Embrace Mess - it is Part of the Eating Journey for Children

Embrace Mess

It’s really hard to do … but I try … EMBRACE the MESS!Embrace Mess


The sensory benefits are amazing for your children.  It is the founding principle of  the Play with Food programs.  But rather than me harp on about it… what about we listen to these advocates for messy eating:

Dr Kay Toomey (Developer of the SOS Approach to Feeding) lists her top 10 myths to eating with #5 : It is not appropriate to touch or play with your food.  She then explains that this is a myth because “Wearing your food is part of the normal developmental process of learning to eat it. You can learn a great deal about the foods, BEFORE they ever get into your mouth, by touching them and playing with them first. It is “play with a purpose” that teaches a child the “physics of the foods” before the foods ever get into their mouth. Being messy is an important part of learning to eat.”

 Jo Cormack (author of War and Peas – Emotionally Aware Feeding) writes a blog highlighting some of the EAF principles.  This blog post in particular called “Mess and Your Picky Eater” reminds us that if we make a big effort to avoid mess at mealtimes, our children will perceive food as threatening. Also, that every time we tell a child not to play with food we lose an opportunity for them to learn about that food and its texture.   I have purchased and read Jo’s book and loved so much of it as it applies to most picky children yet I am not financially affiliated with this book.

Dr Helen Coulthard  (psychology reasearcher, UK) lead a study in the UK comparing the “messiness” of a child to their willingness to try new foods.  The children who were comfortable getting their hands dirty at the table were less likely have a condition known as food neophobia, a fear of tasting new things. Although it is normal for children to go through periods of fussy eating (as we delve into during our Play with Food classes) the study was based on observations of 70 children and feedback from their parents.  Suggestions for helping children to have tactile experiences with food were given by Dr Coulthard and included Food Art (a strong feature in our classes).

How to embrace mess?

1) Think about your set-up.  What can help YOU be OK with the mess?  We use some great routines in class with hand washing and learning to give control to the child.  Here is a post about setting up your child for success at the dinner table.  From an early age, it is important to help your child have positive interactions with food and its many textures.  Have you ever scraped a spoon along your child’s chin to get that extra dollop of food back in their mouth?  Take a second to think about how much of a negative reinforcement that is for eating ….  yep, the very thing you are sitting there trying to encourage. (PS don’t worry I do it too – and hate that I do – it’s so “auto pilot”).

2) Encourage your child to help you in the kitchen with one of my 8 favourite tips.

3) Try these Play with Food activities:

  1. Sheep Food Art (FREE template)
  2. Edible Paint and Veg Play
  3. DIY Book Inspired Food Activities
  4. Other ways to play with food outside of mealtimes

3) Come along to one of our classes, buy our At Home Lesson Pack or pick up some tips in our eBook to learn more.


What do you do to help your child learn about food?  How do you stop stressing out about the mess?



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