How to Feed a Baby Without Making a Mess
Mealtime with little ones can be a treasured time together - but when you have a messy eater (and at some point, most of us do), it can also become a source of frustration. After all, no one likes to watch the nutritious meal they carefully prepared get unceremoniously splattered on their freshly-cleaned floors. If you’re looking for some tips and tricks to avoid the need to call in the cleaning crew (ahem...you) after every meal, you’re in the right place. Here’s how to feed a baby without making a mess.
Before diving into any of the more concrete tips, the most important part of mealtime is your mindset. Parents and caregivers set the tone for how kids think about food and eating, so try to go into it with a flexible attitude rather than frustration. If eating is a fun and positive experience, your baby will often be less fussy about meal time as they grow up.
Remember that “playing with food” isn’t usually bad behavior for a baby or toddler, but rather an important part of their development. Babies learn with all five senses, so tasting, touching, squeezing, smashing, and yes, sometimes dropping, are often part of how they understand new foods and concepts like cause and effect. They also are learning motor skills like grasping and feeding themselves, which can help make for good food habits as they get older.
So as difficult as it can be to watch your homemade spaghetti get smooshed into their hair, try to keep your cool and if needed, model the behaviors you’d like them to use.
Make the Area Mess-Friendly
Consider the area around the high chair the “splash zone.” If your floors are tough to clean or stain easily, it might be worth investing in a plastic play mat to slide under the chair so you can easily wipe things down after meal time. Keep the chair far enough from walls that they won’t get dirtied too often. In warmer months, it can take the stress off to move meals outdoors where kids can spill and splatter to their heart’s content. If all else fails, send in the family dog for cleanup duty :)
Opt for Small Portions
Babies and toddlers’ appetites tend to vary by developmental stage, so it can be tough to predict how much they’ll actually eat at any given meal vs how much will end up elsewhere. It can be helpful to offer your babe small portions of food to start, then dole out more as they finish. As soon as you see your little one is full and they’re beginning to just play with their food, clear any leftovers away and give them a toy or utensils to keep them occupied until meal time is over. This reduces not only mess, but food waste.
Choose Finger Foods
While gripping and using utensils are important skills for your little ones to learn, if you’re looking to keep a meal mess-free, stick to finger foods that are less messy. Purees, sauces, smoothies, and yogurt are all healthy and delicious, but also tend to get smeared and spilled. Depending on their age, you can let them hold a clean spoon while you feed them with a spoon. As they get more confident with eating, finger foods like appropriately sized slices of fruit or veggies, small pasta shapes, scrambled eggs, or homemade pancakes are all *slightly* less prone to mess.
Get a Good Bib or Five
Diaper-only outfits are a meal time classic, but when clothing isn’t optional, a good bib can save the day. To save yourself the extra laundry, look for silicone bibs that are large enough to cover your babe’s whole torso. They’re super easy to give a quick rinse in the sink and dry for the next meal. Bonus: choose a bib with a pocket to catch food before it hits the floor. From there, you can either toss it or return it to the tray for your babe.
Resist the Urge to Constantly Clean
This can be a tough one for the Type A team, but unless there’s a hazard or the mess is making it difficult for your child to eat, wait until the end to clean up the mess. Not only does it save you from 12 rounds of wiping down the same tray, but also allows them some great sensory play. (Plus, constantly wiping your little one’s face can make them irritated or fussy.) Let them enjoy, then if needed, head right to the tub for bath time after.