haves" but in case you're not prepared for a mess, they can be a great way to start.
- Top choice: Num Num PreSpoon
- Lower cost: eZtotZ Little Dippers Starter Spoon
- Top of the range: ChooMee FlexiDip Baby Starter Spoon
Age: 8 - 9 months
This is a great time to start pre-loading spoons for your child. Especially if they've had a chance to practice finding their mouth with one already.
This means you will pre-load the spoon for your baby and place it on the tray in front of them so they can pick it up and bring it to their mouth.
It's good to have a few spoons ready because once you hand one over you might not get it back! And it will probably end up on the floor. So it is good to have a couple next to you. (Baby throwing spoons is completely normal).
Feeding might take longer this way, but the time spent here is priceless for the practice your baby gets. And in reality, you'll probably be spoon-feeding them at the same time as letting them feed themselves.
At this age, your baby is probably able to grasp with their palm, but is still working on their pincer. For that reason, my top choices for spoons are silicone ones with longer handles that they can easily grab with their palms.
Longer Handle Spoon Choice:
- Top choice: Avanchy First Stage Baby Feeding Spoons
- Lower cost: Munchkin 4 Piece Silicone Trainer Spoon
- Top of the range: OlaSprout Bendable Baby Spoon
Age: 10 - 15 months
At around 10 months of age, your baby has probably started using the pincer grasp and is happily picking up food with their little fingers.
So if you want to progress their learning to use cutlery, now is a good time to introduce spoons and forks with shorter handles.
Your baby is not necessarily expected to hold these with their thumb and pointer finger, but the shorter handle will help the transition phase from picking up a utensil with their palm to a full-on use of utensils adult-style.
Now is also a good time to stop pre-loading spoons for them and giving them the utensils alongside their foods so they can practice picking up food themselves.
Chances are they will continue to eat with their hands and play with their cutlery, but if you hang in there you'll slowly see your baby mastering the picking of food and bringing to their mouth with a spoon and fork. Especially if they can watch you do it too.
Shorter Handle Utensil Choice:
- Top choice: Doddl Cutlery Set
- Lower cost: Grabease First Training Baby Utensils
- Top of the range: Bumkins Silicone Chewtensils
Age: 15 - 24 months
So now that you've seen your baby, actually toddler now, play around with their short handled spoon and fork and gradually mastering loading food onto them and bringing to their mouth. So it's time to introduce longer handled cutlery. By longer I mean still toddler-sized though.
Soft handles but stainless steel tops would be the preferred choice here. You can also start introducing the knife to your baby around this age.
Soft Handle Stainless Steel Utensil Choice:
- Top choice: Avanchy Baby Fork + Spoon Set
- Lower cost: OXO Tot-On-The-Go Fork and Spoon Set
- Top of the range: Gerber Stainless Steel Kiddy Cutlery Set
Age: > 24 months
Around 2 years of age, you can gradually start preparing your child for adult cutlery by introducing full-on stainless steel ones. Or you don't have to. The choice is completely yours...
Stainless Steel Utensil Choice:
- Top choice: Munchkin Polish Stainless Steel
- Lower cost: GlossyEnd Stainless Steel Cutlery
- Top of the range: Kiddobloom Kids Stainless Steel
Learning to use Cutlery – Choice And Material
In case you can't find or don't like any of the utensils and cutlery that we've mentioned above, let me give you a few tips on how to choose the best for you.
For babies under the age of 1, I would always recommend a silicone spoon/fork. In case you cannot manage to do so and need to go plastic, make sure it is BPA free.
For toddlers, you can start introducing cutlery that has stainless steel tips but soft handles still and later on, after the age of 2 you can go with full-on stainless steel cutlery.
Ultimately, when your child starts learning to use cutlery is up to you. Only you can follow their development and abilities. That said, the earlier they start, the more practice they get, and the sooner they will master it!