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My Child is a Messy Eater: Here’s What To Do

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Is your child a messy eater? Do you have a child who throws food? Are you sick of cleaning up?

It can definitely be frustrating when you have a messy eater baby. We will provide some tips on reducing mess during mealtime. However, we also want to encourage some messy eating because it plays a vital role in a child’s development.

Messy Eating is Normal

Messy eating is quite common and normal among babies and toddlers who are learning to feed themselves. When a baby has not yet developed fine motor to control cutlery, a great method to develop their fine motor skills is through self-feeding and eating finger foods.

When a parent constantly feeds their child, this prevents your child from developing fine motor and exploring food through messy play. Using their own spoon during meal time and encouraging self-feed behaviors will help your child develop the skills needed to not make a mess.

Most babies explore food by playing with their food. Sensory play with different textures of food is a completely normal way for your baby to explore food. When a baby eats they aren’t just nourishing their bodies, your baby’s mouth is getting used to new tastes, they’re exploring different textures of food in their hands. To help your baby learn the feelings of different textures they will need to get their hands messy.

It helps to refine their fine motor skills, enhance muscle strength, and develop coordination skills. Gradually, the kids or babies learn to make less of a mess and enjoy eating their food at mealtime.

Benefits of Messy Eating

baby in white onesie sitting on white high chair

Dr. Larissa Samuelson, professor in psychology at the University of Iowa, conducted a study (as published in IOWA NOW in 2013) that shows that the cognitive skills of messy eaters develop much faster than a neat and tidy eater.

In this context, Dr. Samuelson said, “If you expose them [children] to these things [eating] when they’re in a highchair, they do better. They’re familiar with the setting and that helps them remember and use what they already know about non-solids.”

Dr. Samuelson experimented along with her team on the basis of their idea. They displayed 14 non-solid food and drink items like pudding, puree, sauces, soup, and juice to a group of 16-month-old toddlers. Then they introduced the food and drink items with some made-up names like “kiv” or “dax”. After a minute, the toddlers were asked to identify the same food items but in different shapes and sizes.

Instead of just relying on the shapes and sizes, the kids indulged themselves to explore the substances in order to identify the items correctly. They explored the non-solid items by touching, poking, rubbing, eating, and throwing, in turn identifying correctly with the made-up names.

The study found that kids who interacted with and explored the food particles were able to identify the foods efficiently.

Definition Of Messy Eater

Kids who create a mess by playing with the food items at mealtime are considered to be messy eaters. They may concentrate more on playing with food than eating it.

But it is natural and expected that before moving on to spoons or cups, kids learn to use their fingers and hands.

A recent study shows that messy eating can help children to accelerate their growth by building strong fine motor .

It may seem that the toddlers are being messy as they poke, squish or throw the food particles. But these activities help to develop their overall cognitive skills. Curiosity leads the toddlers to learn about things around them. Food items are no exception in this case.

Reasons Behind Children Being Messy Eaters

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Young children learn to feed themselves during the period of their natural growth. In this process, they are curious to experience and explore the size, shape and different textures of the food. After the exploration, they learn to eat solid and non-solid foods with their hands first. Then they learn to use cutlery.

This is certainly a time-consuming process. It also requires muscle coordination and practice to get food straight into their mouth with no mess. So, be patient with the messy acts by your little one during the whole process.

How to Take Care of A Messy Eater

messy eating child

You might be wondering how you can help your child to learn to eat without making a big mess. Here are a few tips to make the process neat and tidy:

Cut Foods in Particular Shapes and Sizes

Cut the food items into strips and ask your child to eat using their hand. At an early stage, it is much easier for children to eat using their hands instead of cutlery. Obviously, this is not possible for baby food, but finger foods are perfect in this respect.

Praise Your Child at Mealtime

Consider praising your kid’s effort when they eat with minimal or no mess. It is better to point out exactly what you liked the most. For example, you can say that you like how they put a piece of an apple straight into their mouth. When you baby starts to throw food let your baby do so, do not stop them, but do not praise them for these actions.

Consider Involving Kids to Set Up Dining Table

If your child is old enough, then consider taking their help to set up the table before mealtime. Doing so can be helpful as the kid may prefer not to mess it up.

Have A Family Mealtime Together

Sit together with your toddler and have your meal. This will allow your baby to have an example of how one should go about while having a meal. Over time, your kid will learn the skill to eat in a neat and tidy way.

Have Patience

Be patient and calm in the face of the mess that your kids make. It will help to amend matters better and allow you to enjoy your food.

Consider An Easy-to-Clean Setup

An easy-to-clean setup can make it convenient for you to manage your child’s mess. You can put some newspaper or plastic around the plate when your kids eat. Also, you can use a bib or smock to keep the mess away from clothes. Essentially you want a system in place that collects all the food that has falllen on the floor so there is less mess and it’s easy to chuck in the garbage bag at the end of the meal.

Choose The Right Furniture

It is highly recommended that you pay attention in choosing any furniture for your toddler that they’ll be using at mealtime. This is because the right furniture provides adequate support to your toddler and helps to maintain the correct posture. Just as an adult would not be able to sit on a toddler’s chair, a toddler will not do well in sitting on an adult’s chair.

To help your baby, consider buying a high chair that provides the needed support. You can also choose a small setup to ensure that your kid has a happy and tidy mealtime.

Choose The Right Cutlery

It is also necessary to choose the right cutlery for a toddler with weak fine motor skills. For example, cutlery with a bigger handle will allow your toddler to grasp them more efficiently and comfortably. Therefore, your baby will make less of a mess during mealtime.

Suction plates may also help your toddler as the plates do not move from their place. Thus, it allows your toddler to concentrate more on the food rather than holding the plate in place.

Importance of Letting Kids Be a Messy Eater

As your toddler grows old enough to sit and hold things instead of spoon-feeding, it is essential to let your baby eat using their own hands. This will be immensely beneficial for your baby. Some of them are discussed below:

Fine Motor Skills

Allowing your child to be a messy eater helps to develop their fine motor abilities. Place the cut food items right in front of them and encourage them to pick them up with the thumb and forefinger to eat. This skill is known as the pincer grasp. It will help the kid to perform numerous other tasks in the future.

Speech Development

Messy eating is also helpful for speech development. This is because we use the same oral-motor skills for both eating and speaking. Messy eaters eat independently and take a much longer time to finish the food. Thus, the process has enough time to strengthen oral-motor skills that help to boost speech skills as well.

Enjoyable Mealtimes

Be open towards your child being a messy eater. It will encourage them to eat while playing with the food items. In this way, kids will find the process fun and joyful. Thus, mealtime will not be boring to them anymore.

Learn About Control Over Food

Let your kids eat at their own pace. Doing so will allow your child to have control over the intake. From an early age, having control over food intake and stopping when they are full will be helpful. It will keep away diseases like diabetes, obesity, food habit-related issues, eating disorders, and so on. This will help you control behavior appropriately with ease.

Eating with Joy and Satisfaction

As we all know, the fact is that eating with joy and satisfaction enables one to digest better. And a messy eater is certainly a happy eater. So, there is no doubt that messy eaters have better digestion, which accelerates their overall development.

Healthy Relationship with Food

The process of messy eating helps children to build a bond with food. For example, while having a banana, show your kids how to peel it correctly. Then give them another one and let them peel it for themselves. Thus, they will enjoy and learn the art of having food. This will lead them to embrace all kinds of foodstuffs and build a healthy relationship with the food items.

Avoid being Fussy Eaters

Messy eaters have the freedom to enjoy, explore and eat food in their own way. Children with a habit of playing with food and control over the intake experience the feeling that trying a variety of foods is real fun. Thus, this process helps kids to avoid being fussy or picky eaters and developing other feeding issues.


Though it often gets hard to be patient with your child’s mess, keeping calm and letting your child be a messy eater allows them to have improved their developmental skills as they grow.

You will get enough time to teach them table manners in the future. So priorities the skills needed to explore different textures and new food types over table manners.

So, keep away the wipes and let them explore foods. During the early years of your child, consider spending some more time to clean up the mess created at mealtime.

Avoid fussing over cleaning up the mess because rest assured it will be amply compensated when your kids eventually grow up to be healthy and enthusiastic eaters.


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