Food Throwing: The Why and How to Deal With It 

Ilona Martin, MA, MS, RD, CDN, CNSC


Why does my child throw food?

If your baby is still young, around 6-9 months, food throwing may not be fully intentional. Babies of this age still have a lot of work to do learning how to coordinate their movements. From 9-12 months, babies are learning about gravity and what happens when objects disappear. It’s fun to see what happens when you throw food to the side! Older children, starting around 18 months, throw food for a variety of reasons. 1. They might not be hungry. 2. it’s an appropriate developmental stage during which children are exploring food using all their senses, including touch. 3. Because they can! And they may be trying to get your attention, or test the limits (especially if they’re two year olds!).  

How can I prevent it?

  • Pay attention and connect to your child during meal and snack times. If food throwing happens early on in the meal and your child is playing instead of eating, you may need to take a look at the timing of meals and snacks and readjust the schedule to make sure they’re truly hungry. Read here on the importance of a schedule in feeding. 
  • If you notice that food throwing starts towards the end of a meal, you can say something to the effect of “when you throw food on the floor, it tells me that you’re all done” and end the meal. Don’t let meals drag on for more than 30 minutes, because your child will get bored and antsy, and let’s face it, throwing food is entertaining!
  • Do not give the action of throwing any attention, positive or negative — laughing or yelling will make them want to do it more. 
  • Don’t return thrown food or utensils to the tray or table.

But it’s so messy!

True. Be prepared! You can place a garbage bag or washable mat under your child’s high chair. If you have a pet at home, you may need to relocate him to the other room or outside during mealtime — both for furry friend’s own safety in not consuming too many table scraps, and to remove the thrill of a dog chasing a meatball. Remember, messy eating in general is just part of a child’s exploration of food  

When will this phase end?

Never. Just kidding, luckily most toddlers stop the majority of their food throwing by about 2 ½ years old. You can get through this!   Up Next: Why pressure to eat backfires and how to deal with that when they haven’t had much to eat!

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