Ahhh, food throwing.
What a fun stage (or…not).
First off, know this. Most babies will go through this stage, and it is totally normal. Food throwing is a learning experience for our curious little ones. They often wonder what will happen based off their actions, and when they are learning how to grasp their food and practicing with solids, it’s only natural for them to wonder what would happen if they were to drop the food (or throw it).
As this can be an extremely messy and frustrating stage for moms and dads, do know that it usually does not last long and can actually be corrected pretty quickly.
Here are my top tips on how to discourage this behaviour.
1. Limit your reaction & tell your child what to do in a positive way
One reason why babies or toddlers may be throwing food is because they are looking for attention at the table and want to see if throwing food will give them a reaction (good or bad). So, keep your cool! Try not to overreact to this. After the food is thrown, try and avoid immediately sighing, complaining, or ordering your baby by saying things like “Stop it!”, or “Don’t throw food!”. Most likely, the baby will throw food again because they got the big reaction they were seeking. Instead, you could simply pick up the food they threw and put it back on the table or high chair tray. Refrain from giving the thrown item back to the baby, as this may seem like a game to them.
When you pick up the food and place it back on the tray, tell your baby what they should do with the food instead of what they shouldn’t do. An example is “food stays on the table”. Be simple and direct. If the baby throws food again, repeat the process once more before simply taking the food (and bowl, cup, utensils) away. You can indicate to your baby that throwing food means mealtime is over.
Your baby will soon realize after the first few times that they are not getting the reaction they hoped they would, and normally the behaviour will then come to a halt. Yes, you may get a tantrum once or twice, but the key here is being consistent, and knowing that your baby will not starve by ending mealtime early once or twice. Be sure to keep in mind that if you are taking your babies food away due to throwing, you may have to compensate with a larger snack later on if they didn’t eat enough.
2. Consider the role of siblings and the family dog
As discussed above, if babies are seeking attention, one way they will discover how to do this is to throw food. The reaction and attention they want can be coming from their siblings in the form of laughing and pointing, as they may also find this entertaining. Get your other kids on board and let them know that we all want to minimize our response as their reaction could encourage the baby to keep throwing food. As for the family dog, there would be nothing more exciting than your baby throwing food and watching their dog gobble it up. Instead, put the dog in another room when the baby is eating so that distraction will not trigger throwing food.
3. Limit the amount of food presented at once
Another reason could be that your little one is slightly overwhelmed by the amount of food on their tray. Does your child have tons of food and options on their tray all at once? Maybe this is tempting to “eat some and throw some”, or maybe it just looks a little too daunting that baby turns away completely. Limiting the amount of food you give your baby to one or two peices at a time is a good idea – it will be less food to throw if they resort to that behaviour. If your little one eats all of the food you give them, you can always add to their tray until they are full.
4. Figure out what your baby is trying to tell you
Sometimes food throwing may be your baby’s way of telling you something. It could be that they are full, are overwhelmed by the amount of food presented, or that they don’t like the food.
If the baby is full, then they may resort to throwing their food to try to indicate to mom or dad that they are done. Although this is not a glamorous way of letting us know, it will get the point across. But how do you tell if your baby is no longer (or never was) hungry? If baby throws food immediately after receiving it in their high chair, likely they do not have an appetite. If your baby throws the food halfway through a meal or towards the end, they may be bored or full. Listen to your baby’s cues in this case. If you place the food back on the high chair tray twice and let them know food stays on the chair, once again, end mealtime and say “You must not be hungry so we can try again later.”
And then there is the possibility that your baby throws food simply because they do not like it. Possibly the taste, texture or even the size of the food could be major turn-offs. I would suggest getting a bowl (suction bowl is best to limit knocking it over or throwing it) and call it a “learning bowl”. You can redirect your baby’s throw by pointing to the bowl and saying “put any food you don’t want in the bowl”. This will be for any foods your baby does not like or feel like trying at the moment. The learning bowl will teach them that it is okay if they do not like or want to eat a certain food, but regardless does not belong on the floor.
You can always try teaching your baby sign language (yes – this is possible!). Once your baby is able to signal to you by actions what they want (if they are full or want more for example), throwing food as a means of communicating becomes obsolete!
5. Know the difference
Lastly, know the difference between your baby throwing food and your baby knocking food over or dropping it accidentally. Remember, you little one is still learning and therefore it is expected that they are still very clumsy with their food and dishes. You will probably always have to do a quick sweep or pick up after your baby finishes eating; however, there is a difference between a few pieces of food around the high chair and food across the kitchen.
Need more help? Contact me for a free 15 minute discovery call to chat about your struggles.