Embracing mess at mealtimes!

For many parents and carers, the idea of food being smeared from head to toe, highchair to floor is terrifying, and this feeling is completely normal.

BUT, the more mess at meal times, the better – for your little ones! 

Mess at mealtimes is actually your baby’s way of exploring and learning about food. If we look from their perspective when starting solids for the first time, they are learning what food is; the colours, shapes and sizes, its smell, taste and texture, even the sound that it makes.

The best way for them to learn all of this is to get a little (or a lot!) messy. Allowing children to touch and feel their foods can help to increase the likelihood of them tasting the food, which will often in turn lead to a bigger range of foods accepted.

On top of sensory learning, meal times are a wonderful place for our little ones to develop their fine motor skills such as holding onto a spoon or picking up a piece of food from their plate. 

So, with the positivity of mealtime mess in mind, here our top tips to help navigate this time:

Sit down and share meal times with your babies and toddlers – you can provide the best example of how to eat!

Aim to always keep meal times a positive experience. Avoid any big reactions when your little ones make a mess – if you express anger or frustration, it may create fear at mealtimes. Using gentle language to discourage throwing of food provides a more positive outcome. On the other hand, if you laugh when they throw their food on the floor, they are likely to keep doing this, having received a positive reaction to that

Provide lots of positive praise for desirable behaviour at the dinner table.

When your baby first starts with solids, there is not always a need for a plate or bowl. Simply place the food straight onto their highchair table. When they graduate to using plates and bowls, it may be suitable to provide only half of their food at a time (particularly if you have a plate thrower!). 

Watch for signs that your baby is full and finished with their meal. Often they will start throwing their food to signal to you that they are done. 

When age appropriate, get your little ones involved in cleaning up after a meal. There are also products available on the market that may assist you with the overwhelm of mealtime mess, such as the high chair catchers and under high chair floor mats. Also, when the weather is warmer, it is helpful to strip your little ones down to their nappies for meal times to save on washing!

Written by Madelin Jeffs APD
Paediatric and Women’s Health Dietitian for Way of Life Nutrition

* The information contained in this website is for general information purposes only. The information is provided by Parents2b and while we endeavour to keep the information up to date and correct, we make no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, about the completeness, accuracy, reliability, suitability or availability with respect to the website or the information, products, services, or related graphics contained on the website for any purpose. Any reliance you place on such information is therefore strictly at your own risk.