Mealtimes and coordination difficulties

by Sally Payne. Things you can do to help your child develop the practical skills they need to become independent eaters.

Man feeding child


Mealtimes can be stressful for children with coordination difficulties and their parents. Parents want to ensure that their children have a healthy diet, but are often under pressure time-wise to fit meals in with the rest of the family routine.

Children with coordination difficulties are often slow eaters and may require help to use a knife and fork – and they are also more likely to spill or drop food than their siblings. However, there are a number of things that parents can do to help develop their child’s independence at mealtimes and to manage the practical challenges that eating and drinking present.

How CBeebies can help

CBeebies have lots of recipes for you to try with your child that will help them get used to using a knife and fork. You could try the following:

  • Spiced Banana Pudding – in this recipe children use a butter knife to slice the banana into chunks. Bananas have a soft texture and should be easy for your child to manage.
  • Cheese and Vegetable Pasties – in this recipe children use a fork to prick pastry circles. Encourage your child to hold the fork with their finger pointing down towards the prongs as if they were spearing food on their plate.
  • Easter Egg Nests – in this recipe the mixture is spooned into paper cases so your child practises the skills they need to scoop and transfer food with a spoon.

You can also practise using a knife and fork away from the pressure of the dinner table by making some pretend food out of Fimbles Playdough and having a tea party for your teddies.

How to make a magic moment

Eat meals together as a family as often as you can, and try to make mealtimes fun! Get creative and choose a special name for the meal that you have prepared, e.g. ‘Princess Pie’ or ‘Dragon’s Dinner’.

You could even choose some special music to accompany your meal while you eat - some children like lively tracks while others prefer calmer, classical music.

Extra information

Mealtimes are not only a time for providing nutrition for your child. They also offer an opportunity for the family to communicate and for the child to develop some important social skills, such as listening and turn-taking. Helping your child to develop skills in handling cutlery and reducing the physical challenges associated with eating and drinking will help your child to develop their independence and make mealtimes a more positive experience for everyone.

Think about the seat that your child uses. Is it the right size and height? Providing a supportive, stable chair with something for their feet to rest on will allow the child to concentrate on eating rather than keeping their balance. Would changing the plate or cutlery make it easier for your child to manage? A slightly heavier cup with a wide base will reduce the likelihood of spillages. Also try part-filling the cup and offering more juice later, rather than filling the cup right up to the brim straight away.

Teaching your child to use cutlery appropriately can become a fun activity when playing some pretend games away from the pressure of the dinner table. Start by developing confidence in scooping with a spoon. You could provide a bowl of dried pasta or pulses and encourage your child to use their spoon to share this out for a teddy bears’ tea party.

Next help your child to develop the skills needed to spear food with a fork. Use modelling dough to make a pretend meal and encourage your child to spear pieces with both the left and the right hand to feed to their teddy friends. If your child lifts their elbow high while stabbing the ‘food’, gently encourage their elbows down so they feel the correct position of their arms when using cutlery.

When practising using a knife together with the fork, choose a plate that is similar in size and shape to the one your child uses at mealtimes and a similar set of cutlery. Together you and your child can make sausages, peas and potatoes from modelling dough. Press these firmly onto the plate to stop them from sliding around while your child practises the ‘stab and cut’ actions.

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Top tips

  • Make sure the table is at elbow rather than chest height when the child is seated.Having something for your child’s feet to rest on under the table will give them better stability when using their hands.Shaped cutlery with chunky handles can be easier to handle.Provide a plate with low, vertical sides to help your child scoop food onto the spoon.Put a damp tea towel or piece of non-slip mat underneath your child’s plate to stop it from sliding around.