How Do You Handle a Messy Eater?

What happens when you put a curious, energetic baby in front of new textures, colors, and tastes?  Along with the eating…yes, finger painting happens! Soon face painting happens, and then scientific experiments with gravity and yogurt plastered in the hair happen! Messy mealtimes are cute but also time-consuming for mom to clean up. If you have two babies or young toddlers at once, then the fun is multiplied! How do you handle a messy eater and keep yourself from going crazy at messy, toddler mealtimes? Here are some tips to help!

Put Less on the Tray at a Time
Once your baby is graduating from the baby food stage to finger foods, it can be too easy to just put full servings of food on the babies highchair tray all at once. While this may give mom a few more minutes to eat herself, if there are piles of food on the highchair tray, baby thinks she has plenty to spare for experiments. Putting less on the tray at a time is less overwhelming for a baby and also makes it less likely for the food to look like an invitation to an art competition.

Bibs, Sippy Cups, and Splash Mats
Having a few handy meal-time tools helps contain the mess. I personally am a big fan of plastic bibs with a pocket for catching food. I rinse them off and dry them upside down. Next, even if the spill-proof feature they advertise doesn’t work perfectly, sippy cups go a long way in containing the size of liquid spills and the amount of mopping needed! You can also buy splash mats for beneath the highchair. Some moms love the ability to just pick up the whole mess and wipe it off into the sink. I have always done the old hand-and-knees-and-a-rag routine, but if I had carpet in the dining area, I would definitely invest in a splash mat or a tablecloth to put under the highchair.  

Make Some Space for Some Mess
Experimenting with her food is an important part of baby’s development. After a diet of 100% milk, solids are a big learning curve! Being able to explore and sample and play with new foods is also one of the key ways you help your baby learn to eat fruits and veggies. However, it still drives me crazy to dress my daughter for the day only to have the outfit smeared with food first thing at breakfast. Even wearing a bib, some foods (dark colored berries and yogurt) are just going to get on the clothes of a self-feeding, 12-month-old! Find solutions that work for you. My solution when the weather is warm enough is to let her eat in her diaper and indulge her need for messiness at the breakfast meal. Many a mom has reverted to this.  Mom is happy and baby is happy! For lunch I do finger foods that are not quite as messy and between the food choices and the bib, the clothes generally stay intact.

Skip the Plate
Skip the plate, and just put food straight onto the highchair tray. Skipping the plate means it takes awhile to empty all the food piece by piece onto the kitchen floor giving mom time to intervene! On the other hand, it takes 0.75 seconds to toss the whole plate overboard, and there is nothing mom can do but watch it fall. As a bonus, you save on cracked plastic plates. Once you graduate to a booster seat at the table, at our house you get a plate as well. My two-year-old son is proud of his plates that mean he is a “big boy” and old enough to eat with the grownups.

Inserts and Covers for Highchairs
Stephanie, mom of two, found that once her babies began feeding themselves, removing the fabric liner on the highchair resulted in one layer less of mess. If the highchair is smooth and comfortable without the liner, you save lots of laundry time and don’t have to worry about crumbs and juice hiding out under the liner – gross! If your highchair has a removable insert as part of the tray, take it out once your baby is old enough to remove it and throw it on the floor. At about one year both of my kids discovered the fun of throwing it off and watching the food fly.

Spoon for Mom and Spoon for Baby
Your baby may be very proud of her skills at feeding herself and not want you to feed her with a spoon anymore. My daughter at 12 months is this way now, but if I give her a spoon and use one myself, we can get through yogurt or other messy foods without needing a full bath afterwards!  We use this trick for meals where I do not have time for a big clean up or already have the cute outfit on for running errands!

Keep the Wipes Handy
Another tip, you may find handy is to keep a package of wipes around for cleaning up the floor underneath and around the highchair. This is especially true if you are like me and don’t like using the same cloth on the floor as on the kitchen counters.

When my daughter makes a huge mess with her food, I look at my son who, at only 17 months older, is eating comparatively neatly. This stage is short.  All I need are a few tricks in my bag to keep me sane, so I can enjoy the ride! I hope these tips help you do the same!

Mommy Medicine is a group of moms that love encouraging each other and sharing tips about the adventure of motherhood. Have a topic you would like to see covered? We would love to hear from you!  Subscribe here to receive posts straight to your inbox!

Images used under creative commons license – commercial use (2/15/2019)

Reggie fun (Flickr)


Jessica Hines

Jessica Hines

Jessica lives in Mesa, AZ with her husband Daniel and their three-year-old son, two-year-old daughter, and five-month-old son.  She is primarily a stay at home mom who works part time from home as a tutor and an administrative assistant for her church.  As a tutor Jessica has ten years of experience working with students in Math, Science, and English and is passionate about helping students regain their confidence and discover keys to understanding the concepts they are studying.  Prior to having kids, Jessica graduated with a degree in Dietetics from Arizona State University and spent several years working in the nutrition field doing menu planning and analysis for schools and long-term care communities.   
Why Should We Avoid Comparison as Moms? Previous post Why Should We Avoid Comparison as Moms?
How do I Grocery Shop with Little Ones? Next post How do I Grocery Shop with Little Ones?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *