Although I completely agree, it's a mess and annoying to clean them after every meal, allowing them to explore with all their senses through the solid introduction process is super important for their development, motor and sensorial skills and food acceptance that will help avoid picky eating too.
I know this can be overwhelming and may seem like more work than it’s worth. But sensory play builds nerve connections in the brain's pathways, which lead to the child's ability to complete more complex learning tasks. It supports language development, cognitive growth, fine and gross motor skills, problem solving skills and social interaction.
Meal time is more than about eating. Babies are learning from textures, tastes, exploring and freedom. All of that provides their brain with meaningful information that they process and create more sophisticated responses. Babies seek these experiences as part of curiosity, discovery, exploration, which lead to growth and development.
They also learn how to self feed. Even if you are feeding them puree exclusively, or a mix of puree + pieces like me, allowing them to get their hands messy in the baby food will eventually draw them to start feeding themselves, because before they learn how to use the spoon, they use their fingers. And this will actually allow them to feed independently sooner, which will be so helpful down the road.
Plus, when kids are NOT exposed to textures and freedom, they tend to become more sensitive to new textures overtime. Which is actually when they can become pickier eaters as toddlers and kids.
As parents, we tend to want to clean them constantly with a spoon or napkin, but as my pediatric nutritionist Dra Mafer says, the constant wiping and cleaning tend to make them uncomfortable too, which tends to make the whole meal experience worse, or shortened, since they can get annoyed and more distracted, and want to stop eating sooner than they would have, AND not allow them to develop their senses, motor skills and cognitive growth properly. So allowing them their freedom and by simply not wiping them through the meal, we let them have an overall better experience which will both allow them to REALLY explore and enjoy, as well as avoid developing a bad relationship with food. Same goes with big or heavy bibs, the less restrictions, the better. You can wipe them down after each meal, versus after every bite.
Finally, letting babies get messy allows for a more positive, laid back flow to the whole meal. Which is the purpose. Respecting their time, their
Also remember, these messes aren't forever. With time, it gets better, I allowed Sofia to make all the messes and now, she doesn't. They grow out of it! And it's never too late to let them get messy. So let the food get on their hands, in their hair, and all over their face (and don’t make any disgusting faces or panic while they are doing it). Embrace the mess, it is actually very worth it!
Overall, try to avoid:
Taking the spoon from baby if they grab it.
Wiping tray, hands & face during the meal
And try to:
Allow the mess.
Let them grab the tray food for sensory play.
Understand food in their hair or chair is OK, you can wipe them later, forget the distractions
Allow them to play as much time as they want, they are learning!
Wait until the end to clean them, the tray, and the chair
Consider a bath or change of clothes after each meal, its OK!