5 tips to minimise toddlers' messy mealtimes

Kinderling News & Features

It’s common for toddlers to play with their food and it's vital for their development too. Sometime though, you know they're just being cheeky monkeys chucking food which can get frustrating fast. Especially when you’ve been slaving over a home-cooked meal that’s just ended up on the floor.

Kinderling listener Charlie recently contacted Kinderling Helpline for advice on how to deter her 18-month daughter from wearing and throwing food. “Is this normal? How do I make it less of a disaster?” she asked us.

Don't fret, Charlie - here's five handy tips from our resident child expert Chris Minogue to win the food fight.

1. Cut back on the snacks

If bub’s regularly going haywire in the highchair, Chris says there’s a good chance they could be already full so look to minimise the snacks beforehand.

“Mucking around at mealtime could come from over-eating during the day,” says Chris. “If it’s a specific meal, like dinner, I’d be looking at decreasing her snacks, as we often [over-snack].”

Chris advises giving them half an apple and a drink of water for afternoon tea, which will give them time to build up an appetite again for dinner time.

2. Push dinner-time back 

Another smart tactic is moving mealtimes back so your child will be more hungry and hopefully, more focused. Chris adds: “For a 18-24 month old, this could be [a shift to] 5:30pm, with a good two hours between a snack and dinner time.”

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3. Avoid problem projectile foods

Youngster flinging yoghurt on a regular basis? For the sake of your sanity (and floors), disarm them and take it off the menu for a while, says Chris. “If probably just a game she’s playing that gets an incredibly good reaction from her parents!”

4. Give warnings and follow through

If the previous tips haven’t worked, it could be time to issue warnings, says Chris. Start by telling them we don’t throw food and to put it back on their plate. 

“The second time they do it, I usually remove the child and put them on the floor just for a minute,” explains Chris. “Then after a few minutes, ask them if they’re ready to eat and put them back in their seat.”

5. If pain persists, consider calling it quits

If you've tried your best but none of the food’s actually going in their mouth, it may be game over.

“If they [act up] a third time, I’d just end a meal,” says Chris. “They may have over-eaten over the whole day, and it’s time for a teeny bit of discipline."

Parents might worry kids will wake up hungry overnight if they miss a meal, but Chris says it shouldn’t be a problem. “They’ll be right to [miss] one meal,” she advises.

Have a question of your own? Get in touch with Kinderling Helpline, and tune in Mondays at midday. 

Check out Chris' book Bringing Baby Home on the Pan McMillan website