With patience and coaching, your toddler will learn manners.

How to Teach a Toddler to Eat Neatly

by Kathryn Hatter

Your toddler has a much different view of food than older kids and adults. To a little one, everything is a potential toy, including mashed potatoes and soup. As a toddler learns to feed himself, he’ll go through a process of trial and error. Sometimes eating may involve flinging vegetables or spreading applesauce through his hair. As he grows, he’ll be able to feed himself more neatly.

Put a few morsels of whatever you’re serving onto your toddler’s plate or highchair tray. Too much food and you’re only providing ready ammunition for her to throw at you, at the dog and on the floor.

Spear a pea or a chunk of chicken with your toddler’s little fork to get him started with his meal. It’s normal for toddlers to prefer their fingers instead of utensils, according to Dr. William Sears. That pincer grasp that lets him pick up little items is perfect for feeding himself. After practicing this for a few months, he should be ready to move on to a fork and spoon.

Sit with your little one and eat with her. As you’re enjoying your meal, you’re also showing her how to eat neatly with a fork and spoon.

Add more food to your tot’s plate as he finishes. Keep the food pieces coming – two or three at a time – while he remains interested in eating. This helps avoid the temptation to make messes.

Lavish on the praise as your little one is eating neatly. Positive reinforcement shows your toddler what behavior you like. As she gets older, she’ll cue into this and try to please you by repeating this behavior.

Expect food to start flying once your toddler starts getting full. Once he’s satisfied, the focus will shift from putting food in the mouth to lobbing across the room or squishing it into her ears.

Say, “No throwing food. Are you finished eating?” if your little one starts tossing food. It’s safe to assume mealtime is over when your toddler loses his focus.

Clear away the food and clean your child up when she starts getting too messy. This negative reinforcement teaches your toddler that you don’t want her to throw food.

Items you will need

  • Toddler utensils

About the Author

Kathryn Hatter is a veteran home-school educator, as well as an accomplished gardener, quilter, crocheter, cook, decorator and digital graphics creator. As a regular contributor to Natural News, many of Hatter's Internet publications focus on natural health and parenting. Hatter has also had publication on home improvement websites such as Redbeacon.

Photo Credits

  • BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images