Oh Randy, don't play with your food--EAT IT!

At what stage in our human development do we decide, "Hey, smearing Cream of Wheat all over my face feels gross. I don't think I'll do it anymore."? It is my most sincere hope that it comes at 19-months-and-one-week, because the current slimy, caked-on nature of mealtime around these parts is really starting to get to me.

I've known for a long time that toddlers are messy eaters--what would paper towel commercials be without the obligatory 2-year-old covered in spaghetti? But the magnitude and utter completeness of my daughters' mealtime mess-making is more than I could have ever imagined. Food-encrusted bibs, hair, faces and highchair trays, multiplied by two, multiplied again by three meals a day has made the simple act of feeding my children something I dread more than de-hairing the bathroom drains.Sorry, I know that's disgusting, but I really wanted to drive home my lack of dinnertime joy.

However, dear readers, do not fret. All is not doom and gloom and squished peas around the Hooper dining room table! I've happily stumbled upon two tricks that have greatly improved the amount of post-repast clean up I'm faced with every day and I wanted to share them with you in an attempt to benefit your laundry load. Neither are high-tech, but they sure have made a difference for us, so here they are:

First, receiving blankets. Our very wonderful and very generous friends and family gifted us with a multitude of beautiful receiving blankets when the girls were born and boy did we put them to good use swaddling the dickens out of those peanuts! And though swaddling remained part of our routine until the girls were about 7-months-old (Happiest Baby on the Block rules!), most of the blankets proved too small for burrito-ing by Evie & Camie's 3-month mark. So I was left with a basket-full of lovely receiving blankets and not many applications for which to use them. Consequently, the basket was deposited in the dining room to get it out of the way, and there it sat until, following a particularly messy lunch one day, I decided it would be easier to wash a blanket thrown over the highchair than the highchair cover itself. Duh!

If you have to employ your highchair's straps to keep your kiddo in place while they eat, then this trick probably won't work for you, but if the highchair tray does a good job of containing your little one safely, then simply throw a receiving blanket over the chair before your next mealtime. When dinner is done, just yank off the blanket (unless it's covered in discarded cheerios and macaroni and cheese--in that case you should avoid all snatching motions and go for a more fold-up-and-shake-over-the-sink action) and throw it in the wash. And as the illustrious Velvet Jones once said, "It's as simple as that!".

The second trick I have to share arose from a severe case of buyer's remorse. I'm pretty utilitarian these days when it comes to shopping. That hasn't always been the case--a fact my college roommates and my former credit card debt can readily attest to--but nowadays, I pretty much stick to the grocery store, PetSmart and Walgreen's. Unless, that is, we're talking about shopping for the girls. When it comes to them, my retail switch has no "Off" position. If it's cute, they need it. If it's cute AND on sale, then they really, really need it and Mommy has a hard time telling herself to put the credit card away.

One such cuteness-inspired purchase was the acquisition of a few pairs of BabyLegs-- super-adorable baby-sized leg warmers that I knew the girls couldn't live without. Unfortunately, I had a hard time figuring out the right opportunity to dress the Peanuts in said leg warmers. In the summer, when they were learning to crawl and their little knees could have used some protection from our hardwood floors, it was too hot to add another layer to their chubby little gams. In the winter, when extra warmth was a plus, we already had them so bundled up that gaining access to their legs was a feat we only attempted when adverse diaper conditions required it. So there I was, with these must-have baby accessories that my babies must not have needed. Shopping Fail!

But once again, after a meal debacle that involved avocados and a complete toddler strip-down, inspiration struck and I found the perfect application for our BabyLegs--sleeve covers! Much like the highchair blanket covers, I realized that removing the cheese/cereal/sweet potato-stained "arm warmers" at the end of a meal was far superior to removing cheese/cereal/sweet potato-stained clothes that were ultimately more expensive to replace and much harder to launder. So now, our pre-meal ritual includes washing hands, putting on bibs and applying sleeve protection--and happily, our post-meal ritual no longer involves a compulsory undressing! :-)

Well, that's all I've got for today.Two dining solutions down, only 1,476,389 to go! I hope these tricks work for you--if you have your own techniques that help cut down on mealtime mess, please feel free to share with the rest of us! Knowledge is power--especially when dealing with the wiley ways of the infant set!

Now, if I could just figure out what the heck to make them for lunch today...


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