Few things are more frustrating than slaving in the kitchen only for your baby to pick up what you gave them and throw it on the floor. 😉 Throwing food and becoming a bit more picky are typical developmental phases, so don’t worry. I’ve been providing feeding therapy and working with behavior therapists for almost ten years (ah!). I’ve been trained in how to handle behavior during feeding, to make sure typical picky eating and throwing food doesn’t turn into a “bigger thing.”
This post is a bit more focused on handling throwing food as a result of picky eating. I will dive deeper into picky eating itself in another post, but these tips can apply to both! The biggest take away is to not give your child too much (or any) attention for refusing food or throwing food. Any form of attention, positive or negative, is still reinforcement; which means the throwing will continue. Instead, we want to do our best to REDIRECT as much as possible and give positive reinforcement for GOOD mealtime behavior.
Make sure they are hungry. Try to keep your child on a good eating schedule without overloading the snacks. This way when they sit down for a meal, they are actually hungry and more motivated to get right into eating.
Stop the throwing before if starts. If you know your baby starts to throw food when he/she is done eating, look for those signals that they are slowing down and give them the opportunity to be all done before they need to tell you by dumping their plate onto the floor. Stay engaged with them! Eating and chatting with them is a good natural way to do this! I taught Luca to hand me his cup and plate while I say “Thank you!!” He loves the positive praise, and now he will hold up his plate and wait to give it to me, because he knows he’s going to get that positive reinforcement (instead of throwing it on the floor and getting completely ignored).
Set them up for success. If they don’t like what you gave them, don’t get offended. You might love it (it’s pasta! how can you not like this!?), but for whatever reason they just might not be into it. I always recommend giving your child something you know they like at meal times. Ideally, I suggest giving a few options (I love the plates with 3 sections), two of which you know they like and then maybe the third is something new or not as preferred. If they only eat the preferred food (and they just want more of that) it’s ok. You can encourage them to try what’s new, but keep the pressure to a minimum. Sometimes it takes up to 10 exposures before a child tolerates a new food. The key is keeping the stress and pressure low.
Stay Calm! If food gets thrown onto the floor, try not react! It know it’s hard, but once it turns into “a thing,” it’s much harder to break. Instead either try to ignore it, or if your child is a bit older you can use a phrase like “we keep our food on the tray.” Depending on your child, you might be able to pick up the food and put it back on their tray after a few minutes (without bringing any attention to it). Use a splash mat like this one!. Often times with Luca he might initially throw a food because he prefers to start with something else or it’s new. However, part-way through his meal or once his preferred food is gone, he will move onto what was initially not as preferred.
If the throwing continues, then I usually take away his plate (still not saying anything or giving attention), and then I put maybe one or two pieces of his food right on the tray. If he eats it, awesome- I keep doing that. If not then, meal time is over and we will try again later! The reason I don’t automatically say “ok that means we are all done,” is because I don’t want him to learn that throwing food is a way to get out of eating.
Don’t become a short-order cook. Meaning, if your baby starts throwing the broccoli, don’t jump up and make them something else to replace it. They should have other food on their plate that they like, and you can offer more of that when it’s gone. We don’t want them to learn that other “better” options will magically appear on demand with a good chuck of food onto the floor as a signal. 🙂
Remember, throwing food is quite fun. For babies they are like wait, what is this gravity you speak of? Try to redirect! Sign a song they like, ask them to show your the body parts they know, talk about the food they (or both of you) are eating. The second you react to the throwing in a big way (either laughing or scolding) it becomes a game you wish you never started playing (cue Jumanji).
At the end of the day, most babies throw food and go through a picky phase for one reason or another. It’s a phase that if not given much attention, will pass! And as always, meal time should be fun and STRESS FREE! Much easier said than done for some families (I know from my job). Find the positives and focus on those. 🙂