messy eating girl eating watermelon
Baby, Motherhood

Reasons Why You Need To Let Your Child Get Messy Eating

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.

This blogpost contains affiliate links. These links provide me with a small percentage commission but don’t cost you anything extra.

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.

Bogo Sale

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.

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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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Lay a splash mat or newspapers on the floor. This catches most of the messes and reduces half the workload.
  4. Keep a spray bottle with natural cleaner or water at hand. Helps to wipe down the high chair easily.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

If you enjoyed reading this make sure to subscribe to my blog. Subscribers get blog updates first along with tips and tricks I use at home and in the kitchen to make life easier.

AZ Tuckerbox were kind enough to send me the new Burp ‘N Drool Tuckerbox, but the opinions expressed in this article are my own.

This blogpost contains affiliate links. These links provide me with a small percentage commission but don’t cost you anything extra.

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49 Comments

  1. I think this post is great. The last thing you want is negative connotations between food and your child as this will make them a fussy eater. Great tips.

    1. Ophira says:

      Thankyou Rachael.

  2. Trupti says:

    Very informative and good suggestions.

    1. Ophira says:

      Thankyou Trupti.

  3. Great advice – I do agree how you treat your child as a toddler has such a profound effect on whether or not they develop into a fussy eater.

    1. Ophira says:

      I am glad you found this useful Fiona.

  4. So many great reasons and tips!

    1. Ophira says:

      Thankyou Ritu!

  5. A great reminder that parenthood and childhood is a messy, horrid, wonderful thing.

    There is no way that anyone can be prepared for a young child eating! We learn more from this than they do. Like so much in this life, it’s best enjoyed, retrospectively.

    Thanks.

    1. Ophira says:

      So true, Micheal 🙂

  6. Great post. We never used a high chair. We were lucky to find a Stokke Tripp Trapp nearby on eBay (for a fraction of the retail price) when our eldest was able to sit unaided (one of the signs of readiness for solids) and he sat at the table with us for every meal. Youngest still uses the Tripp Trapp now, he’s nearly 6. It adapts as your child grows, so the investment is well worth it. No awkward corners to clean those messes from, just wipe down the table as normal. The chair itself is easy to clean too. Also, the mess was part of the fun of BLW for us 😉

    1. Ophira says:

      Yes, a great set of tools makes life easier as a BLW mama.

  7. we should let kids grow with their timeline rather than interfering with their natural development. Great write up!

    1. Ophira says:

      So true 🙂

  8. Great advice, so many kids can end up fussy eaters.

    1. Ophira says:

      I hope you found it useful Rosie!

  9. This is a great post. It’s funny one of my kids was a messy eater, and one of them was neat. He was messy before he became neat, but he was easier to potty train, too. I don’t think he liked to be messy and sticky. However, he has no problem being around clutter. Isn’t it funny to see the different personalities in your kids?

    1. Ophira says:

      That is such a lovely observation. I love watching my son grow and discover his own personality in the process. Such a blessing to witness.

  10. These are very informative ideas. I am guilty of trying to curb mess when I know there is nothing but good that can come of it😑!

    1. Ophira says:

      I hope you found it useful, its never to late 😉

  11. I love this, meat eating gives children the chance to build their own relationship with food, it’s a must!
    Simon ☺️

    1. Ophira says:

      I am glad you found this useful Simon.

  12. Gunjan G Upadhyay says:

    So much with you on BLW the mess is just the proof.. you had collated everything, great post 👍

    1. Ophira says:

      Thankyou Gunjan!

  13. Yes let’s celebrate mess! Thank you for the fun perspective and love the tips on how to clean up!

    1. Ophira says:

      Glad you liked it Kamana.

  14. Yes you are right

    1. Ophira says:

      Thankyou Zahra.

  15. I am all about the messy eating! For us messy eating was the gateway to clean eating. Without the messy stage my kid would never have learned to use a spoon or fork. Now meal clean up is a breeze and we had some fun on the way.

    1. Ophira says:

      I so agree Bailey. It helped my son with his spoon and fork using skills too. It is hard in the beginning but does get better along the way.

  16. Love all your research and tips for dealing with messes. I really need a mat for under my child’s highchair. He loves to explore foods, and as a result, much ends up on the floor. Luckily, my dog cleans up most of the best, but lots is left over. I vacuum and mop once a week now!

    1. Ophira says:

      Thankyou Nancy. If its any consolation it gets better with time. I also found my son has become interested in his food because he got messy early on. So rest assured, you are doing a great job. Messes today will be gone tomorrow 🙂

  17. I’ve seen a lot of people not try baby led weaning. The first reason is the risk of choking and the mess is a close second. Neither intimidated me and I am happy to say that we love making a mess. Sure, it drives me crazy on hard days, but it is so worth it! 🙂

    1. Ophira says:

      Yes, it does get hard on some days, but it gets better in time. My son is a much more clean eater now at 20 months and of course I enjoy the freedom BLW has provided us. He eats everything, no fuss nothing. These early explorations are so so important.

  18. anupriya says:

    This is really a great post with valid information. I loved the idea of suction base bowls. I think i am going to get one soon for my younger son.

    1. Ophira says:

      Great, I hope you like them. I found them super useful 🙂

  19. Wonderful post. Indeed messy food is important part of growing up. We have learnt to embrace the mess. Booster chair is our savior totally.

    1. Ophira says:

      Thankyou Charu. I love both my high chair and booster seats, great investments that have paid off!

  20. Great post! Being a BLW mumma myself, I know what does mess means but the joy of seeing your kid eating on his own, playing with the food while working on his skills is something really amazing. Thanks for sharing those tips to reduce the mess.

    1. Ophira says:

      I so agree Neha.

  21. YES yes! What a fantastic article! People need to read this 😊

    1. Ophira says:

      Thankyou Deepika! Glad you liked this article.

  22. Its important to let kids eat and explore. Messy eating is okay. I know its too much work for moms to clean it later but we should let kids try and eat on their own.

    1. Ophira says:

      Yes Deepa, its hardworking but well worth it!

  23. Disha Bhandari says:

    We follow a combination of traditional and baby led weaning and the times when the baby eats her own food is the time she enjoys eating the most.

    1. Ophira says:

      Isn’t it just wonderful to watch them enjoy so much. My son too picked up a lot of words related to food because of messy eating

  24. Very informative post. I always supported messy eating for my son because I feel messy eating encourage kids to eat willingly. But I never knew the other reason. Wonderful post. Sharing it.

  25. Sucker bowls and pelican bibs and then sit back and watch…I love watching a child enjoying their food and the same with helping to cook…If they cook it they are more inclined to eat it and so many little things can be given to quite young children to do..Both my kids and my grandchildren love to cook and eat in equal measures because they were allowed to start eating their way…The mess is secondary and can be cleaned up you have created a great post with sensible ideas…Well done!

    1. Ophira says:

      Thankyou Carol!

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