Inside: How to end toddler throwing food or sippy cups? You’ll learn to make a plan for what to say, what to do, and even how to help them sit better.
Smack! The sloppy watermelon smashed into our friend’s face. In a restaurant. Thanks to my toddler’s food throwing skills. Now, five years later, I can look back and laugh. In the moment, though, I was pretty annoyed and I knew we needed some better strategies for ending our toddler’s food throwing.
Toddlers usually throw food for one or several of the following reasons:
- They LOVE throwing
- Unsupported in chair
Here are the things that you can do to make sure your child can still have great meals and you don’t have to clean up as much food off the floor (or walls).
Toddlers Stop Throwing Food When They Have a Place to Put It
Your toddler may be throwing food because they think it is vile and disgusting. If they are a picky eater and your toddler’s not eating, then the food may be stressing them out. To help them feel safer at the table, show them where to put food they don’t want.
You can show them the cup holder on the high chair tray and tell them to put the food there. Try also, providing a bowl or cup for them to put the food in. You can also tell them you will take the food they don’t want and put it on the table.
Teach Your Toddler to Say or Sign “All Done!”
To end food throwing most toddlers are pretty good at knowing when they are hungry or full. You may think your toddler has only had 2 bites of food, but your toddler knows they are no longer hungry and they can move on to other things. Once they aren’t hungry, the food is headed to the wall.
It’s okay if your toddler only eats a few bites of food.
If you feel nervous about how much your child is eating, you might appreciate my free picky eater guide, which helps you understand whether parents or toddlers should decide how much they need to eat.
You can teach your toddler to tell you when they are done eating. You can use official sign language, words, or just something you make up. We taught our kids to put their hands up and say “all done!” Be ready to jump to cleaning them up and letting them get down as soon as they give you the sign.
This establishes trust between them and you. This also helps set the stage for teaching them to sit longer if you’d like to do that as well.
Stop Toddler Food Throwing by Shortening Meal Time
Many toddlers throw food because they are bored and want to get down from the meal. Often parents think that toddlers need to sit at meal time for 20-30 minutes. That is much too long for many active toddlers.
A reasonable amount of time to expect your child to sit during a meal is 1-2 minutes per year of age. This comes as a shock to many parents. To a busy toddler who doesn’t want to do anything except play, they will eat for 1 minute and then start playing – which more often than not, is throwing.
To stop your toddler from throwing food, make mealtime 1-2 minutes (per year of age). As soon as your child is done eating, immediately let them get down. This means you need to have their food chopped up and ready to go on their tray or plate. It also means you need to not pressure them to eat more – because the next step will be throwing the food they don’t want to eat any more.
Related: Child Suddenly Not Eating? 5 Things to Check Right Now
Teach Your Toddler to Sit for Longer To Help Them Not Throw Food
Do you want your child to sit for longer than 1-2 minutes per meal without getting bored and throwing food? That’s great! I’ll show you how. First, get a sound timer. Sit your child in their high chair and start the timer for 1 minute. When the sound goes off, say “All done! Get down!” You can let them get down if they want.
Repeat this on day two.
On the next day, do the same thing, but set the timer for 2 minutes. When it dings, let them get down.
Continue to slowly increase the time on the timer until you find their maximum attention span for a meal. That may only be 5 minutes for an active toddler that just learned how to walk, or it may be 12 minutes. In any case, it’s okay if it’s a short amount of time.
Once your child is around 2 years old and you have found their maximum attention span, you can use a sand timer and show them when the sand is gone they can get up.
Use a Meal and Snack Schedule to End Food Throwing
Because toddlers often throw food because they are no longer hungry, it’s important to help them come to the table hungry. If your child is eating sporadically through the day or “grazing” (eating frequently), they may not be interested in meals and throw food out of boredom.
To learn more about meal and snack schedules, you can read The Eating Routine That Will End Your Food Battles.
Once you create a meal and snack schedule for your child and stick to it, they will be more hungry at the right times for meals and snacks, and so much less likely to want to throw their food all over the place.
Throwing a Ball Before a Meal Can End Toddler Throwing Food
Throwing food is a skill toddlers are learning and it is oh, so fun. It’s a developmental skill that they want to use all the time while they are learning it. My second child loves to throw things. From cups when he was a toddler to paper airplanes as a preschooler, he still loves throwing. Your job is to help your child throw the right things at the right time.
Add 5 minutes of throwing to your pre-meal routine. That means, before you wash hands with your toddler, take 5 minutes and throw a stuffed animal back and forth for a few minutes. Or go outside and throw a ball back and forth. Help them “get it out of their system.”
Engage Your Child in Food Play Instead of Food Throwing
If you are able to help your child sit longer during meals, it’s a great opportunity to use food play to teach them how to eat a wider variety of foods. Maybe they have eaten their potatoes, but won’t touch their zucchini circles. In that case, you can help them by showing them how to stack their zucchini circles.
Once they start playing, they may forget all about throwing. You have effectively distracted them and made it more likely that they will learn to like zucchini.
Related: Food Play Every Day: 102 Activities for Picky Kids
Ignoring Food Throwing is a Great Way to End It
Your toddler is learning cause and effect. If your toddler throws food and you go through a big song and dance by getting the food, cleaning it up, giving your child a lecture, or making faces, they may find this very intriguing or entertaining.
Look at what they can get you to do, just by throwing food!
It’s more powerful if you ignore it. Obviously, if you get hit in the face with some pasta, you can wipe it off. Don’t look at your child or give them any attention for it. Also, don’t give them more of that food. If they ask for more, say, “All gone!”
The same goes for if your child tries to throw plates or cups. Ignore it. Also, if it happens regularly, serve the food on the tray without a plate. You can also keep the cup and give them sips throughout the meal.
Once they throw a cup or plate on the ground, leave it there.
The more you deflate the experience and make it as uninteresting as possible, the less interest they will have in doing it again.
Put Your Pet in Another Room if Your Toddler is Throwing Them Food
If you have pets, your child may love to feed them food. In fact, your child may find throwing food to your pet to be absolutely delightful. Instead of this, put your pet in another room before your meals and snacks. That way your child will not be distracted during the meal.
Give Your Toddler A Few Pieces of Food on the Tray So They Won’t Throw It
Have a kid who just really really really loves to throw food? You can give them one bite of each food that is available for the meal. Then after they eat the food, you can give them another one.
Allow your child to eat as many bites as they would like so that they can fill up on the meal.
Make Sure Your Toddler Is Supported By Their Chair to End Food Throwing
One last tip is your toddler may not be fully supported by their chair. They may be uncomfortable and therefore unable to concentrate. One of the easiest ways to make sure they are supported is to get a chair that has a foot support, or make a foot support yourself!
In addition to the foot support, make sure they can sit with their elbows and knees at a 90 degree angle. This will help them eat better. Also make sure the back of the chair supports them, so they don’t have to put so much energy into sitting up. Believe it or not, sitting is a huge job for little people!
Put Together Your Plan for Stopping Your Toddler from Throwing Food
Now that you have read this article all the way, can you figure out why your toddler is throwing food? Take a minute to write down why your toddler is throwing food and what you may be able to do to help them stop throwing food.