How to tame toddlers throwing food

Kinderling News & Features

Kids interact with food as a way of learning. They touch it to feel the temperature, get curious about how it will feel in their mouth and whether the texture will be hard or soft. But if it’s not something they particularly like, or if they’re feeling a bit cheeky, they’ll want to get it out of their hands quickly. 

And that’s when the one-sided food fight begins, with mess, food waste and distraction from eating, which can be concerning for parents. 

We asked One Handed Cooks dietician Jess Beaton how we can best handle food tossing. She says that to start with, we need to give them some time to play. 

“Give them some time to explore the food with their hands. It’s a way to engage and it’s a positive experience with food but obviously directing the food throwing differently would be a good tip.” 

Here’s a few tactics she recommends to minimise the chucking. 

Don’t react

While it’s tricky, try not to react as best you can. 

“They’re likely to give it a bit of a test, dropping food to see what the reaction will be,” says Jess. “The more reaction we give, the more likely they’re going to continue to do it, whether it’s a positive reaction or a negative one. Sometimes if they get in trouble, they do it again to get attention from us if we’re distracted at mealtime.” 

Listen to Jess share her top tips:

Teach communication skills

Jess often suggests parents teach littlies them some communication skills around the table. 

“So if they have finished the meal, start teaching as soon as you start solids or if they’re a bit older, start getting into the habit of having a sign or some words to say that you’re all done,” she says. “We usually say simply ‘all done’ with a simple hand gesture and the kids have picked that up really early so they’re able to tell me when they’re finished eating and I’ll try to respect that.” 

Show where unwanted food goes

If it’s that they don’t like something on the plate, Jess recommends having a designated spot for them to put that food. 

“Choose a spot on the corner of the high chair tray or on the table,” Jess suggests. “So if they’ve dropped the food, you pick it up, put it on the table and say, food stays on the table. Sometimes, just by a few days of constant, consistent and being calm and positive, the behaviour usually disappears in a few days.” 

Dine at the right time

Eat at times when young toddlers are happy, alert and not approaching bed or naptimes.  “It’s easy to mis-time meals for little kids, or we’re expecting them to sit at the table or in highchair for too long, and they’re getting tired and cranky,” Jess explains. 

Sometimes it’s a simple as seeing them pegging the plate as a sign it’s time to end the meal, remove them from the high chair and move on to the next activity.