If you’re like me, you don’t look forward to meal times with your toddler because of the clean up afterward. It seems like all we do all day is feed them and clean up since it happens so often.
My 1 year old loves to swipe food on her tray until it slides off and throw it onto the floor just for laughs. Of course it’s not her fault because she’s just experimenting and learning new experiences for them.
So since we can’t take away meal times in general, I put together some ideas to make it easier on us moms when eating is a disaster.
There are a variety of gadgets I have found that can help your baby or toddler be a much less messy eater. However, some children just need to grow up and mature before they can understand the rules of the kitchen table.
This post may contain affiliate links for which I would receive a small commission if you make a purchase.
1. Choose non-messy foods
I know this seems like a no brainer, but really most foods turn messy when a 1 year old gets their hands on it. Here are just a few of my favorite foods to give my daughter when I really need to prevent a mess.
- Scrambled eggs
- Mixed vegetables – Peas, corn, carrots
- Cold cuts and meat (chicken, turkey, steak, meatballs)
- Macaroni/pasta noodles with no sauce
2. Clean as you go
I usually like to take meal time to relax and eat with my baby, but sometimes that just seems like time wasted. Instead, it’s helpful to clean up everything you used for their meals while they’re strapped down in their high chair eating.
At least then they can’t get in your way while you’re trying to put things away. Of course, you can’t clean up their mess yet, but you can be ahead of the game by cleaning what you can.
3. Introduce utensils sooner
I started introducing utensils to my baby at 6 months. I would put the food on the utensil and have her pick them up and bring it to her mouth.
If you have a young baby (6-16 months), these Grabease utensils are the BEST for little hands. The handle is so well designed to fit in your baby’s hands and they have a nice shallow bowl on the spoon.
With a spoon, it will probably make more of a mess at first, but the more you show them how to use it, the easier it will make your life once they are proficient in using them.
Once she really started eating on her own I drew back on the utensil use because it would just make more of a mess.
Now that she’s 1 and I am trying to introduce them to her again.
Be sure to practice with them in a ‘hand over hand’ manner to begin. Put their hand on the utensil and place your hand over theirs.
This way you can guide the utensil into the food, scoop it up, and put it in their mouth. Their body gets used to the motion to try it on their own next time.
For toddlers, the OXO Tot Utensils are the ONLY ones you need. The metal fork is necessary to actually pick food up and the handle fits well in their hands. Don’t waste your time with the flimsy plastic utensils.
4. Use a bowl/plate with sections and suction
For awhile I was just putting food on the tray because they don’t really need a plate at first. However, once I started using bowls and plates, she actually started keeping the food in there.
She loved using a bowl or plate like mom and dad and always asked for it.
Make sure the suction is really good because if they can pull the bowl off the tray and dump it, that makes for MORE of a mess! Make sure you wet the bottom of the suction as well as the tray to get a nice good stick and sometimes you need super powers to pull those things off!
These bowls are fantastic as well! Don’t forget to wet the bottoms if you have a Hulk in your house!
5. Give them their independence
I know this seems counter intuitive because when a baby/toddler is feeding themselves, it’s bound to be messy. However, if there’s a power struggle going on, that may be why they’re being more messy.
If they’re frustrated enough, that may be why they are throwing their food.
This is the age where your child is yearning to do everything on their own. It makes them feel so accomplished and independent which is great for their self esteem.
It’s time to step back and let them take charge of some of their daily routine.
They may be struggling because they want to do it on their own and you’re just not letting them. I know you may feel like they’re going to make more of a mess this way, but the sooner they learn how to feed themselves, the sooner they will be more clean about it.
Once you let them self-feed, see if they’ll let you take turns feeding them also.
5. Use Non leaking cups
Finding a cup that doesn’t leak is hard because when a baby throws a cup off their high chair, it’s bound to leak a little. Although, I have found these Munchkin 360 cups to be good for not leaking the most. I am also partial to a straw cup because it’s the best for oral motor development.
I also love these Munchkin weighted straw cups. They’re great for the first cup to transition baby from a bottle and learning to drink from a straw, but sometimes they do tend to leak more when thrown.
6. Get a Sidekick
If you’ve got a thrower (and what baby isn’t), then you need a Sidekick! This strap attaches to your child’s cup, spoon, or snack holder so they don’t drop it.
They’re great when they’re sitting on the high chair, in a shopping cart or stroller. Until your toddler can really figure out how to detach it, these work amazingly!
7. Offer less food at a time
I was guilty of just dumping all the food I wanted my daughter to eat on her tray. She would do well for awhile, but soon after she would start the swiping and throwing things on the ground.
I realized if I just give her a little bit at a time, she tends not to do this and will ask for more when she is ready. This will also help to develop their language by asking for ‘more.’
8. Make mealtime a family ritual
Your child may be more interested in eating and stop throwing food if you are sitting down to eat at the same time. I know sometimes with busy schedules and early bedtimes it’s hard to all eat together.
Often we find ourselves feeding our toddler while I’m making dinner and then eating by ourselves later on. However, she is a much better eater when we all eat together.
9. Vinyl bibs or a naked baby
Often when I’m home I will just strip down my daughter for meal times because I’m sick of her destroying her beautiful clothes! Although for times when I can’t do that, I use These Bumkin bibs. They are so easy to clean, you really just have to rinse them off.
If you’re in the stage where baby wants to rip the bib off all the time, I love these long sleeve ‘smock bibs’ as well. Since they are like a full shirt, it makes it virtually impossible for them to take it off.
They’re especially good in the colder months when baby will be wearing long sleeves.
If you don’t want sleeves, these rubber bibs really work to keep baby from pulling them off and are super easy to clean. The only thing I don’t like with these is the pocket protrudes out so far that it can get in the way with the tray depending on what high chair you have.
10. Use distractions
This is just a normal thing parents do with toddlers all the time. Whether it’s tricking them into getting dressed or taking their attention away from a toy they’re crying for while out shopping, we are always distracting them.
It’s a good thing that a toddler’s attention span lasts only last 1-2 minutes because we can easily pull them into something else quickly.
If your child’s messy eating comes from constantly throwing their food, they may need to just be more excited about mealtimes and that doesn’t mean just for eating. Common distractions for any scenarios, but especially feeding include:
- Sing silly songs
- Make funny faces/noises
- Ask them questions
- Have them point to parts of their body
- Show them pictures in a book
- Call a relative on FaceTime
While you’re distracting them, it should be a little easier for them to eat nicely.
11. Give rewards
Incentives are very motivating to a child. They will usually do something for a reward. If your child is enough to understand and you know something that they really like, tell them they will get it after they eat nicely.
Younger toddlers may not get the concept of a sticker chart, but older ones will. Give them a sticker every time they have a clean mealtime and when they reach 10 stickers, they get a bigger prize. For younger ones, just giving them a sticker may be enough of a reward.
I’m sure Ipad or TV time is always motivating. As is their favorite game, reading their favorite book, or extra playtime before bed. Whatever it is, make sure it’s something they love and don’t get all the time.
Tell them before, during, and after they eat, what prize they are earning.
12. Use a Placemat
My toddler loves here new placemat. It has an anti-slip back that makes it stick a little to the table. She can still move it around, but just having something under her plate makes her happier to eat.
She likes to keep the plate right on the placemat and we’ve noticed a big difference with her cleanliness during mealtime.
13. Pouch Food Holders
If you offer the food pouches for snacks and your baby squeeze them all over himself, consider purchasing one of these pouch holders. They make it super simple for your baby or toddler to hold onto the pouch, eating it themselves, without the constant fear of them squirting it all over.
14. Change their chair
We had my daughter in a highchair up until around 20 months. We figured it was good to keep her strapped down with the tray over her because at this age she would probably just try to jump out of a regular chair.
However, we then needed the high chair for our 6 month old so we changed her seat.
We actually noticed a huge difference in her mealtime behaviors when we put her in a regular chair with a booster seat. In the high chair, she constantly threw food off the tray. I think it was just fun for her because she was so high up and had been doing it since she was a baby.
Once we switched her to the regular chair, she became a much calmer eater. We used the Chicco Pocket Snack because my toddler is still too young to be on a seat by herself.
This little seat still keeps her strapped in and can also raise up a little higher off the chair. We just bring the chair up against the table so she can eat with us. It also folds up so conveniently which I love for on-the-go!
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Do you have any good ideas to lessen the clean up after your toddler’s meal time?