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Left Handed Eating

Using cutlery for eating is an area that causes a lot of confusion and inconsistency for both left- and right-handers:

Right-handers– traditionally eat with a knife and fork using the knife in their right and fork in the left, so they actually feed themselves with their left hand. (in America, some people change fork hand as they go along, cutting with their right then switching the fork into the right to lift the food to their mouth).
When they are using just a spoon, e.g. for eating soup, they change over and use it in their right hand, feeding themselves with that right hand.
When they are using just a knife, e.g. for cutting bread, they are consistent and keep it in their right hand.

Left-handers – we know from our own surveys that 74% of left-handers eat with a knife and fork in the “right-handed” way – with the fork in their left hand and feeding themselves with the left hand.
When they are using just a spoon, 95% use it in their LEFT hand for that as well, so we continue FEEDING ourselves with our dominant left hand.
When left-handers are using just a knife, e.g. for cutting bread, 88% move it into their left hand.

Eating left handedHow does this happen?

It makes sense to use your dominant hand, the one that gives you most control, for delicate and complicated tasks, like cutting something with a knife. When the knife is used on its own, like cutting bread, this all works as expected with left-handers using the bread knife ion their dominant left and right-handers using the right.

But when we complicate it by using a second tool, like a fork, it all gets inconsistent! Right-handers think the knife is the most important tool and keep it in their right hand, while left-handers switch the knife to their right and think that the feeding tool, the fork, is the more important and deserves the use of their dominant hand.

How do we choose which way round to eat?

Is there some inbuilt preference for eating, like writing, or do we learn it from our parents? is the high percentage of left-handers who eat “right-handed” because they just copy their parents? (around 75% of left-handers have two right-handed parents and only 2% have two left-handed parents).

Left handed spoonOur own experience would strongly say no! Keith and Lauren are both left-handed but eat “right-handed” and their son Tom is the same. So when daughter katie came along and turned out to be RIGHT-handed despite all the family genetics and influence, which way would she eat? Would she do what is natural for a right-hander AND the same as the rest of the family? NO! – she has always eaten LEFT-HANDED.

So we really don't know the cause of eating choices and it does seem to be completely inconsistent overall, though very strongly embedded in each individual, seemingly just as much as writing. We have had some email correspondence recently with LHC member Catherine that makes this very clear:

Catherine originally posted a comment on our website saying:
“My son (nearly 8), is mostly right-handed, but eats with his knife and fork the left-handed way. I have recently found out that they are forcing him to eat the ‘correct’ way at school meal times. I was shocked and outraged, but they claim that it is for his own good…. Do you have any evidence of this being harmful to a child (in the same way that forcing a change in writing handedness can be)? He complains of tiredness and headaches, and has started developing a stammer and tics. He is also highly uncoordinated and regularly spills food down clothes when eating this way. I want to force the school to stop, so need some supporting evidence. Please help!”

Keith replied:
The symptoms you mention ARE similar to those that can arise from changing writing hand and while I have not seen any research or evidence about changing eating hands I guess it comes to the same thing. It may also just be that he is stressed from being pressurised by his teachers and that is causing the problems rather than anything to do with brain function”. I would definitely advise letting him eat whichever way seems natural to him. It will be very interesting to see if his symptoms go away when he is allowed to go back to eating his natural way.

and we recently received a wonderful follow-up from Catherine:
Thank you so much for emailing me. Since all this happened, we have told our son to eat with whichever hand he feels most comfortable holding his fork in, and his tics / stammer have all but gone. He is calm and unstressed now. However, the school are not happy about this and claim that eating with your cutlery the ‘right way round' is part of their social development programme. We are actively trying to dispute this and any thoughts you have about this or any research or supporting evidence would be most welcome.

We would be very interested in your experience of changing eating hands and any effect it had so please add your comments below.

Update

We wrote an article about eating left-handed recently and included a comment from one of of our readers who was battling her son's school because they were forcing him to change hands and eat right-handed. We had a lot of feedback on the story and it has now been picked up by the national press with an article in the Daily Mail online version here.

A complaint was lodged after an angry parent said staff at Kersey Primary School near Ipswich, Suffolk made his two left-handed children switch their knives and forks to eat in the standard right-handed manner, with the knife in their right hand and fork in their left. Teachers told him that swapping the cutlery helped ‘improve dexterity' and was part of a child's ‘personal, social and health education'. [really??!]

Left handed cutlery layoutDoes changing to eat right handed REALLY improve dexterity?
Well… in a strict sense it might, because “dexterity” actually means
effective use of the right hand! (dexter being “right” in Latin)

The school has admitted encouraging pupils to eat in a ‘conventional manner', but denied putting pressure on the children to eat right-handed. An independent inspector has looked into the complaint and found that the school was doing nothing wrong, but the father has now lodged an appeal against that decision and asked the school's governors to look into it further.

The father said he was being supported by fellow parents at the school and we at the Left Handers Club think it is entirely wrong to force a child to change their normal way of eating. If you agree, please add a comment below.

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384 comments on “Left Handed Eating
  1. Kara says:

    This is a very interesting Article, I myself am predominently right handed.
    I remember my mother saying that i have always eaten with the fork in my right hand and the knife in my left, I concur i still do this today. They too tried changing me to the “normal” way when i was younger but started having a lot of issues including spilling food.

    As soon as my mother let me eat the other way I had no issues, I stopped spilling food.

  2. Edward Johnson says:

    I agree and I wonder if there has ever been a problem with forcing a child to use a computer mouse right handed (though young children do not use mice that much, it would be interesting to know if that affected their development).
    Best,
    Eddie

  3. Heather says:

    My little sister and I both eat left handed, but we are both right handed for almost everything else. Our mum is right handed and our dad ambidextrous but eats left handed. Our left handed sister eats right handed.

  4. Morag says:

    I and most of my siblings are total ‘lefties’…. seems to be a common thing with Stuart/Stewart family. I spent my first year at school with my left hand tied to my seat…… think it’s called assault these days! It is discrimination to force a child to do things the ‘conventional’ way, so I would be having a few hard words with the school if it is still happening. Being left handed is part of who a person is! And totally disrespectful to discriminate and abuse children- for that is what it is. Curious that schools seem to think it is ok to so for this particular group of individuals, yet have no problem adapting to the needs of other children/groups who differ from the supposed ‘norm’.

  5. A leftie in her 30s says:

    I write with my left hand but use my knife and fork the right handed way. I used my cutlery the left handed way until primary 1 as my mum has always embraced my being left handed. A teacher when I started primary school would always come up behind me and switch my cutlery from the left handed to the right handed way. It confused me why she was doing it and it used to take me a lot longer than the rest of the children to finish my lunch. Children should use cutlery whatever way they feel most comfortable and should not be made to change!

  6. lori says:

    When I was in Elementary in the 70’s my teachers tried to make me eat right handed when I ate with left hand. Eating wasn’t enjoyable for me, cause teachers were constantly calling me, out & I had to switch to right hand & I could not get food to my mouth cause I would drop it & spill stuff. But I won that battle & continued to eat left handed & write right handed & use scissors left handed! It drove teachers nuts!

  7. Boo says:

    I’m right handed as are both my parents, but unlike them I eat ‘left-handed’ with fork in the right and knife in the left.
    It always seemed logical to me to keep the fork in my right hand, and I’ve never had a problem with my left hand using the knife (although sometimes the serrations are on the wrong side when cutting tough meat). Primary school tried to ‘correct’ me but I stood my ground.

  8. A left hander says:

    I whole heartedly agree that a child should be allowed to use their preferred choice of cutlery hand for knife and fork. As a left handed child I was put under pressure at school to conform and eat using the considered proper convention of fork in left hand knife in right. It was distressing. Choice of eating hand for holding cutlery is as important as the hand you choose to write with. I feel it is archaic to counter this. My sons progressive school has just adopted a similar approach asking parents to help children learn how to hold the fork in the right hand and knife in the right citing dexterity and fine motor skills as the reason. I was shocked. Surely these develope whichever way round a knife and fork are held!

    • Morag says:

      I would be having a chat with that school for their discriminatory practices, it’s just not on! Especially when such places bend over backwards to accomodate the ‘needs’ of other special interest groups. Being a leftie is just part and parcel of who we are, and the school is basically saying that’s not good enough.

      • Edward Johnson says:

        If schools were as accommodating to left handed children as they are to other special-interest groups they would at least request publishers of text books to send them some bound on the right (configured to have the left page turned over to advance into the net 2 pages). They would try to obtain locks for school lockers with the right prong opening (try using your left hand to push a lock thru a holder or remove it form a holder when the left prong opens!). They would seek out pencils with labels that were right side up when held in the left hand and maybe other services for the lefty. This may seem to be overkill but it represents the extent to which schools are
        willing to go to accommodate other groups.
        Best,
        Eddie

  9. Virginia Galigher says:

    I am now 84 years old. In the first or second grade, my teacher taught us to place our paper on the desk at an angle, always for right-handed kids. I would turn my paper opposite to theirs, and she would always come by and turn mine like the right-handed kids’ papers were. I would change it back. She would get frustrated with me and scold me in front of the class, so I left it turned the way SHE wanted it, so now I write left-handed across the page with my side of my hand erasing what I’m writing, if chalk. I write from left to right at a 45 degree angle, pointing toward 2 o’clock. But I’m used to it after 78 years.

  10. Daryl Springer says:

    I’m from the US, I’ve been a teacher for 25 years and have had to do many “lunch duties”. NEvVER in all this time has anyone ever complained about which hand a person eats, nor has any instructor ever wanted to or tried to change a chol’s dominant hand. Research shows it’s harmful to the child and quite frankly our noses aren’t stuck toward the sky, being worried about such trivial matters. I guess that’s why we say we are “the home of the FREE, and home of the brave, or as many people quote now, ” because of the brave”.

  11. Maqieqie says:

    I am left handed and eat the left handed way. Ive often times overheard pple chatting about how Im holding my cutlery wrong. I couldnt care less what they think. So let your children eat which ever way is comfortable for them.

  12. Harry Beecher says:

    Hello…early sixties here…my pop was an ww two army sgt…in battle all the way…sweet guy..as a little kid at the dinner table I heard right hand bob..right hand bob…I write righty…throw righty..swing a baseball from either shoulder ..pistol either right or left easily…shoulder a rifle lefty…play pool lefty…my next sibling was also left handed..my pop told me he gave up on him…it has lead to everlasting mild confusion ..what’s your take

  13. hannah says:

    My sister and I are both right handed, as are our parents. Both of us use our left hand for a knife and right for a fork or spoon depending. Neither of our parents do this. I cant understand why? Did my mum give us them in mirror image, and didnt realise, or maybe I copied my sister. Maybe its genetic

  14. Josie says:

    Hi, I am left handed & eat the (supposedly) right handed way. It is, however, totally wrong to try to ask anyone to eat a way that isn’t natural for them. What does it matter anyway – unless we are having dinner with the Queen. It smacks of the “old” days when children were forced to write with their right hand as the left hand was seen as the devil’s hand (and that wasn’t that long ago!) Anyway, my family – who are all right handers – eat the left handed way with their fork in their right hand – so maybe the supposedly right handed way – isn’t right at all!

  15. Carol Dorywala says:

    I started school in the mid sixties , I had to see a psychiatrist ,who tested myself and a few other children ,who after many tests, such as writing, mental, verbal and physical test said don’t bother trying to change her , will do more harm than good ,she’s totally left handed and nothing can change her .
    I cut with my left and fork in the right ,but then swap to eat using fork in left hand

    Even now ,although i know my left from right , don’t ask me directions, as i automatically will send you left , i knit ,crochet and sew left handed , which just means, i follow the pattern they just turn out reversed , ie : follow the pattern for left side and it is in fact the right side , and vice versa .
    I do have one tip for you though if you are trying to teach some one who uses the opposite hand to you , sit them in front of you and let them “mirror ” you

  16. Rod Cowley says:

    As a child I was taught to use my left hand for food and the right hand for ablutions.

    If this is wrong why is a side plate always laid on the left in place settings?
    Rod (80)

    • Steve Mooney says:

      Interesting. I always cut with my left hand, then “usually” but not always switch my fork back over to my left hand. However, if I am at a crowded table with a rightie to my left, I am polite and use my fork to eat with my right hand.

      Anyone else do this ritual?

      Steve

  17. Logan sharpe says:

    I am right handed. But I’ve always eaten with my fork in right hand and knife on left. Didn’t even notice I did it differently to everyone else until people started pointing out I held them wrong. I can’t hold a fork in my left hand i doth know how to hold it. It just feels weird. I assumed that left handed people might do it the same way as me but my friend does it opposite. So not sure if I’m abnormal or what lol.

  18. Victoria says:

    My son is 10 and right handed but eats left handed, that is with his fork in his right hand. He has recently been approached by a teacher at his school who told him he was eating incorrectly and that his school is a ‘civilised’ school!!! I am split. I am also right handed and eat left handed so I assume that both my children have copied me. However, I do know how embarrassing it can be to sit down at a formal dinner and have to swap all your cutlery to the other side. So, whilst I believe that his life will be easier in the long run to swap hands the stubborn side of me believes the teacher is being discriminative and quite nasty to label a child as ‘uncivilised”. Personally I would rather she mentioned his ‘aeroplane elbows’ and slouching at the dinner table which are the arguments I generally have with him. Any advice would be greatly received as to whether to approach to school or let be!

    • Andrew Ball says:

      Approach the school immediately, scream child abuse at them from the playground. Tell the local authority that the school is abusing yoyr child. Make as much fuss as you can. It is apalling that your son os being treated this way. the teahcer responsible should be given an official warning at the very least if not sacked on the spot

      • Elise Dee Beraru says:

        I’m left-handed and eat with fork or spoon in my left hand and knife in my right. I don’t switch hands in the American fashion. My mother told me I hold my utensils in the Continental fashion. I was the only lefty in my family and nobody in the family or in any school would have told me to do otherwise without a fuss both from me or my mother. When adults in the schools where I teach tell a student to “eat correctly,” they mean to sit in his/her seat and not to play with the food. Could this thing about forcing a child to change the natural inclination to the left hand be a British thing? I would be all over the teacher and principal like a Rottweiler if someone tried to do such a thing to my child.

  19. michaela crumpton says:

    my daughter and me are right handed and eat left ,, her dad is left handed and eats right handed. she has been “shown” how to eat properly at the age of 9 infront of her friends which has caused her distress. i am fuming and have told the school that this could impact on her future eating habits should she become embarrased for being different. i am waiting for a reply and apology.
    we have taken her out to eat since she was a baby in restaurants etc and never have a problem with eating or behaviour , today she found herseld embarrased in public and crying . i cant tell you how angry i am . it is a form of dicrimination for being different and i also informed the school we were not in the dark ages where we forced childrens natural habits to be changed. i am a governor at the school too so i am looking forward to my reply from the school

  20. claire says:

    I have read with great interest your discussion on the right/wrong way to hold cutlery, I am a left handed parent, but I eat the right handed way, my son is right handed but when eating has always held his fork in his right and his knife in his left hand, I have tried in the past to encourage him to swap but he just swaps them back. I just let him eat how he feels comfortable now it stops all the stress! I would be very interested to know of any scientific reason why right handed folk eat this way.

    Always intrigued and fascinated with anything to do with left handedness.
    Kind regards
    Claire

  21. Paula says:

    Hi, my son is 8 and is predominantly right handed but uses his left foot during sport. My partner and I have disagreed at mealtimes because he says it’s more comfortable to hold his knife and fork the left handed way. Should I encourage him to use his cutlery the right handed way or let him chose whatever is more comfortable for him? Would forcing him to go against what feels natural be detrimental?

    • Wendy Constantinoff says:

      I would advise you to let him choose. My right handed son eats left handed. with a knife and fork but uses a spoon right handed.

  22. SEAN POWELL says:

    I always took sandwiches to school so it wasn’t a problem, but I remember being forced to play cricket right handed. I wonder if that is why I now play every sport left handed EXCEPT cricket (and golf)!Everyone should be able to eat the way they want. It is outrageous that the school are doing this. I eat with the fork in the left by the way.
    Sean

    • Heather says:

      My nephew got a cricket set for Christmas,my dad and I got him started and settled into his stance right handed as that’s the way he writes and eats. He looked so uncomfortable and couldn’t grasp the bat correctly. Turned him around and he was completely fine. Insisted to his dad we’d have to develop this as there are so few Lefty’s around.

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