5 Ways to Help Your Toddler Stop Throwing Food

Does your toddler treat your floor, walls, and even ceiling as the perfect spots for target practice? If so, Mighty Mommy has 5 expert tips on teaching your toddler to stop throwing food during mealtimes,

Cheryl Butler
5-minute read
Episode #193


The grandparents are joining you and your family for dinner tonight and everyone is really looking forward to the delicious pot roast they’ve smelled cooking all day long. Everyone finally gathers at the table and before the first roll can be passed, your 18-month-old decides it would be much more fun to hurl his potatoes at Grandma’s head. His aim is pretty good and he not only hits her, the gravy that was once clinging to the potatoes is now spattered on your 4-year-old’s brand new dress. Sigh, here we go again.

Toddlers may not say a lot, but they sure do know a lot, and one thing most have in common is testing the waters! Food throwing is not something they decide to do just to get you aggravated or to make a mess. No, they have much smarter reasoning—they want to see how you will react after it is done. Keep in mind that when they test you with any annoying behavior, such as throwing food or throwing a tantrum, you need to teach them that there are limits and consequences for these actions and then follow through on your words.

If you are tired of your toddler turning mealtime into a food throwing Olympic event, you are definitely not alone. This veteran Mighty Mommy has been there and done that 8 times over. So here are the 5 things I’ve learned along the way that can help your child keep food on their plate, rather than on your ceiling:

Tip #1: Limit the Food on Your Toddler’s Plate

When food throwing becomes a definite pattern at mealtimes, take a good look at how much food you are placing in front of your child. Is he faced with a giant pile of stuff that’s just begging to be tossed? If so, place just a few bites on her plate and encourage her to eat by sitting down next to her and modeling how you eat. Be simple and direct. You might say “Mommy loves her chicken,” then place a piece on your fork, eat it and smile and say “Yummy.” See if your child will imitate you. This may take several or more tries, but eventually kids get curious and want to parrot what they parents do.

Tip #2: Is Your Child Bored or Hungry?

I noticed a pattern with my children who were the food throwers in our family—they weren’t hungry. Because we have a large family, it was hard to get the toddlers to want to eat at our regular family dinnertime. The food throwing became a means of entertainment because they just had no desire to eat. So to counteract that, I started feeding my toddler-aged kids an hour after our family dinner and this cut food throwing down by nearly 75%! 

Tip #3: Redirect the Throw

Sometimes there was absolutely no rhyme or reason as to what food my kids would throw. Most times it was a vegetable or something they were not interested in, but other times it was one of their favorites like macaroni and cheese. So I figured out a way to alter the trajectory. I put two empty plastic bowls on the high chair (or at the table) and when I saw my son pick up an item that I knew he was going to hurl, I tried to redirect the throw by showing him the empty bowls and saying “Connor, you don’t need to throw the food, put it in the bowl instead.” This took a few meals and my modeling it to teach him, but having two empty bowls gave him a choice as to which one he was going to put his unwanted food in, and within a couple of weeks, it worked like a charm. (A few of times he did throw the bowls on the floor, and then I simply removed him from the highchair or table and told him that mealtime was now all done.)

Tip #4: Distract Your Child’s Attention

Try letting your child play with a spoon or child-appropriate fork when they are eating a meal. Learning to use cutlery certainly has its own challenges, but a new experience like learning to lift some yogurt or pasta from plate to mouth can temporarily take your little darling’s mind off of throwing the food and shift his attention to doing something different with it—feeding it to himself by means other than fingers. 

Kids love to model what they see and when they see the rest of the family using silverware, they are interested in giving it a try themselves. If you have older children, let them help your younger child learn the ropes of eating, not throwing. It helps build your older child’s self esteem because you are counting on them to be a role model, and your younger child now has one more reason to look up to his older brother or sister.  

Tip #5: End the Meal if Food Throwing Continues

If you’ve tried any of the suggestions above and the food throwing continues, you need to take a tougher stance. When your gentle reminder that mealtime is for eating, not playing, goes unheeded, it’s time to end the meal. Clear your child’s place and remove him from the high chair or table. You can lovingly but firmly say “We eat our food, we don’t throw it. You must not be hungry right now so we’ll wait until dinner to try again.” 

Only do this, however, if you plan on being consistent. Don’t remove her from the table and then bargain with her that if she doesn’t throw the food, she can sit back down again. You are not going to starve her or cause physiological damage by doing this a few times until she gets the message. Kids are much smarter than we give them credit for. Once they see that you mean business, they will eventually stop the bad behavior (until they find something else to test you with) and you’ll be enjoying meals together in no time.

A child throwing food is one of the most normal yet frustrating behaviors that we parents face, especially when we dine out at a restaurant or when it continues for what seems like an eternity. Stay tuned in to your child when this happens. It could be as simple as him just not being hungry, or more likely she’s feeling her oats, not eating them. Try the tips above for a few weeks and remember to stay consistent and don’t let them see you get frustrated. This too shall pass, and someday you’ll be sharing these strategies with other parents who will be facing the same messy situation!

If you have a question or have a suggestion for a future Mighty Mommy episode, please e-mail me at mommy@quickanddirtytips.com.   

Check out the Mighty Mommy Facebook page where I share lots of quick parenting tips all week long.  You can also follow me on Twitter @MightyMommy or join Mighty Mommy on Pinterest.com where you can visit all of my family-friendly boards.

Enjoy those family meal times with your toddler and as always—Happy Parenting!


All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Cheryl Butler Project Parenthood

Cheryl L. Butler was the host of the Mighty Mommy podcast for nine years from 2012 to 2021. She is the mother of eight children. Her experiences with infertility, adoption, seven pregnancies, and raising children with developmental delays have helped her become a resource on the joys and challenges of parenting. You can reach her by email.