There’s no doubt about it — feeding babies is a messy business! It may seem easy at first, when you’re in control and feeding your baby from a spoon. But once you give him finger foods, or his own spoon for self-feeding, then you’ll be amazed by the amount of mess he can create!
As hard as it may be, it’s important not to let concerns about mess stop you from enjoying these special times with your baby. If you are a very tidy person, watching your baby cover everything with food can be very stressful and your instincts may scream at you to clean it all up.
But babies actually need to be allowed to explore food at first. This helps them learn more about different textures and tastes and also gives them the freedom to control what they are eating. And this is an important point — your baby has an innate ability to regulate his own calorie intake. If you do not allow him the freedom to feed himself, you can “confuse” this natural ability by giving him more calories than his body actually needs — and this can lead to weight problems in later life.
Plus, of course, your baby should be given the spoon in order to develop the necessary skills to spoon-feed himself.
So what are the best ways to keep mess — and stress — to a minimum?
* Use a good bib to protect your baby’s clothes. When he first begins to feed himself, a “coverall” bib with sleeves is ideal. Alternatively — and when the weather allows — feed him with no clothes on!
* Protect the floor all around your baby’s highchair (not just underneath… sometimes a little food goes a long way!). Either invest in a highchair splash mat, or improvise and make your own, using any wipe-clean material. A shower curtain or liner is ideal for the purpose — not only is it easy to clean, but it’s nice and big too!
* Consider investing in a highchair cover if the highchair you’re using is particularly difficult to clean.
* Give your baby a bowl with a suction pad that you can attach to the tray on his highchair. This will limit him to only being able to throw the food that is in the bowl… and not the bowl itself!
* After preparing your baby’s meal, spoon only a small amount into HIS bowl and keep the rest beside you! This is less messy than allowing him to handle a large quantity of food and also means that you have some food left in reserve if too much of his ends up on the floor!
* As your baby learns to feed himself from a spoon, make his life easier by serving foods that he is able to scoop up without too much difficulty. Try thickening runny foods (like soup) so that they will cling to the spoon — some great thickeners include mashed egg yolk, wheat germ and pureed silken tofu.
* When the meal is over, invite the family pet in to help you clear up!
Don’t discipline your baby for being messy.
Quite simply, it is out of his control and he would not understand why he was being punished. Of course, if your baby is a little older and is throwing his food on the floor, then it’s time to gently set some family mealtime rules…
* When your baby throws food, try to determine if he’s doing it because he’s full. This is the actually the most common reason for doing so. If this is the case, then simply remove the food and say to your baby something along the lines of “I’m full”, “I’m done” or “No more”. This teaches your baby that he can actually communicate this fact rather than demonstrate it!
* If you feel that your baby is throwing food for fun, then try removing it for a minute or two, keeping it where he can see it. Calmly explain that “we don’t throw food”. (Keeping calm is important — your baby will very easily pick up on any sign of anxiety and the dinner table can rapidly turn into a battleground!). If your baby is hungry, he will be upset about the removal of his food, so return it to him. But be consistent — by removing his food each time he throws some, he will quickly learn that this is unacceptable behaviour.
* Sometimes, babies throw food to get attention… and it works! So be sure to give your baby lots of attention when he’s eating nicely, too.
Above all, keep things in perspective. Most babies go through a very messy phase and, although it seems to last for ages, he will have grown out of it before you know it! Then, of course, you will look back fondly at those happy days when he learned to feed himself! There is plenty of time for good table manners (and vacuuming!) later on in your baby’s life… for now, just have fun and encourage your baby’s delight in the wonderful world of food!