Managing Toddler Mealtime Messes

Toddlers are notoriously messy eaters. When they are beginning to learn to self-feed, the challenge is getting food into their mouths and not everywhere else. When they can self-feed, the challenge is making sure they keep the food in their mouths and not everywhere else.

I’m a mom to a twenty-six month-old who likes to throw foods that she thinks she doesn’t like. She also likes to do this cool face-painting thing with any liquids, like yogurt or ketchup, on her face. Yes, like most toddlers, she’s messy. But, I’ve learned that there are ways to contain her mess. “How?” you ask? Well, here are some things that have worked for me in managing my toddler’s mealtime messes.

Offer smaller amounts of food at a time. Portion control is everything! Seriously. I know that if I give my toddler too much to eat, she’ll eat her food until she’s full, then, if there’s anything left, she’ll build some kind of castle or doll house that she’ll eventually bore with and throw on the floor. So, I’ve learned to always give less food, and have her ask for more if that’s necessary.

 Go for kid-friendly foods and sizes. Some foods like penne pasta or baby carrots are easier to hold and manage by toddler hands. Choose these foods and cut harder to handle foods so that your toddler can more easily handle them on their own.

 Go easy on the sauce. Typically, when preparing dishes that contain sauces, try to make sure that your toddler’s helping is lighter on sauce. This will make the foods more easy to manage and limit the potential mess that may end up on the floor.

Suction bowls, like these from Munchkin, are great in helping to prevent toddler food spills.

Buy bowls with suctioned bases. In my house, we have some bowls that I purchased by Muchkins at Walmart. These bowls featured suctioned bases that easily will stick to your child’s high chair tray or your counter top/table. The suctioned bases help prevent accidental (and intentional) spills.

Feed your toddler when she is most hungry. I find that the more hungry my toddler is at mealtimes, the more likely it is that she’ll actually eat the foods that I provide.

Cover the floor of your toddler’s eating area. When my daughter was smaller and still practicing with self-feeding, I placed a plastic floor mat beneath her eating area. Other alternatives to a plastic floor mat are a bed sheet or blanket or tarp.

Consider purchasing toddler-friendly utensils. “Toddler-friendly” utensils are available in most stores. They are “toddler friendly” because they feature easy-to-grip handles and broader bowls (spoon) and tines (fork).

Toddler utensils, like this pack from Gerber, are particularly helpful with younger toddlers just beginning to learn to self-feed.

Provide occasional help. If your toddler is struggling with getting food in her mouth, and to prevent a temper tantrum, offer to help.

Expect some mess.  What I’ve learned is that, sometimes, no matter what I do, there will be some mess involved in my daughter’s mealtimes. So, I’ve learned to be flexible and expect the mess. Particularly, when she was smaller and just learning to self-feed, I had to learn to focus on her small progress, rather than focusing on the spills and crumbs on the floor.

What are your tips for managing your toddler’s mealtime messes?

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Jessica lives in the Washington, DC metropolitan area with her husband and two girls. Once upon a time, pre-motherhood, she did many things as a “serious-looking” woman who managed to successfully balance a reality TV addiction with a career and academic pursuits. She's now a serious-acting woman whose primary job is raising her children. She writes, reads, fantasizes about minivans, and takes midday naps. She enjoys (among many other things) dancing to 80s music, photography, laughing out loud (at, usually, inappropriate moments), and writing about writing, being a writer, and becoming fearless on her blog Jessica F. Hinton

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