Are you even a parent if this isn’t a daily struggle? Kidding! But in many ways, it sings true – your baby throwing food is almost a seemingly cute and obnoxious entry into parenting. #hereforit
While you may want to pull your hair out or scream with frustration that not only is food being thrown (& wasted), but there’s now more mess to clean up! First, we want you take a few deep breaths.
Inhale. Hold for four seconds.
This behaviour is a fairly normal part of development for babies and toddlers and there are definitely some tips and tricks we’ve got up our sleeves that may be helpful. We’re speaking from personal experience (been there, done that) and also drawing on expert advice we’ve learned through continued education.
First off, if you’re reading this and you’ve got an itty bitty baby between 4 – 6 months who hasn’t discovered food throwing, then this is what you need to do: stay nearby, if you notice your baby is going to throw food off their tray then use your hand as a barrier and say “ah ah, food stays here” and direct their hand back to the tray.
This is helpful because then your baby doesn’t learn that they can in fact throw food onto the floor.
It’s not going to prevent food throwing 100% , but the earlier you can reinforce the desired behaviour, the sooner they will learn!
It’s also helpful to understand if your baby is intentionally throwing food versus food accidentally dropping it. Remember, your baby is learning to eat and this involves a complex set of skills that they won’t master until close their fourth birthday. If your baby knocks food off the table out of excitement or spills their water cup, it’s par for the course.
However, if you’re struggling with your baby intentionally throwing food, here are eight possible causes and what you can do about it!
Cause #1: Baby is done eating or she’s simply not interested in that particular food.
Solution: Learn to read your baby’s cues for fullness. One method of communication your baby can learn before talking is sign language! We have a video explaining how to use sign language to increase table-time communication with your baby in our e-course: Start Solids Confidently and a handy printable you can keep on your fridge.
Another solution is to keep a “no thank you” bowl beside your baby where they can safely deposit foods they don’t want to consume in this bowl. You would teach your baby the sign for “all done” and teach them to place food into the “no thank you” bowl. This strategy usually works for an older baby or toddler.
Cause #2: Baby is testing your limits!
Solution: As your baby gets older and understands more, you can set table time expectations. Here’s a rhyme that I (Jessica) used to teach my boys not to drop things from the high chair: “when the ____ goes on the floor, you don’t get it anymore” (insert food, spoon, fork, cup, or whatever they’re throwing!) I would give them one reminder each meal and then stick with it. Admittedly, it sometimes felt a little cruel but guess what? They caught on fairly quickly that mama means business!
Cause #3: Baby is overwhelmed with amount of food
Solution: This is a simple one: just put less food on baby’s plate or tray! You can even do dramatically less food: as in, one piece of each type of food you’re offering! You can keep a refill station close by and keep adding to it as baby eats the piece on their plate. As an added bonus, you can put whatever is leftover from the refill bowl back in the fridge for a later meal. Hurray for less food waste!
Cause #4: You’ve got a furry friend that’s reaping the benefits
Solution: If you’ve got a pet that is benefiting from thrown food, that could be really entertaining for a baby. It’s like playing a game of catch, but with food. Our advice in this department is simple: put your pet in another area of the home during meal time. Welcome them back after the meal is over! They can help clean up the mess afterwards 🙂 While our furry friends are family and all, they can be distracting for a child who is just starting his feeding journey.
Cause #5: Baby is discovering how gravity works
Solution: Babies experiment with their surroundings to learn about the world. Watching objects drop is a baby’s way of learning about gravity! Give baby plenty of opportunity outside of the highchair to figure out the physics of gravity. Play with throwing a ball back and forth, build a tower of blocks and push it over, or drop animal stuffies off the couch and then go rescue them!
Cause #6: Baby is seeking attention
Solution: If your baby gets a big rise out of you whenever he drops food on the floor, he learns “this is how I can get your attention!” So often ‘attention seeking behaviour’ is seen as something bad… but really: why is it so crazy that babies want their caregiver’s attention? Seems pretty normal and natural to us!
But, yes, we don’t want babies to resort to annoying tactics, like dropping food on the floor, to get the attention they need! Instead, if you aren’t doing so already, sit with baby at the table while she’s eating! This topic could be its own blog post altogether but there are so many benefits to establishing family meal times where everyone eats together! Baby is never too young to start this habit.
Cause #7: Baby can’t focus
Solution: It’s important to set baby up for success! If the eating environment is too distracting or uncomfortable, it will be hard for baby to focus on learning this important new skill: putting food in her mouth, moving it around with her tongue, chewing it, and moving it to the back of her mouth to safely smallow! Whew! Just typing that all out was a mouthful 🙂
If baby isn’t set up to successfully learn how to eat, then she might just turn to playing instead! And when you’re stuck in a high chair, there aren’t a whole lot of things to play with except your food!
Here are some things to consider to make sure baby is set up for eating success:
- Make sure baby’s high chair has a foot rest. If baby’s feet are dangling, they may not be seated comfortably and securely enough to focus on eating.
- Turn off the TV and other screens
- Keep pets in another room
Cause #8: Food is developmentally inappropriate
Solution: Make sure the food you’re offering baby is the right shape, size, and texture for their age and development. If baby can’t physically get the food from their plate to their mouths, or if it’s not a food they are developmentally ready to consume, they may just play with it instead!
Lastly, here’s the number one advice we offer to parents, but it’s the hardest to do.
Ignore the behavior. We know, easier said than done, right? Babies and toddlers thrive on attention. From the perspective of a baby who really cannot rationalize why food shouldn’t be on the floor, the attention they receive whether positive or negative is seen as a reward. So they win! By ignoring the behavior you’re simply holding your breath, not making eye contact and not responding. In turn, you may experience what is known as a behavior burst where the throwing may escalate, but eventually this wears off and your baby will realize “hey…I guess this isn’t fun anymore”.
Even with all these tips and tricks, a certain amount of mess on the floor is unavoidable! To keep things manageable, cover the surface under baby’s highchair with a floor protector (check out our favourites here!)
There you have it, some of our tried and true tips to help you nip food throwing in the bud. Whatever happens, just know, you’re doing a great job. We want you to know that.