Surviving Mealtime with a Toddler

If you have a toddler like mine, mealtime – and in particular dinnertime, can be a harrowing experience.  I dread mealtime because I know what’s coming: thrown food, spilled milk, stained clothing, screaming, complaining, and frustration on all sides.  While I have yet to “master” a stress free mealtime, here are some tips and tricks that I have found to make the process easier.

Tip #1: Good bibs have snaps (or ties)

When my husband and I first created our baby registry we registered for all kinds of bibs.  There were so many adorable choices with cute prints and quirky sayings but what we didn’t know is that not all bibs are equally functional.  Some bibs are clearly more suited for drool and some are better suited for food messes.  I have found that the best food bibs are ones that have a plastic/or vinyl backing  (or at the very least a thick fabric like flannel or even fleece) but have an absorbent fabric front so that spilled drinks or juice from fruit doesn’t run right off the fabric and onto your child’s pants.  Make sure that the bib fits your toddler properly too, the size and length of the bib should grow with your baby!  I also recommend buying a bib that fastens with snaps rather than Velcro.  Velcro is much too easy for a toddler to rip off which is more than just a little annoying.  Snaps on the other hand tend to be more toddler worthy.  If the bib stays on it’s far more likely to do its job!  Lastly, perhaps the most important tip I can give you about buying a bib is to make sure that the one you purchase is machine washable.  My husband and I actually registered for and received two bibs from Babies R Us that turned out to be “wipe clean only.”  I never thought to check the label before buying.  I assumed that all bibs would be washable!  Nope!  To me… what good is a bib that can’t be washed?  Do you really want to be wiping clean a bib after every meal with who knows what on it?  Save yourself the frustration and invest in a handful that you can throw in the wash with your toddler’s other clothing and use again.

Note: Apron style bibs are also awesome and in some ways even BETTER than bibs with snaps but are very difficult to find.  I was lucky enough to be gifted a couple that were handmade by a friend’s mother in law.  If you can find one that looks something like this one  (pictured below) that I just found on etsy…. or know someone who is handy with a sewing machine, I highly recommend these!!  You won’t regret this purchase.


Tip #2: Buy a plate that can’t be thrown

Does your toddler like to throw his plate or empty it by turning it upside down?  Mine does!  I thought I was going to lose my mind until I discovered the EZPZ Mat.  It’s a silicone plate built into a placemat that sticks to your child’s high chair tray!  I admit, it’s not 100% fool proof… my child can still get the plate off of the tray but it’s much harder and the odds of an entire plate of food getting wasted or immediately fed to the floor within two minutes of serving have decreased significantly.  I highly recommend this product!  There are other bands as well but I have heard (no personal experience) that they do not stick/suction as well.  The EZPZ mat comes in two sizes – the mini mat, and the regular EZPZ mat.  The mini fits better on my highchair tray but I have purchased a couple of the regular size ones when they were on sale to use when my son graduates from the high chair.  The regular size mat has a bigger placemat surface and I have high hopes that it will catch a good portion of my toddler’s mess once he is sitting at the actual table with us.  You can find these plates/mats on amazon and at

EZPZ Mini Mat: Photo Courtesy of







Tip #3: Spill-proof cups

Spilt milk at dinner time is no picnic and toddlers can be rough.  Find a sippy cup that doesn’t completely spill when dropped or thrown.  My son was particularly picky about his cups.  At six months old he figured out how to use a straw but could not figure out a sippy until closer to 15 months.  (Ironically, now that he has the sippy down, he can’t figure out the straw anymore! – I can’t win!)  We tried many sippy cups before we found a few that didn’t completely empty their contents when he threw it across the table but that he could still figure out.  While I have yet to discover a 100% spill proof cup… the winners for best performance are these three:

This cup is easy to assemble and has a sturdy silicone spout that can withstand a toddler’s chewing.  My toddler loves the handles and this is hands down his favorite cup of the bunch.

Photo Courtesy of

This cup is very similar to the Nuby one above but has a slightly different top.  My son slightly prefers the Nuby but I like the fact that this one clicks when it’s closed well so that you don’t end up trying to over tighten the lid.

Photo Courtesy of

This cup does come with a soft spout option with handles but we actually have the one without handles and a hard spout.  I find that this one is good for travel because the hard spout is easier to keep clean.  Downside?   It look my son longer to learn how to use the hard spout and this cup is really noisy!  It whistles when my son drinks!

Photo Courtesy of


Tip #5: Toddler Friendly Foods

This next tip may seem obvious but I’m not just talking about hot dogs and chicken fingers (although my son LOVES those and would live off of them if I allowed it.)  What I mean is finding foods that toddlers can eat themselves without a lot of help.  Toddlers like to be independent.  Some of my friends call me a “mean mom” because I often give my son plain pasta to eat (no messy sauce) but he loves it and can eat it with his fingers with no mess!  Yes, I do let him have sauce but only when I have the time and patience to feed it to him because I am much too “Type A” to deal with the mess that would result from letting him eat pasta with sauce by himself.  The same tends to go for ketchup and other messy condiments.  I am a HUGE fan of yogurt pouches for breakfast.  Yes, there is value to learning how to use a spoon and some say that pouch foods are bad for oral development?  But, that said, my toddler flings yogurt on spoons all over my walls.  On the other hand, he can eat a pouch by himself and he enjoys being in control.  I enjoy not having to scrub yogurt off my wall and ceiling.  Stonyfield, Annie’s, and Chobani all make yogurt pouches that are made with 100% whole milk and they come in some creative flavors that are designed to expand toddler’s developing taste buds!  I total win in my book.  They may be more expensive than their cup siblings but I will gladly buy them every week to keep the peace in my home.   As for the argument against pouches all together, in my opinion, as long as other foods are being offered and eaten too I don’t see a lot of harm in it.  We only use pouches for certain foods like yogurt and applesauce. Everything in moderation right?

Image Courtesy of

Image Courtesy of









Tip #6: The Snack Cup

OK, I know this one isn’t exactly mealtime specific and if I’m being honest, we use it mostly for snack time and when we are on the go.  But it has been such a help that I feel that it deserves a mention.  There are lots of versions of the snack cup but we have been using the Ubbi Snack Cup.  I first saw it at the New York Baby show and decided we had to try it.  This genius toddler tool has a snap down lid that keeps food from coming out of the cup when not in use and features a silicone “snack trap” lid underneath.  It essentially allows the toddler to take snacks (our go to snack of choice is baby goldfish) out of the cup without spilling the entire contents.  As with most things, it’s not 100% toddler proof and my toddler still tends to leave a trail of goldfish wherever he has been or in the bottom of his car seat but at least the entire container doesn’t get dumped in one second.  I’ve actually tried giving him a regular cup of goldfish and let’s just say that before he even ate one, the entire cup was on the floor.  One trial was enough!  Only downside is that food tends to get stale if left in it for too long but one cup of snack doesn’t usually last more than one day anyway.

Photo Courtesy of

Photo Courtesy of


Tip #7: The Star of the Show

My toddler likes to think that he is the most important one in the room.  Sound familiar?  Most of the time my husband and I strive to have family mealtimes where we all eat together and of course the conversation can’t always be ALL about our son.  But boy does he hate to be ignored!  The minute that my son thinks that he is being left out of the conversation he will screech loudly or start throwing food, essentially ensuring that the attention is brought back to him and that the adults don’t get to have any meaningful conversation.


Tip #8: Patience (Lots of It!) And (When All Else Fails) Invest in a Good Stain Remover

Last but not least, mealtime with toddler is NOT for the faint of heart.  Believe me, I struggle with anger and frustration over my son’s antics every day.  It’s an ongoing battle and sometimes I need to step away and let my husband lend a hand.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  It takes a village right?  Try to be patient and remember that this too shall pass (easier said than done).  I’m right there with you in the trenches in solidarity and when all else fails? Invest in a good stain remover and try not to sweat the small stuff.  I love Babyganics Stain Remover Spray (although the spray nozzle isn’t the greatest) and when combined with a little bit of old fashioned sun I’ve actually had some luck in removing some tough stains.  Not everything is savable but I’ve had better luck than I expected on a number of occasions.  It even works on husband stains too 😉

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Hang in there mamas.  Before you know it these mealtime challenges will be a distant memory but for now, I hope some of these tools will help you through.

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