Taking on baby-led weaning is a bit of a horror show at the start. Mess everywhere. I remember my husband coming in the back door from his garden office to find me arse-out on my hands and knees wiping up an explosion of couscous, yoghurt and defrosted berries.

Baby sitting in a highchair eating a savoury meal, covered in it!FLOORING
After only a short, my husband refused to get a dog to solve the problem, so we instead made a big investment and installed a luxury vinyl tile on the ground floor. It’s a lot more expensive than a dog, but the carpet needed to go anyway, and being able to sweep and mop that bad boy made my life sooooooo much more bearable.

What has this got to do with food as sensory play? Well, I can tell you that the moment I chilled about the mess my baby was making when he ate, the more fun he was able to have with his meals and the more he ended up eating. I realised that the mess was worth it if he was getting some learning out of it.

So, if you’re in need of a new perspective, you can look at the mess as learning for you and for your baby. And sometimes people in cafes and restaurants give you the side-eyes because you look like you’re letting your child trash the place, but actually, allowing them to follow their instincts and enjoy all the fantastic feelings, visuals, sounds and reactions will create a far more confident eater in the long run, so you can happily ignore those who think you’re just lazy, it’s the exact opposite, so be proud of you amazing parenting skills, I say.

Toddler sitting in a high chair making a big mess with yoghurtTALK
The best way to help your child enjoy the experience whilst also giving the nosey onlookers a justification for your lax attitude to the mess is to chat away to your baby about what they’re discovering. “Is that slimy?”, “Look, I can draw a shape in the yoghurt on your highchair with my finger…” etc etc. It will be especially annoying to the disapproving if your child writes a quadratic equation with their finger in the yoghurt and you can cheer “Wow! Look at that… My child is a genius!”.

My children are 8, 6 and 4 as I write this, so we’re still in the early years with plenty of spillages, messy floors and fussy eating, but mealtimes are still a place of fun exploration whether it’s with chopsticks or trying new foods. And I’m getting good at wiping up the splatters off the walls and picking porridge rocks off the furniture now too…

I did a little trawl of the internet to get some ideas and there is just so much out there. I think Pinterest is especially loaded with sensory play ideas that you may or may not have the enthusiasm to set up. Depends how much sleep and coffee you’ve managed at any given moment, I guess. I’ve included a few links here to direct you:

12 ways to handle the mess with Little Baby Gourmet

There may be days when you’re in the mood for creating sensory play activities. Most little people will want to put things in their mouths, so edible play activities make complete sense. But don’t shy away from letting them taste things that are unpleasant e.g. lemons, as these experiences are all part of the wide variety of learning opportunities you’re offering.
Edible sensory play activities with Early Years Resources
Edible sensory play ideas with Hands-on as we Grow
Sensory play ideas guide from BBC Good Food

And finally, here’s a way to approach it when you’re handling fussy eating:
Food exploration with My Little Eater

Toddler in a highchair on a campsite - food everywhere

My philosophy for most things in parenting is that life should be fun and if you approach food in this way, you’ll find that you have a happy little eater who is really confident with food and mealtime manners too. My oldest child is still insanely messy when he eats, so there’s no guarantee that you’ll create tidy eaters though… Maybe it’s time to get a dog!