Throwing food is a big issue for many families.
I regularly hear the desperate pleas from parents: “Lisa, help! My child keeps throwing their food on the floor”.
I can remember all too well when my own children were young, that defeated feeling of making their meal, with all the thought and process that goes into it, and within minutes (sometimes even seconds) the whole plate was on the floor. Even for me it was a challenge to not lose my cool.
While it might not help damper the frustration, it is helpful to know that throwing food is completely normal for babies and toddlers.
Why do they throw their food?
Between the age of 6 and 18 months your child is going through a massive learning curve and most of the reasons why they might be throwing their food come back to learning and exploration.
It’s fun! And action based. By throwing their food they are learning that they can make an action occur. Think – by throwing this I get that response. One of the early lessons in cause and effect.
Communication. At this age most children can’t form words yet or might just be starting to. They quickly learn that throwing their food can be a way to communicate with you. What they like, what they don’t like. It’s an active way for them to engage in the world around them.
Sensory. One of the biggest reasons for food throwing is it is part of the sensory experience and learning for your child. In the same way that a puppy bites everything in its first few months of life, your baby is exploring and experiencing different tastes and sensations. I talk alot about sensory play in my Fussy Bunch membership.
So a large portion of the food you are giving your child is ending up either on them or around them, you are wondering if there is anything that can be done to reduce this?
5 ways you can help reduce throwing food
1. Ignore the throwing
Yes I know what you are thinking, this might sound easy on paper but in the real world ignoring food flying at your feet is a little tricky. This is especially important if your child has taken to throwing food as a way of getting your attention. By giving an illusion of calm you will help reinforce that you are not phased by food going flying. It also helps set the tone for mealtimes moving forward, which should be low stress and seen as a source for family connection and enjoyment.
2. Teach no throwing
Each time your child throws something on the floor calmly reinforce that that’s not where it should be going. Try using smaller amounts of food at a time and each time they eat something on their plate reinforce the positive behaviour with praise. Remember it’s important not to act with anger or discipline as this is a completely normal practice for your child. We are just trying to redirect their behaviour and let them know that it’s not a behaviour that will get a reaction.
3. Three spoons
Each mealtime bring out three spoons. Give one to your child, use one to help feed them and have a spare next to you. Why? If one of the others gets thrown it doesn’t matter as you have your spare ready to go. This helps you with tip 1 above in ignoring the throwing and making as little fuss over it as possible.
4. Start with less food
Sometimes toddlers can be overwhelmed with a large serving of different foods at mealtimes, so it can be helpful to start with a little food on their plate and then top up as they eat. Try a few different pieces of different textures and flavours and add in more of what seems to be popular.
5. Invest in a silicone placemat
Most toddler meal plates are very light and make for an easy throwing arsenal. One of my favourite things to recommend to parents struggling with food throwing is a silicone placemat with a built-in plate similar to these ones by The Sensory Studio. Long be gone the days of a bowl of spaghetti on your child’s head (or on the floor) as these placemats are very hard to flip or throw. They are also made out of a bendy silicone so can help with some of that mealtime sensory experience instead of your prepared food.
Food throwing can be one of the first indications of fussy eating and while it is a normal behaviour, if you are struggling with your child not eating much of their food or it is continuing past the age of 18 months then it could be worth seeking additional support. My Fussy Bunch membership offers monthly sensory experiences and food based learning activities that might help curb this behaviour. Click here for more information or to join today.