Oh, the joy of teaching your toddler how to feed themselves. It’s a time of discovery, cute smiles, and…a mess, and sometimes tears. In all fairness, learning to get food into your mouth with a utensil takes some serious practice; practice that can be frustrating for toddlers. Good thing the best toddler utensils for self-feeding are designed to make the process a little easier with features like easy-to-grip handles and sensory guards to prevent gagging. Scary Mommy reached out to pediatric occupational therapist and feeding expert Marielle Marquez to learn more about what to look for when shopping for toddler utensils.
Marielle Marquez is a Los Angeles-based pediatric occupational therapist specializing in feeding at Olive View-UCLA Medical Center. She has over 12 years of experience working in a variety of settings including hospitals, NICU, schools, outpatient clinics, and in-home therapy — but babies and toddlers are her expertise. She graduated from the University of Southern California with a master’s degree in occupational therapy and holds an advanced certification in feeding and swallowing. She is also a mom and advocate for parents dealing with tethered oral tissues (TOTs).
When Should A Toddler Feed Themselves With Utensils?
According to Marquez, toddlers typically develop the skills necessary to use a utensil successfully by age 3. These skills include hand-eye coordination and advanced grasp patterns (that will improve with practice). She also explains that beyond developing fine motor skills, learning to self-feed is an essential step toward independence. “Self-feeding is an important basic self-care activity that allows children to be independent. Not only does self-feeding help to improve a child’s fine motor skills and self-care abilities, but it allows them the freedom to choose what goes into their mouth and when,” she says, adding that forcing a child to eat can exacerbate existing “picky” eating patterns.
Marquez says that parents and caregivers can motivate toddlers to self-feed by serving them their favorite foods and praising their efforts. For children who are struggling to scoop up food on their own, she says preloading the utensil, setting it down, and then allowing the child to pick it up and bring it to their mouth is a helpful alternative during the early learning stage.
What To Consider When Shopping For The Best Toddler Utensils For Self-Feeding
“When teaching young babies and toddlers to self-feed, I recommend utensils that are short, with a chubby handle, and spoons should have a small and shallow bowl. Soft silicone utensils are great for young babies who are first learning. If your little one has a tendency to put utensils too far in their mouth, some utensils have a [protective] shield to prevent this,” says Marquez.
Utensils with long or thin handles should be avoided since they’re more difficult to hold and aim and can be frustrating. Once toddlers get older, heftier metal utensils for kids can help them transition to adult utensils.
From babies just starting to self-feed to older toddlers who are working on mastering the art, this list of the best toddler utensils is sure to get your kiddo excited about mealtime.
In a hurry? Here are the top picks for the best toddler utensils for self-feeding:
These Expert-Recommended Spoons With Gag Guards: Grabease Silicone Spoons (2 Pieces)
The Fan-Favorite Toddler Spoon & Fork Set: Munchkin Raise Spoon and Fork Set (4 Pieces)
The Best Utensils With Looped Handles: Itzy Ritzy Silicone Spoon & Fork Set (2 Pieces)
The Best For Temperature Control: Munchkin ColorReveal Spoon & Fork Set (6 Pieces)
The Easiest To Grip: Nuby Stainless Steel Utensils (2 Pieces)
The Best No-Mess Design: Elk & Friends Silicone & Stainless Steel Toddler Utensils (6 Pieces)
The Best Curved Utensils For Toddlers: Linowos Bendable Fork & Spoon Set (2 Pieces)
The Best Stainless Steel Utensil Set: ANNOVA Kids Silverware Set (6 Pieces)
The Best Toddler Utensil Set With A Knife: ezpz Happy Utensils (3 Pieces)