Feeding Tools for Babies & Toddlers: What’s Safe and Who Decides?
When the time comes to feed your baby solids, there are a lot of choices to make. Purees or baby-led weaning? Homemade or store-bought? What kind of high chair? What kind of bib? And the choice I want to address today: what feeding tools?
The choice for the “gear” related to feeding can get complicated by a bunch of factors including the style of your home, the available space for storage, budget, your own tolerance for mess, and preferences of the child.
But in this post, I want to take a super-practical approach and focus on one factor only: safety. What tiny forks, spoons, and cups are safest for our littles ones...and who decides?
There are lots (and lots and lots) of products that want you to believe they are the key to safety in the often-stress-inducing process of introducing your child to solids. Fancy grippers, choke-guards, slotted spoons, super-soft-tips...the list goes on and on.
What we found is that most of those features are more about marketing than actual safety. It’s sort of the wild west out there, when it comes to claims about feeding tool safety. Which means that choosing feeding tools is actually more about parent choice than about finding just the right brand. So that’s....a relief, I guess? Sort of? Can’t somebody just tell us what to do already?
Ok parents, roll up your sleeves. Here’s a primer on what actually matters when you’re choosing feeding tools that are safe for your child.
What makes baby and toddler feeding tools safe? Who decides?
We brought the issue of feeding tool safety to Karen Williams, a speech and language pathologist and infant feeding specialist. And like we mentioned earlier, we found that there aren't as many hard-and-fast rules about safe feeding tools as we expected.
There’s really only one highly regulated aspect of baby and infant feeding tools: materials.
The United States Food and Drug Administration (the FDA) controls what substances earn the term “food safe.” The term applies to the entire food-production process--everything from what the food is put in as soon as it’s picked from the plant, to how it’s treated in the factory, to how it’s transported to your grocery store, to how you cook it in your kitchen, to how you (or your infant or toddler) get it to your mouth. Whew.
If you want to get into the weeds and see what industry regulations look like, take a look here. If a material used for any step of the food-line preparation is found to be hazardous, then the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC) will get involved.
That’s a lot of considerations, and there’s an equally intimidating amount of science that contributes to the decisions.
So, what materials should I look for in baby and toddler feeding tools?
Thankfully, we consumers don’t have to worry about all the behind-the-scenes science when we’re standing in the aisle at Target with a barrage of choices. Thank you to all the men and women in lab coats who’ve gone before us!
We just need to look for the label “FDA approved” or “FDA compliant.” Karen pointed us toward a few great materials to look for, all of which earned the FDA-approved label:
- Wood (either unfinished or with food-safe / non-toxic finishes)
- Eco-friendly bamboo
- Stainless steel
- Glass, for drinking (silicone sleeve recommended, to prevent shattering)
For the most part, the options you’ll find at major stores and online retailers will only use FDA approved / FDA compliant materials. So that part of the work is done for you. You’ll want to look extra carefully if you order materials from a small shop (like on Etsy) or from overseas, where food safety regulations differ.
Besides material, what other safety concerns should I consider when choosing baby and toddler feeding tools?
Like so much of parenting, choosing safe feeding tools comes down to observing your child and knowing his or her patterns and limitations.
If, for example, your child has a motor-planning delay or a diagnosis that makes it hard to self-feed, maybe wait on giving him or her a spoon to start practicing. “We don’t want anyone to be poked in the eye!” says Karen. For a typically developing child, Karen recommends introducing a spoon around 6 months and introducing a fork around 10 months.
If your child has a particular sensitivity to hot foods, consider one of the spoons that offers visual feedback about temperature. There are several on the market that change color when the temperature of a food might be too hot for little mouths.
Finally, consider your own feeding goals for your child. For example, if you hope your feeding process will be entirely baby-led, choose utensils that encourage autonomy early on, before sizing up for toddlers.
Baby and toddler feeding tools overview.
- The good news about choosing safe feeding tools for your baby and toddler is that it’s mostly your choice.
- The bad news about choosing safe feeding tools for your baby and toddler is...well, it’s mostly your choice.
Here’s a quick-reference guide for making that choice when you’re standing in the aisle at Target:
- Only buy feeding tools made of materials certified FDA-approved / FDA-compliant.
- Consider your child’s specific motor abilities, patterns, and limitations around eating.
- Keep your own feeding goals in mind.
Once you’ve gotten these basic safety considerations out of the way, you can think about other factors, like color, style, and your own preferences. Then enjoy the fun of teaching your kid to eat! Karen reminds us, as she did last time she shared her wisdom, that eating is one of life’s great joys. Enjoy it with your child!