Is playing with food okay?

My 11-month-old son has been eagerly eating table food for a couple of months. Recently, he has started grabbing handfuls of food and hiding them under his tray, behind his back, between his legs, and beside him in the highchair. When I catch him, he just laughs. He makes a REAL mess and doesn't really eat much, even though he seems eager to eat beforehand. What's going on?

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Sue Gilbert

Sue Gilbert works as a consulting nutritionist. For many years she worked with Earth's Best Organic Baby Food, integrating nutrition and... Read more

I have to tell you ... I just broke out laughing when I read your note, and it still puts a smile on my face. I can just picture the impish and pleased look your son must have with his little joke. You are lucky to have a son who approaches food and eating with such joy and gusto, and your son is lucky to have a parent who shows such patience and restraint. It sounds like you have a very positive feeding relationship with your son.

I think what is going on is twofold: First, your son's growth rate is slowing down now that he is almost one, and so his appetite may be slacking off a bit. Consequently he is not so hungry at meal time, doesn't eat as much, thus allowing him time to play more with his food. Second, he is older and able to 'play' and 'tease' and appreciate being able to make you react.

What I suggest you do to cut down on the mess, is don't present him with so much food at one time. Sometimes when babies have too much food in front of them, they just play with it. Try doling it out a little at a time and see if that helps. A matter of fact "NO" may also help if the problem continues. It lets him know that this behavior doesn't please you and is unacceptable. It is a way of you setting limits on disruptive mealtime behavior.

The closer you get to toddlerhood the more you will encounter situations where your toddler will test you. There will continue to be a mess, but you will be able to distinguish between those that are unavoidable and those created to provoke.

Don't put up with unacceptable behavior simply in hopes he will eat a few more bites. As soon as he seems like he is done eating, get him down from the highchair.

Good luck. You are headed into the fun and challenging years of feeding a toddler!

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