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12 Genius, Mess-Free Mealtime Gadgets For Toddlers

After months of nothing but bottles and breast milk, it can be a lot of fun to introduce your little one to the big, flavorful world of real food. But unless you have an arsenal of mess-free mealtime gadgets for toddlers, it can feel decidedly not fun to face your new role as a pre-Fairy Godmother Cinderella. Still, those peas aren't going to clean themselves off the floor.

In the quest to make mealtime less messy, I suggest you try covering your kitchen in plastic wrap, or maybe wearing a welder's mask to keep all that flying food out of your hair. Perhaps consider moving all meals to outside — hey, mac and cheese is biodegradable, right?

On second thought, don't do any of those things. Products that make mealtime neater exist, and they're a bit more practical than any of my other ideas. In the name of cleanliness, I braved everything from airborne applesauce to zooming zucchini to find the ones that work best. Hint: The more washable and wipe-able, the better. Also, silicone just may become your new best friend.

With the right gear, meals (or the ensuing cleanup) don't have to be a daunting process. I can't guarantee you'll be royal-ball ready afterwards — after all, there's probably a stray piece of food on you somewhere — but you will spend less time cleaning up after mealtime. At this point in my life, that's all I really want from a Fairy Godmother, anyway.  

1. Bibs That Catch Spills

Amazon

EZ-Clean Silicone Bibs, $19, Amazon

Babies have adorably terrible hand-eye coordination, so a fair amount of the food you diligently chop into 30,000 pieces will end up on the floor. Instead of making repeated trips back to the cutting board, invest in a silicone bib with a scooped pocket to catch all those stray pieces of food that don't quite make it into your baby's mouth. Wash the bib by hand after mealtime is done, or after a particularly messy dining experience, just toss it in the dishwasher.

2. A Placemat That Stays Put

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ezpz Happy Mat, $25, Amazon

There are so many cute baby plates on the market, but what no one really tells you is that some babies (like, for instance, my darling second child) think it's hilarious to throw them over the edge of the high chair. If that's not really your idea of funny joke, you need a silicone placemat with a built-in plate. The suctioned bottom makes it hard for littles to throw their plates and bowls on the ground, sparing your floors from the indignity of being splattered with peas once again and, more importantly, sparing you from having to clean those peas up.

3. Bowls With Built-In Spill Catchers

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Boon 2-Pack Bowl With Spill Catcher, $20, Amazon

Ah, independence. It's the kind of thing parents want for their children, but the process of actually becoming independent can be long, frustrating, and in the case of meals, messy. Let your little one practice spoon-feeding with these bowls with extended spill-catchers to keep things as neat as possible. The bowls suction to the eating surface to help avoid mishaps, and the long, flexible spill-catcher helps funnel dropped food back into the bowl for take two. (Or take three, or four, or five...)

4. Disposable Placemats

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Neat Solutions Neat-Ware Table Topper, $14, Amazon

Making a mess at home is one thing, but making a mess on-the-go is a whole other story. Stick-on, disposable placemats serve two purposes: One, to protect your child when from the who-knows-what that's breeding on the table, and two, to protect the table from the who-knows-what your little one is sure to spill on it. Once mealtime is done, simply peel the placemat off, disposing of it and the giant mess at once.

5. A Cup That Keeps Snacks Contained

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Munchkin 2-Piece Snack Catcher, $5 - $7, Amazon

All those little, bite-sized snacks that are safe for new eaters have a pesky way of taking over your entire home. (Seriously, I'm sure I have a whole school of tiny orange fish swimming around my house somewhere.) Keep snacks contained with the Munchkin snack catcher, which features a flexible lid with flaps that keep food in, while still providing easy access for tiny hands.

6. A Full-Coverage Bib

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Blulu Waterproof Long-Sleeved Bib, Set of 2, $9, Amazon

Sometimes, a regular bib just doesn't cut it, especially for babies determined to smear food on every unprotected surface within their reach. If that sounds like your little one, check out a waterproof, long-sleeved bib to keep the messes to a minimum and save you money on laundry detergent, to boot. This machine-washable bib also works well for arts and crafts time with your little Picasso.  

7. A Magnetic High Chair

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4moms Magnetic High Chair, $294 - $300, Amazon

This 4moms high chair is 'attractive' in more ways than one. It's made with magnets, which has parents gravitating towards it for their messy little munchers. When used with the 4moms magnetic bowls and plates (sold separately), this high chair cleverly helps prevent little hands from throwing their dinnerware on the floor — a big 'positive' for moms tired of scrubbing their hardwoods. (Should I stop with the magnet puns? Sorry, I'm just so drawn to them. Sigh...)

8. A Protective Floor Mat

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Bumkins Waterproof Splat Mat, $14 - $23, Amazon

Sure, you know to put a bib on your child, but have you considered putting a bib on your floor? For the messiest of eaters, a waterproof high-chair mat may be your floor's only hope. This one from Bumkins comes in a variety of fun patterns, is machine-washable, and can even be placed over a table as a kid-friendly tablecloth for meals or craft time.

9. Wipes, Wipes, And More Wipes

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Babyganics Face, Hand, and Baby Wipes, $15, Amazon

Bibs, mats, and specialized feeding gadgets can make a big difference, but it's virtually impossible to get through a meal without some mushed-up, gunky food getting on your little one's face or hands (or both). I've found that you can literally never have too many gentle wipes on hand to deal with the aftermath. (Psst...if you use Amazon's Subscribe & Save service, add this to your order, so you can be sure to never run out.)

10. A Self-Contained Spoon

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Boon Squirt Silicone Baby Food Dispensing Spoon, $7 - $8, Amazon

It's not just the self-feeders who can make a mess of your kitchen. Even the littlest of eaters have been known to help refinish your floors thanks to tipped-over bowls of puréed baby food. In case that new shade of 'pureed prunes' isn't your thing, you may need a food-dispensing spoon. Simply fill the three-ounce container with a purée of your choice, screw on the cap, and then squeeze out one bite at a time, ensuring food goes in the mouth, not on the floor.

11. A Spoon For Early Eaters

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NumNum Pre-Spoon GOOtensil, $11, Amazon

Need a spoon for your early self-feeder? Look no further than the ingenious NumNum 'pre-spoon' – a tool perfect for little ones first attempting to transport food into their mouths. Because babies haven't quite mastered the art of scooping food, the innovative NumNum comes with two heads (one for thinner foods, one for thicker) that functions like dipper sticks, meaning there's less food to be flung about your kitchen.  

12. An Easy-To-Use Mop

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Swiffer WetJet Floor Spray Mop Starter Kit, $21, Amazon

When all else fails, you may just have to resign yourself to accepting the mess that comes with mealtime, and focus your energy on the post-meal cleanup. Use a spray mop to easily clean what used to be dinner off of your floors, saving you time and your poor back. Note: This product is for sealed floors only. For all other flooring, check out a lightweight stick vacuum.

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