After a long day, you spent time creating a nutritious meal you think your toddler will actually eat. But when you sit down at the table it happens: your toddler starts to throw his food. On himself. On the floor. On the dog’s left ear.
I’ve been there. When your toddler throws food, you can’t simply say, “Can you stop that, please?” and expect them to do what you asked. So at every meal, your shoulders tense in anticipation of what’s to come. And when it happens, you snap.
As a pediatric dietitian, I see so many families struggling with toddler food throwing. That’s why I’ve put this guide together for you: 4 steps you can employ right now to help your toddler stop throwing food.
First, you need to know this.
Toddler food throwing is completely normal, and it makes sense from a developmental perspective.
Toddlers are becoming more independent, which means they’re testing us. That’s how they develop autonomy. Developmentally, we want this to happen, but from a parenting standpoint at mealtime, not so much.
While it may take time to stop food throwing once and for all, following the simple steps below will decrease your frustration and get through to your toddler.
4 steps to stop your toddler from throwing food
1. Keep your cool
When your toddler throws food, keep cool and don’t flip your lid. Don’t yell, don’t act shocked or surprised. Try not to show strong emotion.
This is important because we don’t want to give their behavior too much attention, whether that be positive or negative attention.
This is easier said than done. A few of my favorite ways to control myself are to take one deep breath, repeat my mantra “it’s just a phase”, or to, literally, bite my tongue.
2. Set expectations
Let your toddler know what to expect – you may even do this before a meal. Say to them, “Food stays on the table.” Note my wording here. Instead of saying, “Don’t throw your food,” we’re saying, “Food stays on the table.”
Keep it positive. Using a positive discipline approach helps to establish a feeling of belonging with your child without fear, as you set kind yet firm boundaries.
3. Follow through
If you want successful meatimes, you need to set limits, and stick to those limits – in a respectful way.
Let your child know what’s going to happen when they throw food, “Sydney, when you throw food you’re showing me you are all done. Are you all done?” And then stick with this.
It may take time for your child to fully understand what you are saying. But when they continue throwing food (over and over), you can gently remove them from their seat and let them know why, “you are showing me you’re all done. Dinnertime is over now.”
Will they be upset? Maybe.
Will they have a full-blown melt-down? Maybe.
But that’s okay.
Tantrums are how they learn to control their emotions. Think about tantrums not as your job to stop – but as your job to help work through.
Note: Sometimes food throwing truly is a sign that your child is all done. Young toddlers who aren’t fully able to communicate with us may throw food as a sign they’re finished.
Make sure you’re following the division of responsibility when it comes to feeding – and avoid pressuring your child to eat more than they may want.
Likewise, sometimes toddlers throw foods that are new to them. If you’ve noticed that your toddler typically throws new foods, grab my free guide: 4 steps to trying new foods.
4. Remind yourself
Just like other phases when it comes to raising children, this phase will not last forever. I know when you’re in it, the challenge is real. But take a deep breath and remind yourself this phase won’t last forever.
If you can embrace this mindset shift, that will help you follow through on the three steps above.
Bonus: 3 important questions to ask
Some aspects of mealtime may not feel related to food throwing, but reflecting on them can help mitigate what you’re experiencing with your toddler.
1. Do you have a feeding routine?
Ideally, kids should come to meal and stack time hungry and ready to eat. If that’s the case in your family, I recommend following a feeding routine like this one that I recommend to my clients.
If your child grazes throughout the day they’re less likely to feel hunger at mealtimes, and sometimes unwanted behaviors like food throwing can occur.
2. What are you offering?
At mealtimes, make sure you’re offering a known food. Avoid offering something completely brand new to your toddler at mealtimes. If you want your toddler to try new foods, grab my free guide – 4 steps to trying new foods.
3. What are your expectations?
Your attitude toward mealtime matters. If you’re worried that your child isn’t eating enough vegetables or that they’re not getting enough nutritional foods, I wrote this post just for you. Inside, I help you explore your expectations at mealtime, and how we can feel calmer about what’s happening in the moment.
Ready for a more peaceful dinner table?
When you follow the steps above, you’ll be on the road to no more toddler food throwing. Your toddler will learn what’s expected of them at mealtimes, you’ll feel calmer and more peaceful, and maybe most important of all—you’ll no longer find yourself scrubbing sweet potato off the dog’s ear.
Want your child to try new foods? Download my free guide to helping your child try new foods so that you can feel more confident and relaxed around feeding.