Put a Fork In It

By Nancy Cozine
Put a Fork In It

I knew Jack knew how to use a fork and spoon. I watched him scoop up rice and not drop a grain. But I think sometimes he figured it was just easier to pick up his chicken with his fingers – which of course meant messy hands. My new obsession became: get Jack to use a fork and spoon at EVERY meal.

A few days into my challenge, I asked a group of other Moms from daycare and from my office about how they encourage their kids to eat with a fork and spoon instead of their hands. Here are the top 5 ideas I collected:

1. Let them pick out fun, kid-sized utensils

Let’s face it, adult size silverware is pretty big, sometimes heavy and definitely sharp. Can you blame little ones for not using it? Kid-sized utensils are just right for toddlers and safer, too, with dull tines and knife blades. I love the Gerber® Graduates® Kiddy Cutlery®. They come in bright colors and are designed especially for little hands. I let Jack pick his out and now he always asks for “his fork.”

2. Make it a game

Jack is more willing to do anything if it’s fun or a competition. One night at dinner, I took out a few forks and spoons in different colors. I also took the spinner out of a board game and assigned a color of the utensils to each number. (You could also use dice or even just put paper in a bowl with the colors written on them.) While we were eating, we took turns taking spins. Whatever “color” it landed on was the fork or spoon you had to use until the next person spun. If you used your hands to eat, you missed your next turn to spin. It was not only fun and got Jack to use utensils the whole meal, but it made all of us eat a little more slowly which is healthier.

3. Teach by example

For better or worse, toddlers are little imitators. Just like they repeat all the bad words you let slip at the most inappropriate time and put their hands on their hips and shaking a finger at you, they take their table manner cues from you as well. So make sure your little one sees you using your fork, knife and spoon at every meal – and using them correctly.

4. Kid sized pieces

Large pieces – think chicken nugget or cracker size – seem more natural to be eaten by picking them up with your fingers. It’s not as easy to grab rice or a carrot chunk with your hands though. Try cutting everything in kid-size pieces that are easier to pick up by spearing with a fork or scooping into a spoon.

5. Reward system

The promise of a sticker at the end of the meal or even just a round of applause with each bite taken with a fork can work wonders for some kids. One of the other moms at the daycare told me that she finally got her daughter to stop eating with her hands all the time when she promised to paint her finger nails if she used her fork for a whole week. When she finally completed a whole week of using a fork,she got her “manicure.” The mom then told her that eating with her fingers would ruin her pretty, big girl nails. Her daughter used a fork for the next week too for fear her nail polish would disappear.

While some toddlers pick up using utensils right away and never turn back, others need some practice and encouragement. But, just like with every other new skill and milestone, your little one will become a pro at using a fork, spoon and eventually a knife when they are ready.