Transitioning Your Self-Feeding Baby to Utensils
One of the things I love most about a baby-led approach to feeding is that self-feeding helps develop your child's independence.
With self-feeding, you literally get to skip over the need to spoon-feed your baby phase. Your baby helps self-regulate his or her intake and learns to respond to the inborn hunger and fullness cues that all babies have.
But what do you do when your baby or toddler has mastered feeding herself by hand and now it's time to introduce utensils?
When I started baby-led weaning with our quadrulpets, my own mother (...herself a mom of 6 and a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist like I am too) commented, "This eating by hand thing seems great now, but you know that some day they are going to have to learn how to use a fork and spoon, right?!"
Now I know she's not alone in her thoughts, because I get tons of questions about introducing utensils:
How old should my baby be to start using a fork and spoon?
What is the best fork and spoon to start with?
How can I continue to encourage self-feeding when my baby starts using utensils?
If you are curious about transitioning your self-feeding baby or toddler to utensils, I've got some news you can use: not all baby forks and spoons are created equal!
Right-Sized Implements for First Bites
Today's parent or caregiver has a huge array of baby and toddler forks and spoons to choose from. I've personally tested many of these at home with my own kids and babies.
Some baby and toddler feeding implements are still too big for little hands and fists, whereas others are designed just for right handers (one of my quads is a lefty :)
A few months ago I was introduced to a product that I really like and that all 5 of the toddlers in our house have really taken to. They're called Grabease from elli & nooli. Thanks to samples provided by the Grabease founder (and mom of 3) Maya Shalev, we have been testing these out in our household over the past few months.
What I love about the Grabease are they are ergonomic forks and spoons that were designed with a baby's natural vertical grasp in mind. They have a choke-protection shield for safety and are recommended by occupational and speech therapists in feeding as they help promote independence and the development of motor skills.
Grabease make a great transition for babies doing baby-led weaning who are ready to move on to using utensils. Plus they're dishwasher safe and BPA free.
Now if you're wondering when to start with forks and spoons, there's no wrong time - although the feeding milestone for introducing spoons (about 6 months of age) is much earlier than for forks - which isn’t really until your baby has progressed to toddlerhood.
If you have to pick - start first with the spoon. Put the pre-loaded spoon in your baby’s hand and help guide to your baby’s mouth.
I encourage the families I work with to put utensils out there the earlier, the better. Just like when your baby started eating solid food, he's unlikely to know EXACTLY what to do with the spoon or the fork at first, but if you can pre-load it, and continue to offer it at multiple meals, sooner or later he will get the hang of it.
Realistically, my babies have been closer to their year mark before they regularly were taking to the spoons I put beside their plates - and proficiency with the forks comes later.
Grabease Q&A with Mom & Founder Maya
I recently sat down with the Grabease founder and owner Maya Shalev. I had a ton of questions about Grabease for her since we have been using them pretty regularly with our 5 kids for awhile now, and because they are so unlike any other product in this space.
First I wanted to know what in the world inspired Maya to create an alternative to the traditional plastic fork and spoon we so regularly feed our kids with? She shared her story of raising 3 children and being frustrated at the size of traditional baby spoon. Since we all know that necessity is the mother of invention, Maya set out to design a better alternative that would promote independence in feeding her small children.
So why the smaller fork and spoon size? Maya shared this picture with me as a way to show that the typical baby spoon is equivalent in size to an adult trying to eat with a large serving spoon or ladle.
I mean, if you were just learning how to eat would you be able to manipulate a spoon that was literally the size of your whole arm?!
That's why the Grabease are really small - because they FIT your baby's hand. Maya first sent me some Grabease back when my babies were about 9 months adjusted age. It was just about the time I was starting to offer the pre-loaded spoons of naturally pureed foods like whole milk yogurt, unsweetened applesauce or soups and stews they were already (trying to) eat by hand.
It took them awhile to get the hang of it, but within a few weeks all 4 started to take to using their Grabease utensils more often than not. They still prefer their hands for some foods, but I like knowing I can provide them with utensils that make it easiest for them to succeed in self-feeding.
Safety First with Spoons and Forks
Maya let me know that safety and choking prevention were foremost in her mind when designing Grabease. Her product features a unique choke protection shield (which looks much less threatening than it sounds, it's like a flower shape that encompasses the base of the tines of the fork or the lip of the spoon :)
The design also promotes a natural vertical grasp by your baby or toddler's hand. I've been amazed to observe how much easier it is for the kids to handle their utensils with a vertical grasp rather than the horizontal approach we as adults have mastered (but that presents a real challenge for kids trying out forks and spoons for the first bites).
If you're interested in learning more about the transition to utensils for self-feeding baby, check out my weekly Facebook Liveshow episode with Grabease founder Maya Shalev. She shared a ton of great info about how to start your baby or toddler on a fork and spoon and gave us some great tips for success when making the utensil transition!
If you want to get your baby's hands on some Grabease, click here to check them out.
Grabease First Self Feeding Utensil Set of Pouch, Spoon and Fork for Toddler