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Elizabeth Pantley
Parenting Expert

Is It Okay for My Toddler to Play With Her Food?

I’d rather keep meal time as neat as possible, but my partner lets my toddler mess around with her food. Who’s right?

Yes, it’s okay for your toddler to play with her food — but within reason. Toddlers are experiential learners, so resist the urge to interfere when your child pulls apart, smells or smashes a new food. That’s how they learn! As hard as it may be, it’s best not to comment at all. (Resist the urge to roll your eyes too!) Remember, it’s completely normal for kids to play with their food before trying it, and it may take a couple of tries before your child gets the food anywhere near her mouth. Letting her play around and experiment with it is the first step to acceptance.

If meal time turns into non-stop playtime, though, it’s time to set some limits. Most kids will start playing with (and tossing) their food when they’re done eating, so if your toddler suddenly starts slinging the oatmeal she was slurping up just a few minutes ago, it’s time to end the meal. Calmly remove the food, clean her up, take her away from the table and hand her some toys. Soon, she’ll get the idea that food is for eating and that playtime is for toys.

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