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Fine Motor Skills For Mealtimes

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From the beginning stages of a baby learning to pick up a piece of puffed cereal and feed itself, to an older child cutting vegetables to help prepare food, there are a variety of fine motor skills that are used and needed during meal times. In fact, self feeding is a great way to work on developing fine motor skills because eating is often very motivating.


A baby first initiates trying to pick up some food off of their tray by raking at the food with their fingers, and making contact, and maybe succeeding in getting a hold of the food in a precarious grasp with the food positioned between the palm of the hand and the fingers. As the child develops and practices, the raking of the food moves towards the index finger, and eventually becomes a pincer grasp (once it has gone through the scissor grasp, lateral grasp, etc.).

A great way to work on developing and fine tuning the pincer grasp is by putting finger foods into a muffin tin so that the fingers must be used to get the food out of the tin.

Finger feeding helps develop those fine motor skills, and then using a utensil adds an extra dimension to the movements. When using a spoon or fork, it begins with a gross grasp and then over time refines into more of a tripod type of grasp. Forearm and wrist movement are also important during utensil use as you have to be able to make the movements and adjustments to keep from dumping your food in your lap. I love practicing scooping play food and feeding the Munchy Ball.


When learning to use a knife, it is often a challenge separating the two movements of cutting food and spreading food. Cutting seems to come more naturally as you push down with the edge of the knife. To spread, the knife has to twist so the flat surface is down. Many kids attempt a strange choppy spreading/hacking motion when they are new to learning to spread, and will need guidance for how to position the knife. using a knife includes some small in-hand manipulation movements to get the knife in the proper position to to its job.


Some good ways to work on the fine motor skills used at mealtimes include food and toys together.

Activities to develop the pincer grasp for finger feeding:

Eating with a spoon:

  • Start with sticky food that won’t fall off of the spoon, such as pudding, yogurt, oatmeal, etc.
  • Scoop for the child initially and put the spoon in the bowl so that the child has to reach out and grab the spoon to bring it to his mouth.
  • Use reverse chaining for both scooping and stabbing with a fork
  • Play scooping with beans, rice, sand, toys, etc, and feed the Munchy Ball (or just scoop into another container).

Using a Knife:


This post is part of the Functional Skills for Kids series. You can read all of the functions on childhood HERE.  Read all of my monthly posts in this series HERE.

Looking for more information about Meal Time in childhood? Stop by to see what the other Occupational Therapists and Physical Therapists in the Focus on Function series have written.

When Can Kids Feed Themselves? (and other mealtime milestones) | Mama OT

Fine Motor Skills For Mealtimes  | Therapy Fun Zone

Postural Control, Gross Motor Development and Mealtime  |Your Therapy Source

Attention, Behavior, and Meal Time Problems | Sugar Aunts

4 Ways to Modify Meal Times for Fussy Eaters  | Your Kids OT

Mealtime Skills, Rituals & Play – Nurturing a Love for Food | Kids Play Space

15 Tips for Picky Eaters | The Inspired Treehouse

Positioning, Motor Skills, and Table Manners: What the Connection? | Miss Jaime OT

Visual Perceptual Skills Needed for Independent Feeding | Growing Hands-On Kids







Looking For More? Try these categories


Fine Motor

Visual Perceptual


Motor Planning

Oral Motor

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  1. I love all the suggestions for combining eating with fine motor. So many great ideas for parents!

  2. Love all of your great activity suggestions for practicing these skills! Thanks for sharing!

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