Keep the stress out of messy eating

The more interested your baby becomes in his meals, the messier it’ll get, so brace yourself for this sticky next stage of development

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If you thought feeding your baby would become less messy as he grew older, think again. Unless you’re prepared to spoon-feed him until school age, sooner or later, you’ll need to let him attempt to feed himself, and with that milestone comes a lot of mess.

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If you like a clean and tidy house (and baby), this stage can be stressful, but try to focus on the developmental milestones your baby is achieving by making such a mess. Have wipes nearby to wipe sticky fingers and spills, and if you’re finding mealtimes very stressful, especially in the mornings when you’re trying to get your baby to nursery or your older children to school, think about bringing breakfast forward: even an extra 15 minutes will give you more time to clean up before leaving the house. And don’t even bother to get dressed for the day until breakfast is finished!

Covering up

At this stage, a coverall bib, which has sleeves and covers the whole of your baby’s front and lap, is a great idea. Remember to put a protective cover on the floor, whether it’s a mess mat, a piece of plastic or even an old newspaper. And if your highchair is difficult to clean – some of them seem to have nooks and crannies that are just designed to catch every bit of food – it might be worth buying a simpler version for this mucky stage.

Beware of boredom

Once your baby has had his fill, he’ll quickly get bored, and if there’s something on the highchair tray, he’ll start to play with it – or worse still, jettison it over the side. So unless you want to see it flung artistically at your kitchen cupboards, watch for signs of boredom and take the bowl away if he starts to turn his head away, clamp his mouth shut or grizzle. A suction bowl that sticks to the highchair tray can help you through the food-throwing stage with as little collateral damage as possible.

Finger foods

If your baby is starting to eat finger foods, expect as much to be dropped, squished and thrown as is eaten. The hungrier he is, the more likely his toast or fruit is to go in his mouth, but once he’s had enough, the fun will start. When he drops his food on the floor, just leave it there until the end of the meal; if you keep picking it up, he’ll think it’s a great new game, and will carry on until he’s thrown every last piece. Only give him a small amount of food at any one time; you can give him more if he’s still hungry, but it limits the amount of picking up you’ll be doing afterwards.

Drinking problems

Now is the time to introduce a cup to your baby. Unless you’re very brave, it’s probably best to choose a relatively spill-proof beaker, as it’s likely that it’ll get knocked over, dropped or shaken at least once per mealtime. Some babies prefer open cups even from an early age. If you decide to go down this route, only put in a small amount of drink at a time, and stick to water: much easier to clean up than sticky juice or smelly milk.

Spoon feeding

If your baby is trying to feed himself with a spoon, choose the foods carefully. Food with a thicker consistency will stay on the spoon and may have more chance of getting to his mouth. Let him try fromage frais, rather than yoghurt, for instance. If your baby’s highchair pushes up to the table, use a big placemat to catch the inevitable drips, and choose chunky, short-handled cutlery that is easy for him to hold and angle towards his mouth.

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Hands on experience

It’ll be some time before your baby learns that while some foods are suitable for fingers, others are not. You’re not a fully-fledged mum until you’ve had at least one spaghetti-in-hair incident, so resign yourself to your baby tucking into all manner of inappropriate foods with his hands. Eating with his fingers will help him discover the texture of different foods, so try to go with it; just make sure you have lots of wipes on hand for the post-meal clean-up, and, on the worst days, be prepared to deposit him straight into the bath.

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