Need help with your baby or toddler throwing food on the floor during meals? Get these easy strategies you can start using today from a mom and feeding therapist that’s been there.
I’ve been pushed over the edge during countless meals because another piece of food, a whole plate of dinner, or a straw cup filled with milk, soared through the air to splatter all over the floor at the hands of my baby or toddler.
It absolutely grated on my nerves some nights, but because I had worked with hundreds of eating babies and toddlers, I knew all too well that it was actually quite normal.
Even knowing that truth might not help your patience, there’s more to understand about the toddler throwing food at every. single. meal. And, more importantly, there are some tips you can start using today to actually teach your baby or toddler to at least decrease how often and how much food they’re whipping across the room, if not stop it all together!
Why Babies and Toddlers Throw Food on the Floor
Throwing food is totally normal for children between 8 and 18 months old. This happens for a variety of reasons. I’m going to teach you a few of the most common, but know that there can be some overlap:
- They are learning cause and effect – Yes, it’s that simple. It’s fun for babies and toddlers to drop or throw food on the floor. They are actually learning that they can make something happen. It may be even more exciting if there’s a dog there to eat it up!
- Their way of communicating – Once they learn they can drop food, it isn’t long before they realize that they can throw food off their high chair because they don’t want to eat it. Babies and toddlers may be selective about foods simply because of how they look, meaning they aren’t too sure about the color of texture. Or, they may not know how to eat it, which is something we take for granted as adults.
If you’re struggling with babies or toddlers that seem to be eating very little food, head to When Babies Won’t Eat Solids for more help.
- Their way of getting attention – It can be pretty motivating for a baby or toddler to get attention of any kind, even if it’s negative. And, if they’ve learned you’re going to give them a big reaction every time they’re throwing food, then it could inspire them to keep it up.
- They are afraid they’re going to be forced to eat it – It can be really tempting to force feed babies and toddlers, and for some kids, it may seem that there is no other way to get them to eat. The truth, though, is that it actually causes more issues around their ability to eat and their acceptance of foods. Some kids that have been force fed will throw any and all food the instant they see it as a defensive mechanism.
Learn more about why force feeding can be detrimental and how to stop it with my best picky eating tip.
Although I could still lose my patience when one of my toddlers was throwing food again, knowing these facts was helpful most nights in helping me keep my cool. My hope is that it helps you in the same way. Now, let’s get on to those tips…
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6 Tips to Stop the Baby or Toddler Throwing Food
While a baby or toddler throwing food on the floor is typical, it can become a habit that’s hard to break well past the age that it should’ve stopped on its own. Not to mention the mental drain on moms and dads that occurs from the constant throwing and clean up. No matter what age your baby or toddler is, these tips will help your child learn to stop dropping or throwing their food from their highchair tray.
1. Give them less food – Babies and toddlers love to play with their food and when we serve them a big helping of table foods, it literally gives them that much more ammunition. Sometimes the reason they’re throwing their food is because it’s an overwhelming amount in front of them, but even if that’s not the case, giving them just a few pieces (meaning 1-3 at a time) on their tray will often decrease or eliminate the throwing of food all together.
2. Feed them with your 1:1 attention – As a busy parent, we’d often like to unload the dishwasher, clean the kitchen, or make a quick phone call while our babies and toddlers are busy eating, but you’ll be able to stop them from throwing much easier if you’re sitting down with them with your full attention. I’ll teach you how in the tips below!
3. Be calm, even if you’re not – Giving the illusion of calm will help your child learn that you are not phased by any food they throw. This is particularly powerful if your kiddo has gotten into the annoying habit because of the attention they receive while throwing their food. While you may have to fake your calm attitude initially, in the long run, it will help you to be more patient. This patience will set a valuable tone for mealtimes that allows your child to feel comfortable exploring new foods and eating until their belly is full!
If the food hitting the floor totally sends you over the edge, consider laying down a mat like this one under the high chair for easy clean up… or get a dog!
4. Repeat a clear phrase – The scene may look something like this… Your toddler is sitting in their high chair, you’re sitting at the table next to them with your plate of food, plus a plate of food for them. You give them a few pieces of food with a smile on your face and they look at you with a smile on theirs as they pick up a piece of food in each hand and swiftly toss them to the ground.
At this point, I begin to use a simple phrase that I can repeat over and over again to teach them where the food does go. I’m careful not to turn into a negative by saying “No throwing food,” instead I want to be specific, clear, and positive with, “We keep food on the tray.”
With the next couple of pieces I give my toddler, I’m watching like a hawk and ready to pounce, as soon as I see that little chubby hand begin to move. I’m ready to grab it firmly and say, “We keep food on the tray.” I may have to say this 10 times in a row, for multiple meals, but it will sink in. This tip can’t be completed without your full attention, and if you’re not calm, take a minute to breathe because we don’t want this to seem like punishment.
5. Teach them to put unwanted food into a special section on their high chair – If it’s obvious that your baby or toddler doesn’t like a food and that’s why they’re throwing it, show them that they can pile it into a corner of their tray or a separate compartment (usually for a drink) like many modern high chairs now have. This is a perfect next step to tip number 4.
Continuing with our example above, after you repeat the phrase you’re using (you can use mine or something similar), take their hand while your still grasping their hand or wrist and move it to where they can put their food and say, “You can put it here.” Help them to drop the food into the corner or a little section. Then, I’d follow up again with, “We keep food on the tray.”
Again, this will take a lot of practice and repetition for your young baby or toddler to learn, but it will happen.
6. Seat them at the table – There are a lot of booster seats available that you can use on top of a regular chair that are appropriate for an older baby or toddler. When you use one, with them strapped in but without the tray attached, you can push them right up to the table. In this case, you’ll probably want a place mat (we used one like this, the crumb tray is genius) to put their food on.
Being tucked into a table makes it harder for a baby or toddler to throw food onto the floor!
There are lots of benefits to your child being at the table with you for meals, and not on their own separate island, and while food hitting the floor will likely reduce, it’s still possible some will find it’s way there.
Take a deep breath and relax, you’ve got a game plan for your baby or toddler throwing food at the next meal! Know that this will pass in the coming months with your consistency and patience.
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More Awesome Tips for Toddlers
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Alisha Grogan is a licensed occupational therapist and founder of Your Kid’s Table. She has over 15 years experience with expertise in sensory processing and feeding development in babies, toddlers, and children. Alisha also has 3 boys of her own at home. Learn more about her here.