Squashed banana in your baby's hair? Tomato sauce splattered over every surface? Welcome to life as mum to a normal 10-12-month-old. However, there's no doubt that if you like a clean and tidy house (and baby), this stage can feel especially stressful. It may even seem like your baby is going backwards, as she seems to become more messy, not less, over time.
You can, however, take the stress out of chaotic mealtimes. Just follow our simple strategies:
Let her take charge (within reason)
Try to focus on the developmental milestones your baby is achieving. At this age, that means letting your baby get hands-on and attempt to feed herself. While it's tempting to grab the spoon back at every opportunity, in the long run making a mess will help her build up the skills that allow her to feed herself independently.
That said, don't make life harder than it has to be either. If your baby is using a spoon, choose foods carefully. Those with a thicker consistency will stick to the spoon better, and so have a better chance of making it into her mouth; for example, let her try fromage frais instead of runny yoghurt. If your baby’s high chair pushes up to the table, use a large placemat to catch drips, and choose chunky, short-handled cutlery that is easy for her to hold.
Buy the right feeding equipment
Often investing in the right kit is half the battle. At this age, a coverall bib, which has sleeves and covers the whole of your baby’s front and lap, is a smart idea.
Putting a protective cover on the floor is another no-brainer, especially if you have carpet. A mess mat, a piece of plastic or even an old newspaper will all do the job fine.
If your highchair is difficult to clean – some of them seem to have nooks and crannies that are designed to catch every bit of food – it might be worth buying a simpler version for this mucky stage.
A suction bowl that sticks to the high chair tray can help you through the food-throwing stage with as little collateral damage as possible.
Always have a pack of emergency wipes within reach to wipe sticky fingers and spills. Also consider buying a multipack of flannels, that you can wash and reuse - a greener way to wipe sticky hands and faces.
Build in enough time
Be realistic about how long mealtimes are going to take. If you build in enough time, you're less likely to be late for appointments. If you’re finding breakfast slow and stressful in the mornings when you’re trying to get your baby to nursery, or your older children to school, think about bringing it forward: even an extra quarter of an hour 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!
Keep her entertained
A bored baby will tip her bowl over the edge of her highchair sooner than you can say 'rice pudding'. So watch for the tell-tale signs of waning interest: whisk the bowl off her tray if she starts to turn her head away, clamp her mouth shut or grizzle. If she's being particularly fussy, consider if something else might be wrong.
Once your baby moves onto finger foods, expect as much to be dropped, squashed or thrown as is eaten. Only give her a small amount of food at any one time; you can always give her more later.
The hungrier she is, the more likely her toast or fruit is to go in her mouth, but once she’s had enough, the fun will start. Babies love being in control, and have a surprising capacity to be entertained by you endlessly bending over to tidy up after them. So when she drops her food on the floor, just leave it there until the end of the meal. Less stress for you, less incentive for her to develop a fun new 'game'.
Don't over-fill cups
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.
Remember, this phase will pass - eventually
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 her hands. Eating with her fingers will help her 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 her straight into the bath. And, remember, you'll cherish those photos of her smothered in chocolate mousse one day.
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