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Mealtime Independence: Strategies to Encourage Self-Feeding

Self-feeding is important because it teaches babies how to coordinate their fingers to grasp objects, offers opportunities to work on hand-eye coordination, and helps children gain independence! Self-feeding stars as early as 4 months.

4-11 months: children typically are able to hold and bring food to their mouth

8 months: children typically begin to hold spoons and attempt to feed themselves with spilling

8-11 months: children typically begin and master drinking from a closed cup

11-24 months: children typically begin to drink from an open cup with assistance from an adult and master drinking from an open cup with little spilling by 24 months

15 months: most children can feed themselves with a spoon


Below are general suggestions on fostering independence around feeding.

  • For babies, offer bite-sized pieces of food on a plate from the palm of your hand or on flat surfaces in front of your child

  • During parent-child feedings, provide a spoon for your child to hold onto. Dip the spoon in sticky foods (e.g., yogurt, oatmeal, sticky rice, etc.) and assist them to bring the spoon to his mouth.

  • Once your child masters control with a spoon and successfully brings the spoon to her mouth, introduce a fork. Spear foods for your child and have her feed herself.

  • When you are ready to wean your child off the bottle, offer closed-lid cups (sippy cups) with two handles. Gradually introduce cups that foster more independence (i.e., open cup with straw, bottle, and cup).


  • Motor development and feeding skills go hand-in-hand. If your child is advance in motor skills, he will likely have an easier time with hand-eye coordination during feeding opportunities

  • If there are concerns with your child’s social development, this includes imitation of facial expressions or behaviors such as feeding, these possibly skill-deficits could impact independent feeding. If this is the case, please contact your child’s pediatrician to see if a developmental assessment is warranted.


[untitled photograph of a child finger-feeding]. Retrieved from

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