By Raising Children Network
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Young children are messy eaters. This is partly because they’re still learning to use cutlery, cups and plates. They also think it’s great fun to play with their food.

Happy toddler with a messy face from eating chocolate

Why toddlers are messy

It takes a lot of practice for children to guide spoons to their mouths without making a mess. In the first few months when children are learning to feed themselves, there will be a lot of accidental spills. 

Toddlers love to experiment with their food, even after they’ve developed the physical motor skills they need to eat without mess. Experimenting with food is one of the ways they learn about the world:

  • Dropping things makes them fall down.
  • Throwing things makes them fly through the air.
  • Putting yoghurt in your ear feels weird.
  • Sticking a sandwich in a drink makes Dad angry!
If you accept that accidents will happen, you’ll find the mess is much easier to put up with.

What you can do

Cut food into strips or fingers, and let your child use hands rather than a spoon or fork. In these early days, your child will find this style of eating easier to manage.

If playing with food is not OK in your house, you might want to make ‘No playing with food’ a mealtime rule. Most children this age will squish food in their hands, throw food and bowls onto the floor, deliberately dribble with their mouths full, or refuse to eat.

Consider spending less time preparing meals for your toddler. Messy eaters can add to stress levels for parents, especially when you’ve put so much effort into cooking something special for your child. This stress can sometimes lead to anger. To defuse the situation, cook something fast and easy like an omelette.

Even better, offer your child the same food that you’re cooking for yourself, cut up into smaller pieces or mashed. It’s also wise to serve small portions, in case the food is destined for the floor.

You'll find messes easier to clean up if you put some plastic or newspaper under the highchair.
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  • Last Updated 15-12-2009
  • Last Reviewed 12-10-2009