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Let Your Baby Eat With His Fingers

Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Health, Wellness, & Safety

Babies who feed themselves eat fewer sweets and are less likely to become overweight than babies who are spoon-fed. Those are the surprising findings of an English study of  parents’ reports of their children’s feeding routines as toddlers.

Sixty-three children were consistently spoon-fed by their parents. These children preferred sweet snacks. Over twelve percent of these children were obese.

Another 63 children were consistently self-fed, using fingers or their own management of a spoon. These children preferred carbohydrates like toast, pasta or potatoes as snacks and rejected sweets. None of these children was obese.

Lead researcher Ellen Townsend noted that it might be logical to assume that children who feed themselves eat more without parental controls. The results of her study suggest the opposite and indicate that parents may be inclined to “clean the dish” by encouraging a child to eat “one more bite.” Think of your own spoon feeding routine – including the time-honored pretending that the spoon is an airplane and other tricks.

The take-away appears to be this:

  1. Make good foods available to children, including fruit, vegetables, hard-boiled eggs, cubed meat, and other dishes, in ways that are soft, easy to chew and swallow, and sized appropriately for toddlers.
  2. Don’t worry about the mess. Babies will become more expert feeders with practice. Put a bib on baby, tie back her hair, and be ready with to wash her up at the end.
  3. Feed frequently but let children decide when they are finished. Don’t insist your toddler eat everything on her plate. Small portions makes for less waste and less mess.
  4. When you do spoon feed your child, watch for cues that your child is full. Never continue feeding after your child signals he would rather stop.
  5. Remember that prepared “baby food,” spooned from the jar, is not necessary at all. Children can be fed whatever the family is eating, provided it’s chopped up small enough.

Feeding your baby can be fun for both of you. Lighten up and let your toddler take charge.


© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.

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Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Dr. Patricia Anderson is a nationally acclaimed educational psychologist and the author of “Parenting: A Field Guide.” Dr. Anderson is on the Early Childhood faculty at Walden University and she is a Contributing Editor for Advantage4Parents.