Why Babies Throw Food—and What to Do About It
Squishing mushy banana bits between their chunky fingers and smearing sweet potato across their highchair trays are part of babies' normal, healthy food exploration. But it doesn’t change the fact that mealtime messes can stir up stress! Whether cleaning chicken bits off the floor or finding dried remnants of last week’s dinner in impossible places, food throwing might be fun and games for your babe, but not for you. Early eaters aged 6 to 7 months aren’t likely to be food launchers since they're just learning to grasp foods and other small objects. That means the sport of food throwing usually begins from around 8 to 12 months when they’re perfecting their grabbing skills and mastering good hand-eye coordination.
Learn more about handling the meal madness and lessen how often your baby tosses food around.
Why Babies Throw Food (and What to Do About It!)
We all know that a baby’s natural curiosity will cause them to throw food at some point, but it doesn’t make messes and food waste any easier. So why else do babies participate in these unorthodox highchair games? Here are some reasons and what you can do to help the food stay on their plate.
It’s fun to watch food splatter!
Babies learn cause and effect through hands-on experience, and milk spewing from a sippy cup spout after tossing it to the floor is a lesson learned. It might be no laughing matter for those cleaning up, but babies get to learn what they can do from the comfort of their highchairs.
What to do: Teach what things are appropriate to throw: When it’s not mealtime, engage in playtime with your baby so they can have fun throwing non-food items. Try playing by tossing balled-up socks into a laundry basket or soft toy balls into a big bucket. Remember, your little one may not throw well until around 18 months of age, but it’s never too early to start learning.
They want your attention.
Whether it’s soaring steamed carrots or dripping marinara sauce, these messes are prone to cause widening eyes or chuckles from observing family members. Your baby may enjoy stealing the attention of others and seeing a reaction.
What to do: Give your baby your focus at mealtimes by eating together! That way, you can watch for early cues your baby is getting ready to hurl cut-up meatballs or that they’re showing signs they’ve finished eating. (Here are some tips for getting your bub involved in family meals.)
They’re tired or bored.
A missed nap can zap your little one’s energy and make feeding time a little more of a challenge. Overtiredness can trigger tears or playfulness, resulting in catapulting corn from highchair to floor. Throwing food also happens when kids are bored, so it may be time to add variety or advance the textures of meals. Depending on your tot, they may be ready for thicker, lumpier, or finger foods around 7 to 10 months of age.
What to do: Keep mealtime short! It could take just 10 to 15 minutes for a little one to eat what they need, however, every baby is different. Trust that your baby does a good job of following their internal hunger and fullness cues. Food throwing is a telltale sign they’ve eaten what they needed, so trust that your baby can follow their inner hunger and fullness cues. It can help to let them get down from their highchair when they’re done.
If you have furry friends in the home, your baby probably loves watching them gobble up the diced potatoes they’ve thrown down.
What to do: Create a pet-free eating environment (just for mealtimes!). It could help to place your pets in a safe spot away from the kitchen for mealtimes and invite them back in to help with clean-up!
There’s too much food or food they don’t want.
Your baby could be tossing food around because there’s just too much on their plate. Though they’re small, infants can get overwhelmed by the sight of too much food, so sticking to small portions can help increase the chances that they will eat versus throw.
What to do:
- Give age-appropriate foods and portions. Offer a tablespoon of each food on your baby’s tray or plate to start and feed them responsively. Responsive feeding means tuning into your child’s hunger and fullness cues. Pushing food away (or throwing it) could be your baby’s way of telling you they’re full!
- Reserve a special spot for unwanted food. More than likely, foods that paint the floor are the least desired. Save a dedicated place for foods your baby doesn’t want. It may take some time to teach them this, but you can start by using a small bowl, tiny cup, or the highchair tray cupholder.
More Ways to Stop Babies From Throwing Food
Invest in the right kitchen gear.
The right kitchen gear can be the difference between an involved post-meal mop-up and a quick clean-up:
- Consider highchairs that can come close to the table, so there is little room for food throwing.
- Splat mats can also make cleaning up more convenient with a couple of wipes or a simple toss into the washer.
- Babies may view their plate as a toy after a while and want to see the cause and effect of their plates hitting the floor, so choosing plates and bowls with suction cups is a must!
Help your baby communicate.
Often, throwing food is your baby’s way of signaling a message to you. That message might be “I'm done,” or “look at me, Mom!” Either way, teaching them sign language for mealtimes may help deter food throwing, maybe. Consider teaching your baby signs for “I’m hungry,” “I’m all done,” and “more, please!”
Praise non-food throwing behaviors.
If your baby has set their cup down, picked up their utensil, or even brought food to their mouths, praise them for these positive feeding behaviors, and it can reinforce that these are good to do at mealtimes.
How to Keep Calm When Your Baby’s Throwing Food
Babies are babies, and throwing food is a normal part of development. Having a food-flinging tot in the house is frustrating, but the best thing you can do is to stay calm and resist a big reaction. Staying calm may begin with taking a deep breath and remembering your little one is learning how to eat with the rest of the family, and you’re in charge of teaching healthy habits. You don’t have to immediately clean up food messes, which may also egg your little eater on. Doing your best not to get upset, laugh—or even smile—can help lessen the food throwing. You can redirect them to where food can go if they aren’t interested.
Come up with a statement you can firmly repeat to your infant so they can learn what they can do instead of food throwing. Here are a few messages to help you remain neutral and relaxed while taking the opportunity for a teachable moment:
- “No throwing food. You can put it in this red bowl if you don’t want it.”
- “We keep our food on our tray.”
- “We don’t throw food. Would you like more rice?”
More on Feeding Babies and Toddlers:
- How Much Water Do Babies and Toddlers Need?
- When Can Babies Use a Spoon and Fork?
- A Portion Size Guide for Babies
- How to Introduce a Cup
- Healthy Toddler Snacks
- The United States Department of Agriculture Infant Nutrition and Feeding, April 2019
- Learning to Make Things Happen: Infants' Observational Learning of Social and Physical Causal Events, Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, June 2017
- The Ellyn Satter Institute: Child Feeding Ages and Stages
- The Ellyn Satter Institute: How Long Should Kids Stay at the Table?
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Signs Your Child Is Hungry or Full
- The United States Department of Agriculture, Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020–2025
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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.