Most toddlers go through a phase when they throw food and it can be so, so frustrating. Here’s why it might be happening and a few easy things you can try to help decrease instances of your toddler throwing food.
Toddler Throwing Food
Sometimes toddlers throw food to get a reaction, sometimes it because they don’t like the food, and sometimes, well, who knows! These tips are meant to give you some ideas for how to handle this toddler behavior in your house and to move through the phase without dreading mealtimes.
1. Serve a very small amount of food at a time.
A typical toddler serving is 1/4 the size of an adults. Which means that it’s entirely possible your toddler is eating enough, even though it may seem like they’re not eating much to you. Keep their size in mind and only give them a few pieces of any one thing at a time. (Tip: 10 Ways to Help Your Toddler Try New Foods.) This will help them to avoid having too much on their tray—which can be tempting to play with and overwhelming to picky eaters.
2. Use an all-done bowl.
Some parents in my Facebook group said that they use an “all done” bowl where the child can put the food left on their tray that they don’t want to eat.
3. Offer easy choices.
Ahead of the meal, you can offer a choice between two foods to make your toddler feel happier about what you’re serving. A choice between two veggies or fruits can go a long way to making a child feel like they have a say in what they get to eat. You can also try teaching younger toddlers the sign for “all done”, which might give them something else more productive to do with their hands—and the independence to communicate more effectively!
4. Let it be okay if your child doesn’t like a food.
My youngest will throw food he doesn’t want to eat on the floor. It’s not because he’s acting out, it’s simply that he doesn’t want the food on his tray because he has no intention of eating it. Instead of treating this like bad behavior, I offer to take the food from him and he usually happily hands it all to me, one piece at a time.
5. Sit with your toddler during meals.
Giving focused attention before a toddler tantrum or throwing food may help stave off the bad behavior—because often both habits are an effective, if problematic, way to get their point across. Sit with your child during a meal, talk to them (even if they don’t yet talk back much!), and pay attention to what they like and how they eat. Maybe she needs more help with the spoon or something cut up more so it’s easier to eat.
And by focusing on your toddler during a meal, you may be able to see unwanted behavior start sooner than you have been—and you can end it immediately by helping them to get cleaned up and onto the next thing.
6. Have together time when you walk in the door.
It can help to have 10-15 minutes of dedicated together time as soon as you walk in the door at the end of the day, instead of heading straight into the kitchen to start dinner and expecting your little one to entertain themselves. (I know this can be a lot to ask when you need to get dinner started so everyone can eat and get to bed, so here are a few make-ahead dinner options that can make weeknight cooking a little easier!) I also like to turn on music at the end of the day and dance my way through making dinner with the kids underfoot. It helps my attitude as much as theirs!
7. Create new family routines.
Toddlers love routines and knowing what to expect helps them to know how to behave. To help a baby or toddler stop acting out at mealtimes, you may need to break the routines she’s currently in that cause her to do it every time she sits down. Think through what you currently do before and during mealtimes and change things up. Play music or move where people sit. Put down phones and talk about your day.
This may help to reset their mealtime expectations—and it can work if you’re having issues getting out of the house, transitioning home after daycare, or any other spot in your day that seems to be a trigger.
8. Consider your reaction.
With many things involved in raising toddlers, the less you can turn something into a power struggle, the better. It’s entirely possible that your toddler tantrums are happening precisely because they always get a reaction—and toddlers like attention! Keep calm and try to keep your own emotions in check. You can hold their hand down, look them in the eye, and say something like “food is for eating, not for throwing”.
Or an example that corresponds to whatever the situation demands. Be firm and consistent with your response, respond immediately, and hopefully they will soon realize they will no longer get the reaction they expect from their behavior.
9. Don’t escalate!
Often, a parent who reacts with a playful and silly attitude can totally change the vibe in the room. This is great for minor offenses and can help everyone to move on more quickly rather than escalating the situation. We’ve used this tactic a lot in our house for toddler tantrums at the table and ones that happen anywhere else…and I remind myself of this advice not to escalate many times a week!
And remember: This is a phase that will, at some point, pass! A toddler throwing food is not necessarily a sign of a huge problem and can often be handled with minor tweaks to your routine and response.
10 .End the meal.
This can be difficult for parents with toddlers who don’t eat much, but often a toddler plays with his food, throws his food, or otherwise throws a fit because he’s not hungry enough to eat it. If your toddler starts any of this, give him the choice to eat or play. If he picks play, remove him from the table, put his food in the fridge, and try the meal again in 30-60 minutes if the schedule allows. It’s possible he needs more time to work up an appetite. (I do acknowledge that this is difficult when you need to be somewhere!)