Your Kid's Table: Eating/Feeding Milestones for Babies and Toddlers

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Eating/Feeding Milestones for Babies and Toddlers

I probably should have written this post years ago, as a resource for parents, but I have to admit I've been a bit hesitant.  Each child develops so uniquely and just because they may be late hitting a milestone, it doesn't necessarily mean there is cause for alarm.  For various reasons, it isn't unusual for a child to be a little late with mastering a new skill.  I would encourage you not to use this as a checklist, but as a guide for what types of things you should be looking for your child to be doing next.  I will be going over all areas of feeding, from when your bambino should be feeding themselves, to how and when they should be chewing foods.  These milestones are based on my education and professional opinion as a pediatric occupational therapist. Please remember that if your child was born prematurely or has a diagnosis, these milestones are likely to be later.

Feeding Milestones
*I have provided links throughout to previous posts/articles which outline the particular milestone in detail with strategies to help your child achieve that particular skill.

4-6 Months: Starts to accept pureed baby foods and cereals. 

  • It is important not to rush this even though it can be very exciting to start feeding your baby. Some signs that your baby is ready is that they are able to sit up in their high chair without being reclined (never spoon feed in a reclined position as in a car seat), they seem interested in what you are eating, and opening their mouth for a spoon. Although I don't want you to rush this, it is important that you start by 7 months, if you child doesn't seem ready, definitely talk about it with your pediatrician.

6-8 Months: Drinks sips from a sippy cup.

  • If you've read some of my other posts, you know that I'm not a fan of the sippy cup, but it may have a time and a place.  Offering the sippy cup at meals in this age range is a good idea because it helps them associate drinking from something other than the bottle. 

6-12 Months: Drinks from an open cup with help.

  • Drinking from a small open cup is a wonderful skill for a baby to learn, although many parents don't think to try because it is so messy and seems a bit advanced.  At first, parents will hold a small plastic cup and try some small sips. If your baby is coughing and choking a lot they probably aren't ready, but some occasional coughing is normal.

7-9 Months: Begins to accept table foods and chews foods with an up/down motion.

  • Babies will munch up and down on those first foods. Some gagging and coughing is normal. If it happens excessively, take your time and  push back trying a bit. If you are getting towards the 10-11 month mark with no progress, I highly recommend talking to your doctor or looking into an eval (see more info on this at the end of the post).  I discuss the topic in full detail here and here.

8-11 Months: Uses a pincer grasp to pick up table foods.

  • Babies will first use their whole hand to pick up foods and then, within this time frame, they will begin to use their index finger and thumb to pick up individual pieces of food more efficiently. 

9-18 months: Drinks from a straw.

  • It may sound shocking that a baby is able to drink from a straw, but they are capable of learning. Click here for more details on the how to teach your child to drink from a straw, as well as the benefits of straw drinking.

9-12 Months: No longer uses a pacifier.

  • Okay so this isn't exactly feeding related, but I often get this question so I wanted to add it here.  Obviously, a lot of kids go past this marker, but if you take it away in this time frame, the transition is often easier and you decrease the risk of cavities and malformed dentition. 

11-14 Months: Able to take bites from larger pieces of food such as a soft cookie.

  • Even though your child may be able to take bites, there will likely be many foods that will need to be cut up in bite sized pieces for the next 3-6 months.

11-15 months: Chews a variety of foods using a rotary chew. 

  • Unless you are looking for this you may miss it, but it is an important milestone because rotary chewing is needed for harder foods and more efficient chewing. You will notice your child's jaw moving in a circular motion instead of just up and down. If you are looking for food ideas for your baby or toddler click here.

11-13 Months: Weaned from baby food.

  • It can be difficult to let go of the security that baby food brings, but if your child is doing well with table foods it is time to let it go! Click here if you are want to read more about appropriate portion sizes.

11-15 Months: Weaned from a bottle.

  • Many kids go way past this range, but this is what the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends for a variety of reasons. If you are looking for more information on why and how click here.

12-18 Months: Drinks from an open cup independently.

  • Again, this really depends on how much opportunity the child has been given to practice. Although it can be messy, trying an open cup a few times a week while your child is in the high chair will promote his eating and speech skills.

15-24 Months: Uses spoon and fork to independently feed themselves.

  • Toddlers may be using a spoon before this age if they have been given an ample chance to practice.  However, they may not be proficient and need some occasional help.  This skill has a wide age range because some parents would like to avoid the messy eating and hold off on trying until they are a bit older.  By 2 years, kids should be totally independent in feeding themselves.  Click here for a detailed post on teaching your child to feed them self. 

24+ Months: Can safely eat all foods.

  • By 24 months, most toddlers will be able to manage any type food. Of course, you will still want to avoid obvious choking hazards such as whole grapes, popcorn, and whole hot dogs. 

If it seems your child is very far behind on several of these milestones and/or your instincts are telling you that you need some help, than by all means talk to your child's doctor.  If you aren't comfortable with the answer they give you or you are ready to get some definitive answers, then I would encourage you to schedule a free in-state (need to live in the USA for this) early intervention evaluation that is completed in your home, or set up a private evaluation through your local children's hospital, outpatient facilities, or private clinic. With the latter, contact your insurance ahead of time to make sure you understand everything that is covered.  Lastly, I'm available for private consultations via phone, skype, or email to create an individualized home-based plan for you.


  1. Our grandson's dentist who is one of the best pediatric dentists in northern Colorado says that as long as a child is off the pacifier by age 3 it will do no harm to their teeth.

    1. Of course I respect your dentists opinion. I can tell you that I have seen children before the age of 3 with their dentition out of alignment- it does depend on how often the child is using the pacifier though. I know people get pretty heated about this issue, but from a development stand point they don't need it any long past the age of 1- in most cases. Many kids use it much past then and are fine. Being done by 1 is the best case scenario.

  2. What would be the size of an open cup that you would recommend for a 16 month old?

    1. Start off small, if you are just beginning. The size of a dixie cup is great, but a little bigger should be fine, too.

  3. Thank you!
    I really needed this, because I was worried about my son's skill to drink from a cup independently and self feeding with a spoon (hey, who needs a spoon for oatmeal, when you've got two hands???).
    Turns out, we are doing fine!