When a parent spends the day watching a toddler, cooking for a family, taking care of the house, and perhaps working outside the home, it can be exasperating to watch a two-year-old sitting in his high chair or booster seat rubbing food on the table or throwing it on the floor. The situation is especially confusing when your child looks just adorable making a big mess and you don't want to discourage him from having fun. All the same, you want to encourage good manners as well as not have to clean the floor after every meal.
It's worth bearing in mind that two-year-olds are not being disobedient when they make a mess with their food. They are not intending to make a mess, in other words. Getting impatient with your child makes him feel that something is wrong with him rather than with what he is doing. In discouraging him from continuing to make a mess, you need to explain that the problem is with the mess, not with him. Say, “It's hard for me to have to clean up so much, so that's why it's important to keep food on your plate.” Or, “Food is important because it gives you energy and helps you feel good, so try not to waste it by dropping it onto the floor.” Even though these are obviously sophisticated notions to convey to a two-year-old, if you provide your child with this level of information often enough, eventually he will understand why his eating habits matter to you.
One reason children make a mess with their food is because it's fun for them to see the effects of their physical actions. They might drop their spoon into mashed potatoes to see the indentation it makes or want to discover what happens to cereal if left in milk for a while. Even though your two-year-old has been eating solids for a long time, he has not lost his interest in playing.
Two-year-olds don't eat that much at any one sitting, so offering your child too much food is almost inviting him to play with what he's not hungry for. Cutting down on his portions — and then giving him more if he asks — is one way to minimize mess.
There are a number of ways you can simultaneously allow your child to enjoy his mealtimes, teach him not to play with his food, and still keep your house somewhat neat.
You might try engaging your two-year-old in conversation during meals, so that he's entertained by you rather than his food. If after a while he isn't eating, just take his plate away and allow him to sit with you at the table (though he might only last a few minutes without something to play with).
Involving your child in food creation — stirring, layering cheese and turkey on a sandwich, decorating a pizza — is a great way to get him to try new foods. If he is allowed to play with food in a constructive way before the actual meal, he might be neater when it's time to actually eat as well as be focused on satisfying his whetted appetite.
Some dishes that children can help with include making pizza and creating cookie-cutter sandwiches. To make pizza together, buy a ready-made whole-wheat crust. Your two-year-old can help you roll out the dough. Once you put the sauce on, he can sprinkle on the cheese and choose other toppings. Small children often choose chicken rather than olives, mushrooms, or pepperoni for a topping. You can also make special pizzas with mascarpone cheese and fruit. You can find creative pizza recipes at