our everyday life

How to Teach a Toddler to Eat Neatly

by Susan Revermann

If the walls, floor and ceiling are seeing more of your toddler’s food than his stomach is, it may be time to teach him how to eat a bit more politely. Although you can’t expect perfect dinnertime etiquette with elbows off the table and all that jazz, you can try to encourage your toddler to keep his food on his plate or in his mouth. This process takes time and patience, but when you see results it will be well worth the effort.

Limit the amount of food you offer your toddler at one time. Placing a large meal in front of him all at once just invites play and mess. Place a few morsels of food on his plate at one time, and refill when necessary.

Eat as a family and model proper eating etiquette. Although he doesn’t have the coordination and patience to eat as nicely and neatly as you do at this point, he learns from simply watching you. Don’t just tell him how to eat neatly -- show him how.

Dish out the praise when you see him eating neatly. This positive reinforcement will encourage him to try to repeat that behavior to get another dose of your verbal sunshine. Be specific and point out what you notice, like, “I love how you used your spoon instead of your fingers to eat your applesauce.”

Take note of the foods your child likes to eat and the ones he refuses. Although you should try to offer your toddler new foods several times so he can get a taste for the food, after a certain point, you may want to steer clear of certain items. Toddlers are known to be picky eaters, so don’t be surprised if he throws foods he doesn’t like. If you’re having company over and want to avoid a mashed potato bomb landing on Aunt Helen, stick with foods you know he likes.

Look for cues to indicate that your toddler is full. When he’s full, he may very likely start playing with his leftovers. Remove the food and plate when you notice he doesn’t seem interested in the meal any longer.

Items you will need
  • Toddler bowl or plate
  • Toddler-sized fork and spoon
  • Food

Tip

  • Don’t expect immediate perfection -- practice makes perfect. The only way for your child to learn how to properly use a spoon and fork is to practice. This is a messy process, so be prepared. Your toddler should start to use utensils around 15 to 18 months, according to child development experts at the Kids Health website.

Photo Credits

  • Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images