It can be a battle trying to stop your toddler from throwing food. If you are struggling with this, then it is time to implement these strategies and finally put an end to the problem. These methods will also help reduce frustration and anger which will lead to happier family dinners. I am going to share some helpful tips on how you can teach your child not to throw their food in public or at home!
Why Toddler’s Throw Food
First, figuring out why your toddler or baby is throwing their food can help you to address the root cause.
Toddlers may throw food for a variety of reasons including:
- Emotions: They are tired, bored, upset, or frustrated. – Toddlers can have so many emotions – to say the least. Throwing food can stem from a variety of different emotions. They may be feeling frustrated, disappointed, or overwhelmed. These emotions can be heightened when your toddler is tired. Ensuring that you serve meals when your toddler is well rested can be key to helping the meal go smoothly in many ways.
- They don’t like the food or are overwhelmed by too many textures and tastes. – If they feel overwhelmed by the food offered, it could make them want it out of sight and therefore lead to them dropping it over their highchair tray. This is why serving appropriate portions is important. Toddlers don’t need as much food as you might think, so always err on the side of smaller portions. You can always offer seconds if they want more.
- They are trying to get a reaction from you. – Toddlers love to test their boundaries – whether it’s by refusing to eat their dinner or throwing it over the edge of their high chair. If they’ve received an interesting reaction from you before they are likely up for doing it again. If your toddler throws food, don’t react by yelling or scolding. You don’t have to ignore the behavior but there are ways of responding to the situation that doesn’t reinforce or incentivize it.
- Cause and effect AKA testing gravity. – They are simply curious about how different liquids or objects behave when they hit the floor. (This of course also applies when they turn their cup over numerous times.) This can cause them to drop it over and over and over again. Likely though, if you are not repeatedly returning the food to their tray they will wait until they are finished to play.
- They are finished with the meal. – They may just be bored and experimenting with the food since they are done eating. Curiosity and exploration are normal for toddlers when it comes to food, but that doesn’t mean parents should not set boundaries during meal times regarding food etiquette.
How to Stop Your Toddler From Throwing Food
Every child likely goes through the food dropping or throwing stage at some point in time. It can certainly be frustrating to clean up a plate of food off the floor or to hear their utensils hitting the floor every meal.
I was so frustrated when my firstborn threw food and worried about the poor behavior. While you certainly don’t want your 3-year-old to be throwing food, I now realize it is a stage many younger toddlers, especially 1-year-olds, go through. However, it is important to do everything you can to minimize the behavior and teach them this is not the way to behave at the dinner table.
Here are the best tips to get your toddler or baby to stop throwing food:
1. Model good behavior by having regular family mealtimes.
Obviously, they won’t see you throwing your food, but additionally, you can watch them closely and notice at what point in the meal they tend to start throwing food. For example, is it near the end of the meal? If so, they are probably done and may need help communicating this or a reminder to not throw food. Instead, they can be taught to sign “all done” when finished.
Additionally, you can show them how to properly use their utensils and learn self-feeding as they may be frustrated with their ability to feed themselves.
2. Give less food.
A baby/toddler serving size is actually pretty small. An overwhelming amount of food can make a baby or toddler start to throw it – or they can throw the remainder when they are finished eating. Try cutting back to just a couple of bites of each item and allow them to ask for more if they want more.
3. Make sure they are comfortable in their seat and consider moving them to the table if they are still in a highchair.
Their feet should be solidly resting on a footrest to provide proprioception and ensure they are comfortable. If they are not in a good seated position for eating then it may increase unwanted behaviors. Moving them to the table especially if they are 12-18 months or older could also help. You could move them to the table in a toddler chair like the Tripp Trapp or Keekaroo. Check out these top-rated baby-led weaning highchairs that will ensure your child is seated in a proper position no matter their age!
4. Try a “No Thank You” Bowl
I’ve seen parents utilize a small bowl for a “no thank you” bowl with much success. The toddler or baby can put foods they don’t want in this bowl instead of throwing them on the floor. Similarly, you could use the cup holder of the highchair for this.
5. Do not give the food (or utensil) back.
If your baby or toddler is throwing food or utensils, do not give them back once they are dropped or thrown. This can be very entertaining for some kids and they will continue the behavior over and over just to get you to hand it back. Remind older siblings not to return dropped food or utensils as well. I think this behavior has gone on longer than it otherwise would have for my 2nd born as my 1st born pops out of his seat before I can stop it to give anything baby sister drops back.
6. End the Meal.
Obviously, it’s dependent on your child’s eating patterns and why you believe they are throwing the food, but we very quickly stopped my son’s behavior of dropping his plate every night when we ended the entire meal. I felt totally comfortable doing so as he was still breastfeeding and I knew he was doing it after he was mostly finished eating. However, this consequence can work, especially for older toddler behaviors.
You can also take the plate away for 30 seconds the first time after telling them not to throw the food and then take it away for good the second time.
How did you get your little ones to stop throwing or dropping food at meals?
I would love to hear how you handled this age-old problem with your little ones! Please feel free to tell us how you got your baby or toddler to stop throwing food in the comments below.
If you’re looking for more help on drawing boundaries at meals with babies and toddlers be sure to check out this article on the Division of Responsibility in Feeding to learn what your role as a parent SHOULD BE at mealtimes.