I have a two year old. This means that a lot of my time is spent picking food up from every visible surface (and some less visible ones... it's amazing what the underside of a booster-seat can harbour). Sometimes this is frustrating, sometimes it's plain disgusting. It is, however, essential. Here are three reasons why messy mealtimes are so important:
1.If you are feeling stressed and worried about mess, your child will pick up these feelings
So much of picky eating is about emotions. I have written elsewhere about how children are little emotional sponges, subconsicously sensing all the feelings around them, even if they cannot always understand or interpret them. If you are anxious about your child making a mess, she will feel anxious too. This will without doubt negatively affect her eating.
2. If you make a big effort to avoid messy mealtimes, your child will learn that food can be threatening
Many fussy eaters are especially sensitive to textures and other sensory experiences. If you are constantly on hand with a wet-wipe, they will learn that they are right to be cautious - that certain textures are to be avoided and are maybe even scary.
3. Every time you tell a baby or toddler not to play with her food , every time you tell her not to make a mess or clean her up mid-meal, you have lost an opportunity to help her learn to tolerate different textures
Children explore and experience the world in such a physical way - perhaps your child hasn't seen a certain food before. She might pick it up, smear it around a bit, smell it... this is all positive. Every interaction a child has with an unfamiliar food gets them one step closer to accepting it.