A Parent's Guide To Feeding Children Messy Foods

When feeding small children, portion control, preparation, and the right tools will help parents to maintain a relative degree of cleanliness.

As new parents, we often look forward to the milestone of introducing our children to solid food. During the initial honeymoon period, rice cereal is lovingly doled out, in parent-controlled portions, to eager little mouths. Clean up is as simple as tossing a bib into the wash and fluttering a washcloth about tiny faces lest the most minute bit of pureed banana soil their delicate skin. Unfortunately, this idyll is short lived and we are made acutely aware that all food, in the hands of a small child, is messy. In a blink of an eye, those chubby fingers will place a death grip on any approaching flatware and your kitchen walls will be covered in a mélange of peas, cottage cheese, and whatever else you will soon regret having offered your pint-size Cookie Monster. While watching them grow can be joyous, watching one's child eat solid food does tend to bring on a yearning for a less sticky era. However, while you await the return of consistently clean floors and airspace free from flying leftovers, there are a few simple things you can do to maintain a relative degree of cleanliness without having to resort to installing a drain in the kitchen floor!

First and foremost, be prepared. Make sure that your child's seat is far away from walls or anything else you prefer not to be covered in chocolate syrup. If necessary, place an old sheet or shower curtain liner beneath his or her chair. That way, if cracker smashing suddenly becomes a favorite sport, all you have to do is shake out the crumbs. Likewise, if milk begins to cascade from your child's tray, a quick wash cycle or wipe down with a sponge will save you from having to mop the kitchen floor after each and every meal. As any experienced parent knows, protecting the immediate environment is only half the battle in the struggle to overcome mealtime messiness. The most trying element is your child and the most ingenious of them will possess a whole arsenal of ways in which to subvert your best efforts. In this case, your best line of defense is portion control.

Be careful not to give your child too much ammo. Start with tablespoon size portions of truly messy foods, such as mashed potatoes. You can always add more if necessary. Also, give your little one the right tools with which to feed him or herself. Just as you can't expect a cheap paper plate to support a generous helping of baked beans, your child will have a difficult time eating if the bowl of his spoon is to shallow or his fork is too big. Inexpensive toddler flatware can make all the difference between disaster and a relatively successful meal. If your dinnertime troubles involve actually keeping food on your child's tray, consider buying coordinating cups, plates, and utensils featuring a favorite cartoon or movie character. Throwing a plate depicting something fun or interesting is far less tempting than taking the time to yank a boring plate off of an ineffective suction ring. As with utensils and dishes, children can be equally as fickle when it comes to bibs.



Bibs are wonderful for little ones who are still interested in food as mere nutrition, but they are really no more of an obstacle than a straw house to a big bad wolf. With a mere tug, conventional tie and snap bibs come right off, usually just as ketchup is dripping from tiny chins. Special hard plastic bibs with basins to catch food debris are a favorite of some child development centers. Others prefer ones fashioned much like art smocks, with long, cuffed, sleeves and multiple ties in the back. If you do not mind investing the money, these styles might be a good option. While less convenient and slightly less protective, simply slipping an old t-shirt over your child's clothing can provide some protection. Pin the excess material around the neck with a large safety pin, roll up your little one's sleeves, and tuck the bottom of the shirt around his or her legs. After the meal is over, simply unpin the shirt, carefully lift it off, and add it to the laundry basket. With any luck, your child's post-dinner ensemble will be in roughly the same state as it was before you plopped him into his chair!

On a final note, remember that when all hope seems lost, this is just the first of many phases your child will experience. It will not last forever! With preparation and the right equipment, family dinners will become easier. Soon you will be able to spend less time chipping lentil soup off the wall and more time on what is even more important than the food on the tray of the highchair, the child sitting in front of it.

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