How To Minimise Your Toddler’s Messy Mealtimes

Are mealtimes more like “messy times” in your household?

All toddlers love to play with their food more than eat it.

But what can you do when your home-cooked meals keep ending up on the floor rather than in your toddler’s hungry belly?

Resident child expert at Kinderling Helpline, Chris Minogue, gives you five amazing tips to help you win your next “food fight” with your toddler.

1. Lower the amount of snack

If your toddler is full of energy around meal times, it might be because they’re already full.

“Mucking around at mealtime could come from over-eating during the day,” says Chris. “If it’s a specific meal, like dinner, I’d be looking at decreasing their snacks, as we often over-snack.”

Chris advises trying to cut back on your toddler’s snacks during the day. You can also try giving them half an apple and a drink of water as a snack before mealtime. This will help them slowly build up their appetite just in time for their regular meals.

2. Move your toddler’s meal times back

This is a simple tip you can try so that your toddler might get more hungry and focused on eating… hopefully.

“For an 18-24 month-old, this could be a shift to 5:30 pm, with a good two hours between a snack and dinner time,” advises Chris.

3. Choose their foods carefully

When you notice your toddler is in a particularly energetic mood around their mealtime choose foods that aren’t messy.

For example, avoid yoghurt. They can use it as a special kind of paint for their little bodies… and your floors.

Chris admits toddlers absolutely love pretending food is great at anything but eating.“It’s probably just a game they’re playing that gets an incredibly good reaction from parents!”

4. When you give warnings, make sure you follow through

There can be times when nothing seems to work and you need to give warnings to your toddler. You can gradually increase your warnings.

For example, you can start by telling your toddler something like, “we don’t throw food, we eat it. Put the food back on your plate.”

“The second time they do it, I usually remove the child and put them on the floor just for a minute,” explains Chris. “Then after a few minutes, ask them if they’re ready to eat and put them back in their seat.”

5. When nothing works it’s time to end the meal time

Your toddler might not always cooperate no matter what you try. When nothing seems to convince your little one, it might be best to end their meal time.

“If they act up a third time, I’d just end a meal,” says Chris. “They may have overeaten across the whole day, and it’s time for a teeny bit of discipline.”

If you’re worried your child will wake up hungry in the middle of the night as a result of skipping their meal, Chris says there’s nothing to worry about. “They’ll be right to miss one meal,” she advises.

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Playgroup NSW leads play-based programs and services for NSW families with children birth to school age, offering development, shared experiences, and family support, that results in active citizens and inclusive communities.