Short utensils are better for little hands.

Teaching Children to Eat With a Fork & Knife

by Eliza Martinez

If you feel like you're eating with a zoo animal every night, it might be time to teach your child how to use utensils during meals. Your toddler might not be ready to wield a fork, but most preschoolers can master the skills before heading to kindergarten, which is important if you don't want him ostracized in the school cafeteria because of his animal-like eating patterns. A real meal is the best time to introduce proper knife and fork use.

1. Types of Utensils

You are not royalty, so don't put out a separate utensil for each item on your preschooler's plate. Not only does this take up space on the table, but it gives your child the perfect opportunity to play around instead of eating. At the same time, don't slap down a large soup spoon and full-size fork next to plate and let him have it. Choose small, plastic forks and knives with short handles. They are easier for young children to hold and don't pose the same risk of injury as do metal utensils. The fun colors and textures of child-sized forks and knives might also increase the chances that he'll use them.

2. Technique

First, show your child how to hold a fork and knife. He might not get it right away, but modeling the skills helps him see the technique in action. Give him a couple meals to get used to the idea of eating with a fork. Once he gets the hang of it, show him how to hold a piece of food with his fork and slice it with his knife. Refrain from criticizing, or worse yet, laughing at his attempts. You probably don't remember learning to eat with a fork and knife, but it is often difficult for young children who are still building fine-motor skills. Keep giving him opportunities to test his new skills. One day, he'll get it.

3. Food Choices

Your child will never learn to eat with a fork and cut with a knife if you're eating soup. Offer foods that give him an opportunity to succeed and that he likes or you'll just end up in a battle to not only eat his meal, but to do it with a fork, too. Choose foods that stick to the fork and slice easily with a knife. Boiled potatoes, still slightly crisp, are good for utensil training. The knife slides through easily and the pieces don't fall off the fork before entering your child's mouth. Avoid hard-to-cut items such as meat and really soft foods that fall off the fork such as peaches or bananas.

4. Tips

Get past thinking your kitchen, or your child, or you for that matter, will still be clean after your preschooler eats with a fork. If anything, it might be more of a mess than when he ate with his fingers. The food is going to fall on the floor or down his shirt because he has to learn the arm and hand placement necessary to keep it there until he eats it. This won't happen overnight, so have patience. If your preschooler shows little interest or isn't mastering the skills, take a couple of days off so he doesn't get frustrated. It might be important to use utensils, but it's not a life or death skill.

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