This post was developed in partnership with Similac. All opinions on messy eating toddlers are my own.
Toddlers are adorable with the cute way they say things, the new things they can do each day, and their chubbiness.
But, they are also ridiculously messy when they eat. Like, get out the hose (or at least the tub) afterward messy.
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It’s nuts. And I know this is doubly true when you have twin toddlers….
At a certain point, toddlers develop this strong sense of autonomy and independence and will not let you feed them yourself. And when you have multiple children, taking the time to spoon feed or fork-feed everything they eat is impossible, unless you love hearing a torrent of “Mom, can you get _____” for 15 minutes while you feed the baby. And said baby lets you feed them in the first place.
I’m too busy and a tad too lazy to want to sit there and feed everything directly into my child’s mouth, or wipe their hands and face after every little mess they make. It just ain’t gonna happen! Who’s got time for that?
Plus, apparently, there is good research out there that says there are developmental benefits of messy eating toddlers and that we should encourage our tots to make a mess at every meal.
Messes will happen, and I’m cool with that reality, and do encourage them to learn how to feed themselves (or do child-led weaning as many call it)from fairly early on. But, I still hate cleaning up after the messy eating. I don’t want it to explode all over my house. Or stain clothes. Or couches.
So, I make sure to do a few things to stop toddler messes when eating as much as possible.
How to Keep Messy Eating Toddlers’ Messes to a Minimum
In our house, we have a few table manner rules for toddlers and everyone. Those rules are that we only eat and drink at the table (with a few exceptions here and there, like popcorn is allowed in the living room during family movie watching). We always sit in our chairs when eating and aren’t allowed to sit, stand, or lean across the table. Drinks are poured after food has been served. There are no toys or phones allowed at the table when we are eating.
For our toddlers, we also always strap them into their high chair, put a large snap bib on them, and put on the tray (without the insert that could be removed and thrown on the floor).
When we give our messy eaters food, we cut up their food into small pieces first.
If the food we feed them is extra messy by nature (think red sauce or ice cream), we may remove their shirt or their entire outfit before putting them in the high chair and putting on a bib, in order to prevent stains on clothes (or having to treat the clothes!). Skin washes off well with soap and water.
When we had carpet in our dining area, and had toddler twins, we placed a plastic tablecloth (that we picked up for a buck at the Dollar Tree) underneath their chairs. This prevented sticky, wet, or colorful things from being embedded into our carpeting. The tablecloth can be wiped down, shaken off, and disposed of as needed.
Nellie over at Food Fun Kids used a large white flat bed sheet under her toddler’s highchair instead of a tablecloth.
Most foods get placed directly onto the high chair tray, rather than on a plate so the toddler can’t chuck the whole plate onto the floor. If you have the Happy Mat from ezpz which self-seals and suctions to the table you’ll limit some of that.
Clarissa Hooper of Munchkins and Moms suggests eating outside whenever possible though. That way when stuff falls on the ground, it doesn’t stress you out as much. It’s one of her tips she mentioned in her daily routine for four kids under four!
Of course, toddlers can, and will, often still throw every individual piece of whatever you gave them on the floor, no matter what. That’s where the discipline comes in.
If a toddler starts throwing food, immediately remove them from their high chair and tell them they are all done. If they calm down, and signal they are hungry still, you can try again, but if they start throwing food again, or dropping it on the floor, meal time is over. Don’t give them more food, or different food if they throw food on the ground.
If your toddler no longer sits in a high chair, and they leave the table, it’s a signal they are done eating, so remove their food from the table, or take away their plate. It helps encourage them to sit until they are all done eating.
Once your child is done eating, I immediately take them to the sink and wash their hands and faces with soap and water so they don’t get peanut butter or yogurt on anything else (like me or the couch). I also clean off their train and their eating area so they don’t wander back into the kitchen and start making a mess with whatever is left out from anyone in the family.
However, Jacquie Fischer of KC Edventures said she does storytime at breakfast so her kids would focus and eat. It stopped all the morning mess because they ate their food instead of pushing it off the plate or high chair. You can check out her list of 10 books to read at the breakfast table.
I also feed my kids less messy foods where possible. For example, I might feed my kids the Go and Grow by Similac Applesauce Pouches available at Walmart instead of giving them a bowl of applesauce, which in my experience leads to messy eating.
Plus, the Go and Grow by Similac Applesauce pouches have OptiGRO which is Similac’s brain- and eye-nourishing blend of DHA, Lutein, and Vitamin E which ensures proper nutrition and healthy habits. These Go & Grow by Similac pouches each have 3-4 servings of combined fruits and veggies, or 1/3 of a toddler’s daily recommended servings. Oh, and their organic, non-GMO, contain no fillers, artificial flavors, colors, or gluten.
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The Go & Grow by Similac pouches come in two age groups, one for babies 6+ months of age and older, and the other for toddlers 12+ months. Both come in a variety of flavors.
- Pumpkin, Banana, Carrot Puree
- Sweet Potato, Apple, Carrot Puree
- Pear, Blueberry, Spinach Puree
- Mango, Pear, Spinach Puree
- Butternut Squash, Pumpkin, Banana, Carrot, Spinach, Broccoli Puree
- Mango, Sweet Potato, Pear Puree
- Mango, Apple, Butternut Squash, Spinach Puree
- Apple, Butternut Squash, Banana, Blueberry Puree
And as far as messy eaters and their drinks go, sippy cups are so helpful in preventing toddlers from playing in their cups, putting things in their cups, or dumping them out completely.
If you’re looking for a good toddler-approved drink, there is the Go & Grow Toddler drink that’s an 8-fl-oz serving of over 25 vitamins and minerals with 30% Daily Value of iron, calcium, and vitamins C & E, along with their OptiGRO formula again.
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I know toddlers are always going to be messy eaters, but there are things you can do to limit some of the mess that happens at the dinner table.
What’s your best tip for keeping things a tad cleaner with your toddler messy eaters?