Mealtime Milestones: The Developmental Milestones of Throwing Food

With the substantive change from an all-liquid diet to one including solid foods comes the potential for your child's food to start flying. From the day you add solid food to your baby's mealtime mix, you can expect your child to throw it. Granted, not all babies and toddlers throw their food, but the opportunity and likelihood are definitely there. And while many a parent finds the first noodle or spoonful of pudding gone astray to be cute and even picture worthy, the older kids get, the more likely it is that their far-flung ideas become a source of parental annoyance and embarrassment. It's messy, and with very few exceptions we can think of (a friendly game of egg toss or a flying shrimp at the hibachi restaurant where food is not only prepared at the table but tossed into your mouth come to mind), it does not fall into the realm of social acceptability. Given that food-throwing occurs for many reasons, we decided to take a step out of the ring and help you take into account why children throw food in the first place, and how you can teach them to keep both themselves and their food well grounded.

The Developmental Milestones of Throwing Food:

6 Months: Random Act
At this age, babies are still learning to control and coordinate their movements and lack the fine motor skills of food handling that allow for precise pickup and delivery to one's mouth. While the startle (Moro) reflex that was responsible in past months for sending your baby's arms flailing is most likely to have subsided, babies at this age are nevertheless still prone to a bit of uncoordinated motion -- whether it's with food in fist or not.

9 to 12 Months: Reality Check
By repeatedly giving her food the heave-ho, your child is deliberately testing 2 important principles: object permanence and gravity. This is the age of peek-a-boo -- a game that relies on the concept of now-you-see-it, now-you-don't. Figuring out what happens to objects once they disappear and learning to anticipate their reappearance are big cognitive leaps, but when these principles are applied to food, the upshot is the not-so-charming problem of food over the edge of the high chair.

15 Months: Taking Charge
Fifteen-month-olds develop the ability to stack 2 items, want to feed themselves, and typically become more and more frustrated as their intentions exceed their abilities. As your child's attempts at self-feeding increase, so does the possibility that what's supposed to go into her mouth will fall short. Fortunately, this is also the age when kids learn to listen briefly and begin to follow simple commands such as "don't throw your food" and "put that down."

18 Months: Throwing With Intent
Simply put, toddlers throw because they can. At this age, your child is capable of throwing intentionally, and chances are her food (and your floor) will not be spared. This is a good time to limit your outward displays of amusement and encourage a more socially acceptable (i.e., subdued) approach to handling one's food.

2 Years: Overhand and Overboard
Two-year-olds are ready, willing, and able to throw overhand, and are likely to have declared a distinct preference for using one hand over the other when tossing both balls and their food alike. Food throwing at this age can definitely get out of hand because it tends to be a matter of defiance and/or disinterest. We suggest taking food-throwing at this age as a cue that your child isn't hungry.

Excerpted from the new edition of "Food Fights: Winning the Nutritional Challenges of Parenthood Armed With Insight, Humor and a Bottle of Ketchup" (American Academy of Pediatrics, March 2012) by Laura A. Jana, MD, FAAP and Jennifer Shu, MD, FAAP. For more information about Food Fights, please visit at, the official American Academy of Pediatrics web site for parents.