Food throwing is one of those topics that I’m asked about ALL the time from parents. It can be INCREDIBLY stressful, but also very, very normal. So I have put together my thoughts on what to do when your baby throws food, which I hope helps.
Babies throw food for many different reasons. Picking up and dropping objects is a skill that babies develop. So doing it with food is one way for them to practice it. They may be trying to get your attention. They may want to see how you’ll react to it. It could be that they are simply not hungry. Have they had a recent milk feed or snack, or eaten a lot at the previous meal? Or they might be having a hard time handling the food – modifying the food can sometimes help.
What to do when your child throws food
Whatever the reason, it can be really tough to deal with. It’s not something that I really experienced with Raffy, but I struggled for a LONG time with Ada. I wanted to write about my experience as we tried LOTS of different techniques. I also found that the age old “don’t pay attention” – which is something I used to recommend to parents – just didn’t work!
So, when it comes with HOW to cope with food throwing in babies and toddlers, here are some of things that I found worked for me:
When the foods is thrown, pick it up & repeat THE SAME LINE every time – I say “That’s not what we do with food, if you don’t want it, put it on the table” & I place it on the table.
Not giving the throwing ANY MORE attention than that. No telling off, no sighing, no getting angry (hard as that is) giving minimal attention is key!
Gently grabbing her hand when she goes to throw & moving her hand with the food back to the table & the “don’t want pile” & repeating the same line as above!
Only picking up the food a max of THREE times before it then isn’t offered back to her. Just to teach her that if she throws, it eventually goes.
Aside from those tips, if I notice that Ada seems to be in a throwing mood, something that’s also helped is putting my hand out for the food ready. She sees it and places the food in my hand instead and I respond with a “ta”. Then I repeat the line and place the food in the “don’t want” pile. Whilst this isn’t ideal for her to do in the long run, in the short term it’s emphasising that it doesn’t go on the floor. She enjoys passing it to me and the praise she receives for doing so.
Over time, the learning, praise and positive reinforcement from putting it in the right place have all really made a big difference. I give her a clap when she doesn’t throw the food, and then don’t pay any more attention to it than that.
Extra tips on how to deal with babies and toddlers throwing food
Whilst the tips above are based on what worked for me personally with Ada, there are other things you can try too. Here are some additional ways to approach your baby or toddler throwing food:
- Invest in a splash mat (or give floor a good wipe before eating). This means that you can quite safely pick food back up & pop it on baby’s plate when it gets chucked on the floor!
- Practise role modelling with food even more than usual so that baby gets to see how others around them behave at mealtimes
- Try to give them your attention during mealtimes. If you’re busy getting other things done whilst your little one is eating, they may be throwing food to get attention. If you can, sit and engage with your little ones at mealtimes
- Explain verbally that it isn’t ok to throw food (once baby has comprehension of this!) and demonstrate, once again, what food is for (eating!)
- Offer them less food in one go. For some babies, a really large portion can be overwhelming. So throwing the foods may be a reaction to this. Try serving smaller portions and then offering more when they’re finished
- Try introducing a side plate & encourage little ones to add any unwanted food to the side plate, instead of throwing it on the floor. As I mentioned above, this is what we still do with Ada now at 16 months and did with Raffy previously. I’ve also heard that it really works for others too. Or simply encourage them to put the food to the side of their own plate. We still do this with Raffy and Ada now.
- Vary what you offer baby at mealtimes & avoid giving up on foods just because they get tossed around the kitchen. Eventually they might get eaten, but only if you gently continue with offering them!
- Try to keep the mealtime environment positive. I TOTALLY understand just how frustrating food throwing can be and sometimes you just can’t help but react to it. However, as much as you can, try to focus on maintaining a positive experience at the table. Encourage your little one to explore the food in other ways or focus on something else other than the food
A final thought on what to do when your baby throws food
Above all, I think the key is being CONSISTENT with whatever approach you choose. It’s the case for many things when it comes to babies. If you repeat the same thing, then they learn that THAT’S what happens in response to that behaviour.
It can be so incredibly hard and frustrating, but I hope some of these tips help you if you’re struggling with what to do when your baby throws food. If you’re looking for more support with fussy eating, check out my blog on food refusal in babies. I’ve also got a free factsheet on how to cope with fussy eating. Or, for more in-depth advice, you can join one of my fussy eating webinars.