Why messy eating works

This is a long one, I apologise….

A few weeks back Isla had a cold which completely put her off her food, every time I put the spoon to her mouth she would push it away, screw her face up and shake her head vigorously. After several attempts, she would begin to cry and I would resort to giving her a yoghurt (which she never ever turns down!) and milk. Meals that she would usually devour i.e. porridge, banana and avocado mash, cottage pie etc she would either outright refuse or gag on. She had been unwell like this previously but never did she seem as uninterested in food as she did at the moment in time.

Whilst it’s normal for babies to go through phases of being uninterested in food, especially when they aren’t well, I had noticed that Isla was showing no interest in purée but lots of interest in foods that myself and James where eating. If I sat down next to her with some food she would tug and pull at me until I gave her some of what I was eating. Previously she would have gagged on any dry solids i.e. toast, rice crackers etc but she seemed different this time. This was a development that I wasn’t expecting so soon and if I’m honest I wasn’t ready for!

Weaning is an exciting milestone for most parents but it’s been a rocky road for us. We have had two separate incidents where Isla has choked on solid foods and I lost the confidence to feed her anything other than whizzed purées. Both incidents were thankfully resolved really quickly and she was completely fine but I couldn’t help dwell on the other possible outcomes. I could feel myself getting into a really dark hole of only ever wanting to feed her purees until she had all her teeth but because she was now refusing them I had to do something about it. To say I was stressed was an understatement!

I took to the internet (like we all do in our hour of need!) and stumbled across a really helpful article on messy eating. If I could, I would snog the author – It has completely changed everything!

I knew Isla wanted to eat ‘proper’ food and I wanted to do everything possible to make it a safe and fun journey that wasn’t going to turn me grey at the ripe age of 25. Ive never really let Isla get too messy as I’m a prolific face scraper and always had a wet wipe ready to clean her up inbetween spoonfuls. I now believe she used to gag because I never really let her touch her food before putting it into her mouth. Here’s why I’ve changed all of that and now feel far more confident at meal times. I really REALLY recommend this read for any anxious parents –

All taken from yourkidstable.com

Reasons to embrace the mess

Powerful Sensory Play

Meal times with babies are about more than eating.  Besides learning all sorts of social and cultural norms, it is some of their first active sensory play. Think about it, you can’t put your 7 month old in the sand box or use finger paints because they will eat it.  The tactile stimulation you get from playing in messy textures provides loads of meaningful information to the brain that children process and create more sophisticated responses to. Babies and children will actively seek these experiences out as part of curiosity, discovery, exploration, and the drive to experience sensory input.

Preventing Tactile Defensiveness

When kids aren’t exposed to different textures, they can become sensitive to new or different textures over time.  If you keep your baby very clean during meals, they may reach a point when getting messy feels uncomfortable because it such a foreign sensation to them. The constant wiping with a spoon or wipe to keep the baby clean might not actually work in your favour.

Try to Avoid:

  • Taking the spoon and scraping the food that has dribbled out off your babies face
  • Wiping tray off frequently.  If some mess slops on the tray let it go unless it is interfering with finger feeding.  Letting babies slop the mess around with their hands is wonderful sensory play!
  • Wiping hands or face with a wipe throughout the meal

Top tips:

  • Wait to the end of the meal to clean up.  If your baby doesn’t like getting cleaned, try to take them away from the high chair so they have the positive association from the meal not the getting cleaned up part.

Other tips for helping a baby to eat solids include –

  1. Put a scoop of baby food or some other pureed food like yogurt onto the tray of their high chair. I know, the mess! but now we know how important it is!
  2. When your baby has the food on their hand and they’re at least tolerating it, show them how to take their hand to their mouth so they can taste it. You may need to demonstrate if baby won’t let you guide their hand.  Repeat this several times. After they eat from their hands several times, offer them some solid foods from a spoon.
  3. You can also give them a large whole raw carrot or celery stalk at meals. The point isn’t for them eat it but for them to put it into their mouth. When they do this, it helps desensitize their gag reflex and they get to practice biting, chewing, and moving their tongue around. It’s amazingly powerful and can make a big impact in a baby accepting solid foods. Make sure you demonstrate and keep offering at every meal.
  4. Be consistent and patient. I can’t stress this enough, even though its often easier said than done!

Up until we began messy eating and following the above, meal times would fill me with dread and if she so much as gagged I would feel physically sick. Now I am far more confident in Isla’s ability to eat solid foods as she is comfortably eating a variety of finger foods and I feel a real sense of achievement for both her and myself.

I recently posted a picture online of Isla eating a banana pancake and I received lots of messages all sounding out the same message ‘you’re brave!’, ‘I wish I was confident enough to feed my child solid foods’, ‘I feel like my own fears are holding my child back’, etc so I know I’m not alone in this struggle. I hope some of you mums will read this and feel confident enough to give it a go.

If I can do it, you can!

Lots of love




Leave a Reply