Last Updated on April 19, 2020 by Kinacle.

How To Make Toddler Mealtimes Less Messy

One of the most challenging parts of the day when you’re raising a toddler, is mealtimes! If it’s not the constant battle just to get them to eat anything, it’s the unbelievable amount of mess mealtimes create. It’s hard to comprehend just how messy a toddler can be at the dinner table. I mean, did they even get ANY of the food in their mouth?

While messy mealtimes are just a standard part of daily life with your toddler, there are ways you can reduce the amount of mess created. Here, you’ll discover some awesome ways to make toddler mealtimes less messy.

Try Serving Their Meals A Little Later

If your toddler spends more time playing and throwing their food than they do eating it, you may be feeding them at the wrong time. If they’re hungry, they are going to be a lot less likely to throw their food away. Therefore, it could be a good idea to serve their meals a little later than you do right now.

Toddlers aged 18-24 months could be served dinner at around 5.30pm, leaving a couple of hours between their dinner and snack time.

Ensure They Aren’t Eating Too Many Snacks

Speaking of snacks, you’ll want to make sure they aren’t eating too many before dinnertime. If you’re filling them up on snacks, they aren’t going to want to eat their dinner. So, they’ll start to play with it instead.

Ideally, you’ll want to leave at least an hour between snack and dinnertime, ensuring they’ll have a healthy appetite when it’s time to sit down and eat.

Let Them Use Their Hands

Although you want to teach them to use cutlery as soon as possible, if they’re making a lot of mess at mealtimes, it could be worth just letting them use their hands for a while. It may sound like this would lead to even more mess, however it can actually lead to less mess, particularly if you cut the food into finger-sized chunks and strips.

Plus, cleaning up your toddlers’ hands is going to be much easier than cleaning everything around them.

Take Problematic Foods Off The Menu

You may find some foods cause a lot more mess than others. For example, your toddler could have a frustrating obsession with flinging yogurt across the room. If there are particular foods that you always end up cleaning up, consider taking them off the menu temporarily.

Your toddler may not be happy about the removal of one of their favorite foods, but they will soon get used to it and it will definitely save you a lot of stress and frustration.

Eat At The Same Time As Your Toddler

Another clever tip is to sit down and eat at the same time as your toddler. That way, you can lead by example. They will watch how you eat, and more importantly see that you don’t play with or throw your food. You can also keep a closer eye on them, ensuring they don’t create too much mess.

Consider Undressing Them Before Mealtimes

One of the most frustrating parts of messy mealtimes, is having to clean and treat your toddler’s clothes. Food stains can be a nightmare to get out of clothing, so why not undress your toddler before feeding them?

Most toddlers prefer to be naked, or at least down to their diaper. So, you won’t need to fight with them to take their clothes off before eating.

Place A Mat Under The highchair

You’d think the floor would be pretty safe when your toddler is eating their meals in a highchair. However, you’ll quickly discover this couldn’t be further from the truth! It’s surprising just how much food can end up on the floor, so why not counteract it by placing a wipeable mat underneath the highchair?

That way, once mealtime is over, you can remove the mat, wipe it clean and then it’s ready to be used again.

Provide Smaller Portions

As well as ensuring your toddler is hungry when mealtimes are served, you’ll want to make sure you’re providing correct portion sizes. If you give them a mountain of food, they are more likely to start playing with it than if you were to serve them smaller portions.

It’s a good idea to research proper toddler portion sizes as it might be a lot less than you might think. Many parents don’t realize they are giving their toddler too much food as they go by adult portion sizes.

Ensure You’re Serving The Food On A Solid Surface

You’ll want to avoid serving your toddlers meals on a plate or a removable tray. These can easily be thrown across the room, or at least dropped directly onto the floor. So, instead, you’ll want to serve the meals directly onto the highchair tray.

What If Nothing Works?

Of course, there will be times when none of the above tips seem to work. In these instances, it’s all about how you handle the situation. If you have told them not to throw their food and yet they carry on regardless, there should be some kind of repercussion.

One of the best ways to discipline your toddler at the dinner table, is to remove them from the highchair as soon as they throw the food, telling them they are done eating. Once they’ve had a little time to calm down, and they still tell you they are hungry, you can try serving their dinner again. However, repeat the process if they start to throw food again.

The key here is to not give them any other food, either to replace the food they threw onto the floor, or after mealtime is over. This will teach them to eat their food, rather than throw it onto the floor.


Overall, toddler mealtimes are always going to leave behind some form of mess. However, if you follow the tips above, you should be able to successfully minimize the amount of mess you need to deal with. Remember, it’s just a phase and it won’t last forever!


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