Let’s face it: Kids are messy. In fact, I encourage anyone who’s expecting her first baby to find a friend or family member who will “lend” her child out for the day, in order to get a real look at just how often there’s a spill to clean, a tissue to find and a face to wipe. There’s nothing like real training to prepare a mom for her own children, and until you live with little ones, it’s impossible to know just how dirty they are — especially when they eat.
How do parents keep the spills and splatters contained while maintaining some sense of order during meals and snacks? Here are a few tips to help you keep the disorder a little more, well, orderly.
Small Meals for Small Diners
If your little ones are turning their sloppy Joes into messy Michelangelos, remove the food in question from the table. Chances are, if the kids are playing with their food, they don’t want to eat it anymore. Wipe your little darlings’ hands and faces and allow them to play with their toys or crawl around on the floor. After five or 10 minutes of burning off some energy, bring them back to the table. Offer them a few bites of food, and if they eat it, they’re ready to have more. If not, accept that mealtime is over, and move on. (Check out these additional table-manner tips from the Better Health Channel.)
On that note, a large mess is often made when there's too much food on the table or high-chair tray. Set out a few bites at a time instead of a huge helping. Rather than giving a big bowl of yogurt to a toddler, put a few spoonfuls in a cup. If he finishes it, offer him more. But the less there is from the start, the less of a mess he can make.
When it comes to tableware, many kid-friendly dishes are made with suction cup bottoms. If you purchase these, you can attach bowls and plates to the tray or table to keep them from going airborne. Some other clever mealtime accessories include bibs and plates with built-in spill catchers and splat mats that cover the floor under your toddler’s high chair.
Fine motor skills are a challenge for most munchkins. Allow your babies to eat with their hands instead of utensils when they first begin with whole pieces of food. They'll actually be less likely to spill this way.
Consider offering tender, yet firm foods to your earlier eaters instead of soft purees in order to minimize the mess. Not only are these bite-size chunks of food more likely to find their way into the mouths of your babes, they're also more intriguing and less likely to be played with at the table. You can also roll slippery foods like bananas in crushed cereal to give them texture and make them easier for babies to grip.
Parental Role Models
If you're really worried about your child's messy ways, dine with her and lead by example. Show your little ones how to use a napkin, knife, fork, spoon and even fingers properly.
Lastly, try to ignore the messes that get made. Accept that for a short time in your parenting life there will be spilled milk and meatloaf on the floor. Besides, isn’t that why you got the dog?
Jan Scott is a food writer, blogger and party planner. She is the food editor for SavvyMom Media, and the creative behind Family Bites, a blog inspired by the simple recipes and party ideas she’s put to the test on her family.