If your baby or toddler keeps shoving food into their mouth, here are some top strategies you can try to become their speed bump and help them to slow down.
Does your adorable little one constantly turn into a competitive eater during mealtimes? Yup! That was my son for the longest time. It drove me nuts and super anxious seeing him constantly shoving food into his tiny mouth. It’s a miracle he never choked!
While it’s a phase that they normally go through during this self-feeding journey, it may last longer for some little ones compared to others. And no matter the duration, it can feel like an eternity for the parents watching nervously.
Here are some things you can try to help your child to slow down
Serve less food
Seeing a lot of food on the plate can be quite overwhelming, especially for babies. Some may react by playing, throwing, or ignoring the food all together. Others might start shoving everything in sight. If any of these behaviors have become a common sighting during mealtimes,then try serving less to start and see if they slow down their pace.
Always follow your child’s lead, offering more if they continue to show interest in eating.
Serve more food
Now I’ve just confused you. I know this is the complete opposite of what I just suggested, but here’s the thing. Every child is different. I learned that serving more food, which seems so counterintuitive, works really well with my child! Although there are days when it doesn’t. But that’s pretty typical. You just never know with toddlers , right?
I started noticing that he was shoving food in as fast as he could so that he could get to the next portion. How did I know? During every mealtime, he’d shove everything on the plate and scream “more” with his overstuffed mouth. It was as if he was worried that the food will run out.
If this sounds like your child, try serving more at a time. Family-style meals will work especially well here. Place all the food at the center of the table and allow everyone to help themselves. Seeing abundance rather than scarcity can help them to relax and enjoy their meal at a slower pace.
Some things to Keep In Mind:
- Did you notice the oranges on the right? If you’re serving something sweet at the end of the meal (fruits, desserts, etc.), try serving it WITH the meal. If you have a hearty eater, they might be eating fast to get to the “prized” sweets. That was C also. OR your child might not eat much during mealtimes to save room for them. Therefore, put the sweets on a level playing field with the rest of the meal. It will make them less appealing. I promise.
- Isn’t that too much food? Fully allow your child to be in control of how much to eat. What might look to you like an insane amount of food for your child might not be so much to them. Or perhaps it was and they ate too much. And they’ll learn from their mistakes. They will experience for themselves what it feels like to be overly full and may respond differently next time. Or the next... They will make mistakes. And out of these mistakes will come their wisdom.
- What to do with leftovers? Either you can eat them or can save for the next meal if untouched
- What if they only eat one thing and ask for more? The most important thing you can do is to stay calm and relaxed. Never engage in activities that can actually prolong picky eating, which includes negotiating, bargaining, bribing, pressuring, rewarding, and restricting. Instead, listen to your child. If that one food is all that they want, then you can certainly give more. Just don’t offer something that wasn’t on the plate initially.
While it might seem wasteful, your child got to see, smell (and perhaps touch or spit out) all the different foods. And that’s powerful! Don’t believe me? Check out this post – Repeated Exposures to Foods.
How can you gently encourage them to try the food that’s getting no love, particularly vegetables? Click here for my top tips.
Help them to learn to take bites
Because I was so anxious, I constantly found myself cutting food into smaller pieces and taking away his plate to encourage him to chew before handing it back to him. I talk about serving smaller pieces of food when pincer grasp develops in this blog post. But of course, bite-sized pieces made it easier for my eager eater to pop them into his mouth one after another.
So if you’re finding yourself in the same boat as I was, it’s time to give them plenty of opportunities to learn to take bites.
If interested in seeing more of my son's meals, head on over to my Instagram page - @kidfriendly.meals. I shared his meals since day 1 of starting our baby led weaning journey.
For us, these foods helped a great deal. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t possibly stuff it all into his mouth. Yes, he got super frustrated at first. And Yes, the mess was UNREAL (that stuffed shell? the filling had zero chance of staying intact), BUT he slowly started getting the concept of taking small bites & tearing food into smaller pieces with his hands
I especially loved rice cakes and toasts - easy to prepare and you can get super creative with the toppings, yogurt (mixed with seeds, chopped veggies, fruits, etc.), nut butters, hummus, mashed beans, pesto, etc.
I cut the rice cakes into ¼ths to start, then halves, and then eventually started serving them whole. For the toasts, I found that he was fully capable of shoving ½ a slice of bread so I just offered whole from the beginning. Not pictured, quesadillas would be a good option too!
Offer utensils or toothpicks
Using these will means they’ll need to use their fine motor skills, which will help slow down their pace. They may just play with them, which is fine too. I like to think of it as exploring. My toddler is very proficient with his utensils now (these are our favorites - affiliate link), but he definitely went through the oh so fun phase of playing, throwing, using it to scratch his face, hair (not the hair!), feet…you get the picture.
Our children are processing and learning with EACH and EVERY exposure. So if you’re wondering when your child will start to eat with their utensils, KEEP OFFERING, BE PATIENT, and then be prepared to be amazed one day.
Be a role model
Don’t underestimate the profound effect of them seeing you taking sips of water, pausing, chewing, etc.
Take the focus away from food
Engage them in conversations. Mealtimes aren’t just for eating. Have fun and enjoy each other’s company!
Take away any distractions
Such as screentime, toys, etc. This can encourage mindless eating.
Don’t be afraid to seek professional help
If mouth stuffing continues after having tried just about everything under the sun, this may be a sign that there are some other underlying sensory or motor difficulties that needs special attention.
Now tell me! Does your child like to shove food? If so, what strategies have you tried to help slow down their pace? Have you tried any of the ones mentioned here?