This morning my 9 month old son did not eat his breakfast...he took a bath in it. It's probably a sign of his budding independence, but it literally took me 20 minutes to clean up after him. I guess it was worth it because it bought me 20 minutes of "free time" ("free time" meaning, time to suck down a cup of coffee and empty the dishwasher). My poor husband would have had a stroke if he saw the state of the kitchen and the absolute mess that my son was able to make with his oatmeal and blueberries.
Well while I was cleaning up after Hurricane Dylan, I thought about all the benefits of letting him play in his food and smear it all over the tray, his body and his face. Today while I was feeding him he was insistent on holding the bowl and spoon, which is how this episode started. He held the bowl with one hand and squished the food through the other. He then grabbed the spoon from me and began to bang it on the tray...splashing the food all over himself and the surrounding surfaces. As he did this, I couldn't help but think about how all of my pediatric therapist friends would be so proud. No tactile sensitivity here! He definitely tolerates different textures...which is one nice thing about making your own baby food because you can play around with the consistency of the food. I even started sticking his puffs in mashed bananas on his tray and making him pick them out. Which I would assume helps him develop visual discrimination (Visual Discrimination lets us see differences between objects that are similar...in this case similar color between the puffs and the banana).
There is actually tons of learning going on during each meal. Eating is such a social event. I have started sitting Dylan in the highchair while we are eating dinner, even if he is already done eating, so that he becomes accustomed to sharing meal time with the family. I notice that he becomes very vocal while my husband and I are talking, as if he wants to contribute to the conversation. We use that time to engage him to reinforce that his voice is being heard. We have also been working on basic signs such as "more", "milk", "thank you," "water", and "all done". Meal time is such a great opportunity to practice these signs. Crackers are a great reward for the sign "more" and meal time etiquette lends itself to chances to practice lots of "thank yous" and "all dones." He has also started to imitate clapping, waving, and "so big"...which can also get really messy when your child's hands are full of food! And he has taken a recent interest in sharing his sloppy mess with mommy, which is the beginning of some reciprocal play skills!
Aside from the social aspect of eating, its a great way to develop those fine motor skills and hand eye coordination when picking up bite sized pieces of bread, macaroni, avocado, cooked sweet potato, etc...The slimy, sticky stuff is a lot harder to pick up and get in the mouth. Make sure you read your child's cues and never force them to put textures on their hands and face they are avoiding...especially when it comes to food! If this is the case you may want to discuss this with your pediatrician. Otherwise let them get messy!