How Can I Teach My Child Not to Throw Food?

How to stop the food fights!

How do I stop my preschooler from throwing food?
Got a preschooler who likes to make a mess at mealtimes? How to stop kids from throwing food.. Allen Donikowski

Question: How can I teach my child not to throw food?

My 3-year-old daughter has been making our mealtimes miserable. Any time she comes across a food that she doesn't like, she throws it on the floor. Our dog is happy with all the scraps, but I'm worried that she isn't eating enough, not to mention I feel like I need to teach her that this is not a good behavior. How can I get her to stop?

Answer: Yet another entry in the "things they don't tell you before you become a parent" book.

Mealtimes will never, ever be the same. Ever. Whether you are dealing with a picky eater, a non-eater, a child with poor manners, or a number of other scenarios that encompasses the whole "eating with kids" category, trying to get tasty, nutritious food into your child (and yourself) while sitting around a dinner table is not the easiest task in the world to accomplish.

When it gets especially difficult is when a child decides to take the food that is on her high chair tray or plate that is in front of her and throw it. Not only is it messy and wasteful, it sets up a bad precedent for future mealtimes. So how to stop it? There are a few different strategies you can employ to help discourage your little one from continuing to take the food flinging route:

  • Is it possible she isn't hungry? Think back to what your child has eaten all day, including the last time she ate. Is she full? A full child sitting at a dinner table can sometimes turn into a bored child, hence the edible projectiles.
  • If you think your child is still hungry and is just acting out, attempt to feed him yourself. That way you'll get a good feel on whether or not your little one still needs to eat.
  • Make sure she has the language she needs to say she is full or doesn't want any more or doesn't like something. If your child can't communicate those things to you, it is possible that she is getting frustrated because she doesn't know how to say what she needs to say.
  • Designate a "no-thank-you" area on the plate or highchair tray. Teach your child to place what she doesn't like in this area, rather than throw it.
  • Offer less food on the plate. If there is a lot of food in front of your child, it can be overwhelming. Give your child food in small bunches.
  • Be sure to praise your child when she doesn't throw food at mealtimes. Consider implementing a reward system for days when she keeps all of her food on her plate or highchair tray.
  • Is your child still in a high chair or a booster seat? It might be time to move her to a "big girl" chair at the table with the rest of the family.

In terms of disciplining a child who keeps throwing food, you have a few options. Certainly say "no" right away in a stern voice. You can also:

  • Make your child help clean up the mess.
  • Take away all of the food that remains on the plate or high chair tray.
  • Explain that if she continues to throw food there will be no dessert or snack time.
  • Remove your child from her chair immediately, teaching cause and effect. If you think she is hungry, try sitting her down again in a few minutes.

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