Why should you let your toddler get messy eating?

Everything went well when my little one used to sit on her baby high chair and have cereal for her meal. Over the next few months, there she is, playing with her food, swiping the spoon, and putting her hand inside her food bowl, literally playing with her food. All I can see is a mess, and she’s sitting there with food all over her face and hands. If you are parents of a toddler, we share the same story. Many of us do.

Most parents I work with feel that letting their kids play and have food all over them isn’t healthy and sees it as an ignorant act. Well, I would say, keep that bib away and let them get messy. Let them touch their food and mess around, seated safely on their high chairs. And you, my dear buddy, make sure you don’t feel disgusted when they are doing it.

Once at a birthday party of one of my closest friends. I was feeding my little girl Jesse, and one parent with a baby close to Jesse’s age said, “God!” “You make her feed herself like that?”. I looked at Jesse, and she was comfortably seated on a high chair, putting her entire hand in a bowl of applesauce and then stuffing her hand back inside her mouth. On the other hand, she grabbed some noodles, which I had kept in her tray. Others could see applesauce smeared on her face, ears, and hands, and all I can see is my baby eating and enjoying her food well, which she doesn’t usually do. It doesn’t matter to me whether she’s at a party or home; I let her play with her food and enjoy them in her way. My years’ work as a therapist rewarded me with experience and learning. This time gave me much patience and the ability to handle all these messes. So, I explained to my dear friend why they should let their kids get messy with food.

feeding baby

It made me think of the many times this discussion took place among my friends and families. And made me realize this particular topic was common with parents and highly important. So I should write a post and explain it to parents out there. Here are four vital reasons you should allow your babes to play and get messy with their food during mealtime. Read and educate yourself on handling the mess or embracing it dearly as I do now.

1.It wakes up the senses.

It is more than eating. This act of being inquisitive awakens your toddler’s senses and allows them to learn social and cultural norms. The tactile stimulation they get from playing with food produces a lot more important information for their brain to process and, in turn, create more enlightened and new responses. Can you let your toddler play with sand and finger paint? The answer is no because they’ll eat it. Thus, this is the best way possible at this stage of your babies’ growth.

2.”Yes, I can feed myself!”

They make their hands get messy with food, put them in their mouth, and then comes the great realization that when they put their hands with food in their mouth, they get food. There’s this great feeling they feel as realization hits ‘I can feed myself. It sets a perfect foundation for spoon-feeding. They do not know to spoon-feed themselves initially. But in a few months, they will accomplish eating with a spoon. The motion of food moving from hand to mouth will help them grasp it soon!


3.Prevent tactile defensiveness.

If babies aren’t exposed to different sensations and textures, they can become sensitive to new textures over time. If you continuously try to wipe the spoon and napkin to keep the baby clean. Or you’re trying to stop them from dirtying the baby high chair. It can make them feel uncomfortable. And they will reach a stage where getting messy makes them feel uncomfortable as it is a new sensation for them. Not that you will intentionally teach your baby tactile defensiveness. However, tactile defensive babies generally show early signs as a baby.

feeding baby


4.Meal time = positive time

As I always stress, keeping mealtime positive is paramount. Are you compelling your baby to wipe their hands and face after each bite? And trying to stop them from grabbing the spoon? Well, that doesn’t create a positive mealtime for your baby. Letting your child get messy and play with food keeps a laid-back flow to the whole meal; hence, it’s a positive interaction. And a gives your baby a happy feeling.

Indeed, they need to learn table manners at a young age. As parents, we must stop them if they are playing with food for the sake of playing and wasting food. But if they are getting messy just by eating, let them get messy. It is a crucial learning process for your toddler. Trying to keep them clean continuously or feed them without a mess may demotivate them to self-learn and get exposed to a beautiful sensory experience. If you notice your kid playing too much with food, provide them with finger paint and play in sensory bins.


Try to avoid:

  • Scrapping the food dribbled out of the toddler’s face using a spoon. It can annoy them and make them feel uncomfortable.
  • Wiping the tray off more frequently. Unless it disturbs your child’s finger feeding ability. The mess on the high chair tray is a wonderful sensory play that your baby will enjoy.
  • Wiping hands and face. It is completely okay to have some food on the baby’s face, ears and hair. Let them play around.

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