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We'd started baby led weaning soon after starting purees - when he was 7 months old, and it was going great. We still had purees and mashed foods in his diet, but anything that he could eat on his own, he would. He even liked feeding himself better than being fed, and meal times used to go down much smoother.

He's almost 15 months old now, and for the past month or two, he's been wanting to use his hands for exploring thing on the table rather than eating. Spoons, ladles, salt shakers, water bottles, anything in his field of vision, really. He starts off fine, but moves on to exploring after a few bites. (He points and asks for these things and doesn't settle down till he gets them) It's not that he's done eating. He still eats his usual amount if I feed it to him. It just seems like he's not that interested in feeding himself anymore.

Is this just a phase at this age? What can we do to get him interested in feeding himself again?

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My little boy is now 22 months old and it sounds like a phase he has gone through as well. As long as he still eats "enough" I wouldn't worry too much about it.

What we typically did when he stopped eating (and also didn't let us feed him) was to take away his food entirey, put it out of his reach, clean his mounth/hands and give him what he wanted to play with for a moment. If he was still hungry he would point to his food again after a little while. Then we took away his play thing again, put the food in reach and let him continue. At some point eating time is really over so we put away his food (either put it in the fridge for later or just eat it myself) and then take him out of his chair. This does mean that he missed out on a few meals that way, tho we made sure he still did eat enough throughout the entire day.

It should be noted tho that instead of the baby led weaning I went with "the trick of 2 spoons" (don't know if it's an official term. It's just something I learned from my father). One spoon for him to hold and (try to) scoop up his own food, the other for myself to quickly fix any issues or feed him when he's too distracted. (can't remember how old he was when I stared, just about as soon as he could hold the spoon I guess).
Initially he was mostly playing with his spoon while I put the food in his mouth with my own. After a while he got the hang of dipping his spoon into the bowl and putting in his mouth and me putting a full spoonful right after so it feels rewarding for him to do the correct movements. Later on this shifts to him actually putting full spoons into his own mouth until he gets frustrated because the movements take too long at that time. Then I show him my own full spoon and let him choose if he still wants more given to him. The advantage of holding your own spoon at this phase is when they put over-full spoons you can quickly scoop up whatever food drops off his spoon when he tries to put it in his mouth. Keeps things cleaner :)

This way you get a natural transition from you feeding them to them eating with a spoon on their own. Do note that they still do make a big mess for a while so try not to get frustrated if they don't really eat the way you want them to :p

Now at 22 months my boy eats "sticky" food with a spoon mostly by himself (the sticky is needed so it doesn't just slide of the spoon if he doesn't hold it perfectly level). I just try to take off a bit when he scoops up too much or catch it with my spoon when he does try (and fail) to push it into his mouth entirely.

There are some meals where he just takes a few bites and stops entirely, some meals where he just eats the entire bowl in one quick go, some meals where he eats half a bowl, plays a bit, then gets back to eating some more. We just keep folowing the rule "Parents decide what the child eats, the child decides how much".

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