I was talking to a group of moms and dads of older infants and young toddlers about feeding recently. We talked about exposing kids to a variety of family foods, Division of Responsibility, what textures were appropriate (and so much more!) One mom chimed in, “I won’t give Sally any messy foods. I dress her in the cutest outfits and I don’t want her to mess them up!”
Problem here. Kids need to be allowed to make a mess to learn to eat. They need to be allowed to practice scooping, slapping, rubbing, squishing. They need to “do it myself!” even if it means half the sauce ends up on their laps (or hair) and not in their mouths. Trying to keep kids neat, either by limiting their food choices to neat or low-stain foods or by not allowing them to touch or play with their foods will increase the odds that you will struggle with your child accepting a variety of foods.
Let them get messy. Don’t scrape the food off their mouths and cheeks. If a child isn’t bothered by food on their hands or faces (or ears…) leave it there until they are done eating. Constantly wiping them off between bites interferes with their enjoyment of the process, is unnecessary, and for kids who are easily distracted or sensitive to touch, can really put them off eating.
Put a mat on the floor (or not-I used a dust-buster and a washcloth,) pull them up to the table as appropriate (wiping a table down is easier often than a high-chair tray,) strip the kiddos down in warm weather, get great bibs, or change clothes. M often ate in her cotton onesies most of which I got at used clothing stores and I didn’t mind if they were all stained. I also often changed her after meals. (My friend made her these lovely bibs which were made from soft hand-towels that pulled over her head. There were no strings, I didn’t worry if it was too tight. It wasn’t a rigid plastic or noisy which might distract some kids…)
Note, I just finished a 3 day training focusing on sensory integration, spectrum and oral-motor issues around feeding. I will be bringing more of these issues into posts. I was happy to hear that the only books they recommend to parents (even though most of the families they work with have kids who are not typically developing) are those from Ellyn Satter!
How do you cope with the mess?