Over half (54%) of the UK’s 2-5 year olds don’t regularly use knives and forks when eating at home – with 46% of parents not even providing utensils as an option.
The surprising statistic comes from a survey undertaken by StemProtect.co.uk, the UKs stem cell bank. The survey covered parents of 3,000 children between two and four years old across the UK and highlighted regional disparities.
While many parents will be able to sympathise with the struggle of getting their toddlers to eat their food rather than decorate with it, the survey revealed differing attitudes towards encouraging little ones to use cutlery.
The survey conducted by StemProtect.co.uk who spoke to 3000 parents through out the UK
When asked does your child (aged 2-5) use a knife and fork to eat
Yes – 46%
No – 54%
Some parents, such as Malcolm, 37 from London, were determined to instill good table manners into their children – despite the usual messy drawbacks of mealtimes with youngsters. Malcolm said:
“I’m normally at work when the kids eat, but we do all have breakfast together, which includes the occasional boiled egg. At the weekends we all eat together though – and although it’s normally its cold by the time they have finished and half of it’s on the floor, they do have to use a knife and fork to eat their meals!”
Others found that looking up to older siblings encouraged reluctant cutlery users, with Anna, 34, saying “It helps that our four year old uses a fork as the two year old loves to copy – although I’m not giving her a knife just yet!”.
However, some parents were less rigorous when it comes to mealtime etiquette – and fussy eaters were revealed as a problem. Mercedes, 23, from Bradford, admitted that her child only opted for food which didn’t require cutlery, such as toast or crisps, adding: “I’ve tried giving him chicken nuggets, but he’s just not interested.”
However, StemProtect.co.uk warned that not teaching your children to use cutlery correctly would be a hindrance once they reached school age.
Anna Edwards, spokesperson for StemProtect.co.uk, added:
“It’s important that children learn life skills early on. Schools expect that a child without any additional difficulties would be able to use a knife and fork by the time they start Reception and parents cannot expect teachers to be cutting up their children’s food for them.”
The NHS offers plenty of free advice for parents looking to help teach their children this important life skill, such as ensuring the table is at the right height and clear from clutter or distractions like the TV to encourage concentration.
The guidance also notes that while progress can be slow – and, as respondents to the StemProtect.co.uk survey agreed, messy – “it is important for them to learn the sequence and movements required for feeding”. The fine motor skills gained by putting these movements into practice also help your children’s brains develop as they grow.
StemProtect.co.uks’s Anna Edwards concluded:
“It might seem quicker and easier to help mealtimes along by assisting your child in eating – but this is a skill that they need to learn for themselves. By cutting up food for your child, you’re not giving them the chance to practice and many children will abandon their cutlery altogether in response, reverting back to using their fingers.”
“Independence at school lunchtimes is just one of many reasons why this is important for children. By encouraging them to be present and engaged at mealtimes, you will help foster healthier attitudes to food, mindfulness about what they are eating – which can lead to healthier food choices – and, of course, give them impeccable table manners for life!”