We have all seen numerous pictures on social media of messy eating babies with food smeared all over their faces and hands. While these pictures get an “awww” reaction out of us, the parents have a hard time cleaning up these messes.
I know many mothers cringe at the thought of offering potentially messy food to their little ones, fearing the aftermath. But let me put forth my case as to why it’s ok to let your baby make a mess while eating. So the next time you see your little one flinging yogurt across the room or dropping yet another bowl of food from the high chair, you know you are actually helping his/her development in some way.
Messy eating promotes language development
A recent study shows the influence that the context of everyday activities such as mealtimes has on children’s exploration, attention and word learning. When young children messily eat and explore food at each meal, they are learning both about individual foods and also about non solid substances. This aids in early word learning and language development.
This higher vocabulary generally correlates with better executive function which means better ability to apply rules to situations and control behavior appropriately.
Messy eating leads to greater acceptance of food
A Reuters article highlighted a study that showed there may be an association between getting children to play with messy substances helping their food acceptance. The researchers suggested that playing with food may actually help kids overcome a fear of new flavors and eat a more varied diet.
The takeaway here is that as parents we need to approach eating as a hands off approach, allowing our children to explore, touch and feel their food. This quenches their thirst for exploration and curiosity and generates a more positive association with the food they eat.
Messy eating promotes development of gross motor skills and fine motor skills
From learning gross motor skills like sitting upright at the table to fine motor skills like managing to scoop up a spoonful of soup and bringing to mouth, all these skills involve getting messy in some way. So let them make a mess and learn along the way. You can guide them on how to sit at table and use their forks and spoons. Then let them go ahead and experiment and use those muscles in their hands to become skilled at eating. Learning to use the spoon and fork is a key skill to becoming less messier eater down the road. Also, these skills are transferable to when they learn to write and color. Once they know how to eat with spoon and fork they are quick to learn how to hold color pencils and crayons correctly too.
Messy eating is a form of sensory play
Children eat their food with both hands, squishing at peas, smearing the soup across the table, licking it off their fingers, then going back to dipping their fingers in the soup for some more smearing.
While all this looks messy, what is happening at the brain level is something amazing. They are getting feedback from their food about different textures, volumes, and differentiation between solid foods and non solid foods. Learning about food through this type of sensory play, is an exercise in exploration, curiosity and self feeding which ultimately helps build a positive envirnoment around the food they eat.
Some foods are hot, some cold, some are sticky, some are smooth, some liquid and some hard to touch. Imagine the excitement they experience on using their senses to discover new flavors and textures of foods.
Messy eating promotes independent eating
As I just mentioned in the point above getting messy while eating helps their curiosiy which in turn promotes self feeding. Once they have touched and tasted the food, the sense of achievement they feel every time they can guide the spoon skilfully from bowl to their mouths is something else.
Okay, now these were some of the benefits of allowing children to get messy eating at the table. But you must be thinking, its easy for you to say so, I am the one cleaning up after every meal.
I have been there! being a baby led weaning mom. Mess is a part of every meal time for us. Along the way I have come up with a few strategies to reduce the mess. Let me tell you all about them.
Tips to reduce the mess
- Serve finger foods whenever possible. Pancakes, oats fingers, fruits are easy finger foods to offer baby. Also reduces the quantity of messes to clean later.
- Make thicker version of oats and dals that don’t slide off the spoon easily. This helps them get good at scooping up the food in their spoons and aids initial learning of self feeding with spoons. Once they become skilled at it you can move on to smoother and thinner textures of liquid food.
- Lay a splash mat or newspapers on the floor. This catches most of the messes and reduces half the workload.
- Keep a spray bottle with natural cleaner or water at hand. Helps to wipe down the high chair easily.
- Use highchair and booster seats that are made of easy to clean materials. I highly recommend, Chicco Pocket Lunch Highchair especially because it has a large tray that helps limit the messes to the table and Fisher Price Quick Clean N’ Go Booster because it is made of easy to clean materials, light weight and comes with a travel friendly strap.
- Use bowls and plates with a suction base to minimise messes. Those who follow me on Instagram know how much I love my Avanchy bowl and plate set. This set is made of bamboo wood and comes with a silicone suction base. A boon for baby led weaning families.
- A new product I love is the AZ Tuckerbox bib and burp cloth set. The bibs help catch any messes my toddler makes when he eats. They come in stylish patterns and colors. I find them great to use especially when we travel outside, as they look like a part of his outfit and not like I put him in some sort of contraption and help with keeping his outfit clean.
The Burp ‘N Drool Tuckerbox also comes with a burp cloth that is nice and big in size, easy to carry in the diaper bag and use it for cleaning those messy fingers on the go. The material used is a soft cotton and washes well too. AZ Tuckerbox curates cool subscription boxes right from newborn stage to older kids and now moms too. Be sure to check them out, its a one of a kind unique service available to Indian mothers.
So go ahead let your little ones make some messes as they eat. Rest assured they are learning some great things along the way.
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AZ Tuckerbox were kind enough to send me the new Burp ‘N Drool Tuckerbox, but the opinions expressed in this article are my own.
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