Mealtime with your toddler can be a wonderful bonding experience, but it can also be a challenge—a messy one. As your child begins experimenting with more foods, feeding themselves and using utensils, you might find that your once spotless dining room is in constant need of a scrub-down.
Fortunately, with a little planning, you can contain the mess and stress of post-mealtime cleanup. Here are seven tips to help contain the mess of mealtime.
Timing is everything
Prepare your child’s food before they’re in their highchair or at the table. That way, they’re not sitting and waiting, which might make them antsy before feeding begins. Also try to ensure your child is hungry when mealtime comes around. And don’t let it drag on too long, since your child will be more likely to lose interest the longer it takes.
Don’t turn mealtime into cleaning time
Your child might think it’s funny to throw food on the floor for you to pick up, or they may just be a messy eater. Either way, don’t turn mealtime into cleaning time. Instead, try putting small amounts of food in front of them and focus on them, not the mess they make.
Choose products that will help you out
Sippy cups, splat mats and age-appropriate utensils can help contain mess, as will a full-coverage bib with a catch at the bottom for stray food. A little help from good products can go a long way.
One spoon for you, one spoon for them
If your toddler wants to feed themselves, they may get frustrated when you insist on feeding them. Let them see what freedom tastes like by giving them a spoon while you still do the majority of the feeding.
Identity foods that cause the most mess and troubleshoot
If there’s a particular food that’s giving your child trouble and leading to more mess, work with your tot to help them eat it cleanly and effectively. First, determine what the problem is: Are their utensils too big? Are they scooping up more than their spoon can hold? Are the bites too large? Then, come up with a solution and emphasize it during mealtime, like taking smaller bites or holding the utensil differently.
Your mood matters
Your child will pick up on your emotions, so try not to become visibly frustrated or upset if things are getting unwieldy. Calmly encourage them to eat and use words such as “more,” “please,” “thank you” and “I’m all done.” Avoid confrontation or discipline during mealtime.
Offer praise for good eating
When your child exhibits good manners or successfully learns how to eat a new food, remember to encourage them with positive words and body language. This encouragement is important to create a positive mealtime environment.
Remember that for young children, touching food and making a bit of a mess is part of their journey. If you expect a mess-free meal, you’ll inevitably be disappointed. Once your child masters the skill of feeding, mealtime will require significantly less cleanup. For now, know there will be some mess—and that it’s all part of the process.