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Expert Advice

Is your toddler a messy eater? Science says it's good for them

Let them squish and splatter.

By Rebel Wylie
Life with a toddler is messy. There's no getting around it, they need to be fed and they like to wear it. If you haven't retrieved part of your child's dinner from the other side of the room are you even a parent?
As frustrating as it can be to watch your child smear, squish and spaltter the meal you so lovingly prepapred, science says there's very good reason for letting them have at it.
Dr. Larissa Samuelson is a psychology professor in the U.K. As a specialist in cognitive development, specifically early word and category learning, she helped author a study that found toddlers' ability to assign names to certain things is context-dependent.
Samuelson's team presented 16-month-olds with foods and assigned them fake names, then offered the same foods in different sizes and shapes moments later.
The kids who got the messiest and were in high chairs, as opposed to kids who were seated elsewhere, performed best at correctly identifying and naming the foods. So, in fact, messy mealtimes are a parenting win!
Influencer and mum-of-four, Mel Watts aka The Modern Mumma is a big fan of letting her kids get in and explore food whatever way they like.
"I let my babies feed themselves with my watchful eye," she tells Bounty. "I love watching them learn and discover new foods. This teaches our kids so many things as well. They really love to be able to play, though it can be messy it's really worth it!"
Mum-of-four, Mel Watts says meal-time mess is totally worth it. Supplied
"A fact I learnt not that long ago is that children need to taste certain foods a number of times before they grow a liking to it," shares Mel. "By introducing certain types of foods it allows my kids to taste a variety of different foods. Once a week I really try to introduce something new, may it be a new vegetable they haven't tried, a new type of pasta or a whole new meal."
Research support Mel's theory. Studies have also shown that playing with food can help little ones to overcome a fear of new flavours and encourage a varied diet that includes eating more of the fruit and veggies that the little ones tend to turn their noses up to.
WATCH: Things you can't do when you're NOT a toddler. Continues after video ...
For toddlers meal times are sensory overload and with so many textures and smells, playing with food is super fun. It's also one of the first opportunities for them to assert their opinion – does "no" sound familiar?
Even spitting is part of the learning process and a natural survival reaction for kids to expel any foods they don't like.
So messy is normal; it will only last a few years while your little one is mastering self-feeding, and if you can give in to the mealtime chaos, it may even help you win the veggie battle.
Mel Watts is such a fan of letting kids explore food that she's encouraging families to get involved in the Weetbix Messy Kids promotion. Supplied

Mel Watts' parenting hacks for meal-time with the kids

  • Meal prep when you can. It saves so much time.
  • Add fruit on breakfast. Adds another texture and they seem to love it.
  • Won't eat breakfast? Make Weet-Bix and banana smoothies
  • If the meal is going to be messy eat outside on the deck for a back yard "picnic" kids love this and it allows them to make all the mess they need.
  • Kids will eat. Some days it feels like they'll only live off air but they won't, they'll eat when they want. Make sure you have nutritious snacks and they'll go for them.

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