As my children have grown up and had a few years at school they have been encouraged to use cutlery, not drop food everywhere and not be messy eaters. There is an expectation that despite them both having fine motor control difficulties and autism that they should still ‘grow up’ and stop making a mess. 

This, combined with many other complex issues, has been a contributing factor in my daughter now having such serious sensory issues with food that she will only eat less than ten foods at present.  

Now we are trying to go back to the stage where this was normal: 

Professionals (dietitians, mental health workers and paediatricians) are all in agreement that my children should be allowed and actually encouraged to be messy eaters! 

It’s time for me to ignore the mess and you need to too. Clothes wash, floors can be mopped or hovered and faces can be wiped. 

Go on...let your kids be messy eaters! Here are five great reasons to encourage it:

  1. Messy eating gives children a healthy attitude to food. 

Food is not something children should ever fear. It‘s meant to be touched, squashed, licked, rolled and mushed. The more food is played with and seen as something fun the more likely a child is to be relaxed around food and become a better eater. 

My daughter was tactile evasive as a toddler and would refuse to even touch anything squishy or gooey like banana or jelly. I then turned into a mum who would sit with wet wipes in front of me whenever food was presented to her and I found myself wiping the slightest crumb away in order to stop her crying. Now she feels food is something to avoid and I’m currently undoing so much of our learned behaviour.

  1. Messy eating makes children more relaxed. 

Meal times in my house are often filled with tension but they never used to be. I remember watching my son cover himself in Weetabix as a baby and snapping this pic that even now makes me laugh. 

It’s common place for parents of young toddlers and just weaned babies to proudly take photos and post on social media of their child swimming in chocolate cake or plastered in yogurt yet by the time the same child reaches nursery age we want to have them looking like models sitting at the kitchen table. Let them stay young and messy. There’s plenty of time to grow up and the more relaxed we are as parents over some spoons of cereal dropped on the table the more relaxed our children will be around mealtimes. Bring back the fun in family meals and don’t be afraid as an adult to flick your peas at someone in fun! 

  1. Messy eating gives your child vital sensory experiences.

Food is such a natural and safe sensory experience. It has all sorts of smells, textures, tastes and lots of food even makes a noise! When my kids were toddlers they would love nothing more that dipping their hands in a full bowl of custard or wiping their faces with some spaghetti bolognaise! As they went to nursery and school this became less socially acceptable and now my daughter would be horrified at the thought of even putting a fork into bolognaise let alone having it touch her skin. I wish I had ‘bucked the trend’ and allowed them the sensory experiences of messy eating much longer. It really would have helped them both. 

  1. Messy eating gives your child chance to experiment.

Personally I can’t say I fancy dipping chips in ice cream, but then truth be told I have never tried it! Children need time to experiment with flavours and textures in order to learn the difference between sweet, sour, bitter and spicy. In fact you could be raising the next Gordon Ramsey or the latest entrepreneur who discovers some wonderful new recipe that makes him a millionaire just by allowing your child to experiment and be messy with food. It all gets mixed up inside them anyway right? 

  1. Messy eating gives your child independence. 

If, like me, your child has difficulties with balance and control it can be so hard to watch them continually drop the spoon of cereal on route to their mouths. Practice makes perfect though and by ignoring the mess and letting them keep trying you are making them stronger and more independent. It may take years to master but that’s ok! At age nine we are only now working on fork use for my son and drinking from an open cup without a straw. We still have a ton of mess! Another skill we are trying to let them master is squeezing the tomato ketchup out themselves. You can image the mess this is making! 

This is a learning process for me. Both my children have global delay and whilst most children grow out of the messy stage at around two years old, mine are still there at nine and I am learning to chill more and go with it. In actual fact I am realising how often I miss my mouth when eating even at 42 and how much fun it actually is to flick the odd pea at someone at the dinner table! 

Whatever it will take to help my daughter eat better I need to do...even if that means stocking up on bubble bath, washing powder and wet wipes! 

Read more of Miriam's blogs here

Have you heard about our Messy Tea Party? Get your bake on and host a Messy Tea Party happening throughout the country between 1 - 8 March.