Between 8 and 10 months, your baby's pincer grasp will be developed enough for him to carefully start picking up finger foods like cereal, pasta, and peas. Between 15 and 18 months, your baby may be able to start holding and using a spoon correctly (although food may still fly everywhere when he does) -- and you'll probably still need to coach his feeding sessions to help move things along. It's not until about 2 years that most children can start to make it through a meal without you pitching in.
As your baby grows more independent after his first birthday, he'll likely become more adamant about trying to feed himself. Encourage him by making the food as easy as possible for him to work with (which means lots of finger foods and small pieces), so he builds confidence from repeated success. When your baby seems to be done eating, offer him one or two more bites just to be sure he's actually had enough (and hasn't just grown frustrated with the act of eating). He may take the food, but if he pushes your hand away or turns his head, he's most likely full.
And while we're on the subject, a few tips on mealtime safety:
• Don't leave your child alone to eat. Babies and toddlers tend to stuff a lot of food in their mouths at once (they're still experimenting) and can easily choke if you're not watching.
• Be sure your child swallows one mouthful before eating another.
• Don't give your baby a big chunk of food to take bites from (like a cheese stick). He could bite off more than he can handle.
• Even as your baby gets more skilled at feeding himself, you should still stay away from small, hard foods like nuts or raisins, as well as sticky snacks like gummy bears.
Copyright 2009 Meredith Corporation.