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Toddler mealtime essentials

Toddler mealtime essentials

Let's face it, feeding a toddler is messy business. Find out how to survive this daily ordeal with both your kitchen and your sanity intact!

Toddlers take great delight in smearing yogurt in their hair, tipping spaghetti on the floor or feeding fish fingers to the dog. Most of the time they just can't help it – they're learning after all, so try to cut them some slack and be ready for the inevitable spills.

Be prepared
Hopefully you have a wipe-clean floor and table. If not, cover floors with newspaper or an old throw. Secure paper tablecloths in place with clips so the whole lot doesn't get whipped away, magician-style (tip, secure the clips away from the toddler's side of the table or they'll find a way to undo them). Ensure surfaces are clean, as a toddler won't care if the cat's just walked over his eating area. A wipe with some mild antibacterial spray will do the trick.

Clean-up job
Have a damp cloth at the ready for spillages – and a damp flannel for wiping hands and faces. If you're using bibs, Velcro or popper ones are easiest to put on – go for poppers if your child isn't so keen on wearing one, as tied or Velcro bibs won't stay on long. You could also swathe your child in old tea towels (especially when chocolate ice cream is involved) and secure them at the neck with a clothes peg – then it goes straight in the washing machine when you're done. If you're anxious about protecting clothes, go for as much coverage as possible – a long-sleeved tabard or an overlarge T-shirt on top of what they're already wearing.

Table manners
It's important to instil good habits from an early age, even if it seems that on most days all your efforts are in vain. Encourage them to use of cutlery rather than fingers and praise your toddler for their efforts, however clumsy. Try to eat with them as much as possible, to get them used to the fact that shared mealtimes can be a pleasant family activity with lots of chat and interaction. Make sure child-friendly cutlery fits in their hands comfortably. Depending on what kind of food you're serving, give them appropriate tableware – if you serve couscous or baked beans on a flat plate half of it will end up on the table, even with the best toddler intentions. And it goes without saying, don't let them anywhere near your finest bone china. Shatterproof melamine is the way to go.

Eating out
Lastly, if eating outside the house, supply everything in bite-sized chunks in small Tupperware boxes – grapes, orange segments, cubes of cheese, mini breadsticks, raisins and squares of thinly spread jam sandwiches are all winners. And pack plenty of wet wipes!

By Anna Crane

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