Toddler feeding skills develop quickly

Do you wonder if your child is ready to feed themselves? Learn about meal skill levels of a one, two and three-year-old.

If you have young children at home you know feeding them can be challenging at times. We often ask ourselves, what should I feed them? When should they eat and how much food is appropriate for them to consume? These are very important questions parents of young children ask when trying to keep their child healthy. Young children develop at a very fast pace, and their skills are forever changing.

At age one, many children are curious about their food, according to Michigan State University’s NEAT project, Mildred Horodynski, Ph.D., R.N.C. Children like to watch you eat and explore their own food by using their fingers to feed themselves. Their language is beginning to develop and they will be able to say two or three new words. At age one, children don’t like new situations and their eating often slows down. At age two, your child has a very short attention span and loves to watch many things. They can use a spoon fairly well but often like to say “no” to exert their independence. At age two children may have food jags where they refuse to eat many foods and will typically only eat one or two foods. They will be able to communicate about food in short phrases for example saying “more crackers.” At age three your child’s attention span will begin to expand, allowing you to spend more time on one meal. Many times children will like helping at the table by scooping their own food to their plate. They will begin trying different foods and start developing preferences. With their language development at this stage, you will have an easier time talking about the foods you are serving on the table.

Michigan State University Extension reminds that it is important to remember that young children are at a high risk of choking on certain foods. A toddler has a small mouth and a very small throat. A toddler’s throat is the size of the opening in a straw, so any food larger than that can get stuck in the child’s throat. Foods like popcorn, hard smooth candy, whole grapes, hot dogs or raw vegetables (which are not easy to chew) can pose a choking hazard. When a child is eating they should stay seated in a chair and a parent should stay nearby to supervise during meal time.

Toddlers’ abilities to feed themselves develop quickly. The more you involve them in mealtime, the more interested they become in exploring new foods and participating at the table.

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