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How do I know if my toddler is ready to feed himself?

Endocrinologist, WebMD Medical Expert
Medical Editor, WebMD

Every day, toddlers hone their motor skills, including at the table. Mastering the pincer grasp, which allows children to pick up small bits of food (and other objects) between their thumbs and the forefingers, is one of the first steps to self-feeding, says pediatrician Tanya Remer Altmann, MD, author of Mommy Calls.

Children start to develop the pincer grasp around 9 months, the same time they're ready for a lidded sippy or straw cup filled with infant formula or breast milk.

Many toddlers can self-feed an entire meal at around a year old, while other toddlers may need help until 18 months or so, Altmann tells WebMD.

"After age 2, most toddlers can use a regular cup without a lid without spilling, but if they enjoy a straw cup or a sippy cup, there's no harm in that," Altmann says.

Once a child discovers he can get food into his own mouth, he may not want you to help so much anymore.

Toddler self-feeding gives a whole new meaning to the term mess hall, but it's worth it to let him try to get food into his mouth, says Elisa Zied, MS, RD, author of Feed Your Family Right! and a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association.)

"Self-feeding is an important developmental skill that parents should nurture," Zied says.

Allow children to self-feed as much as they can and want to, advises Altmann, but if they aren't getting enough food, you can help, too.