As a mom, I completely understand how frustrating it can be to watch the healthy food you made being treated like a plaything instead of going into your child's belly. But as a dietitian, I also know there are a few factors to consider that may help ease the frustration and prevent mealtime from turning into a battleground.
First, remember that a child’s life is all about learning – to talk, walk, be polite, and eat different kinds of food. Sure, you've seen carrots, applesauce, and mashed potatoes for years, but these are just a few of the fascinating new objects in your child's life.
Kids learn through touch and play, and learning about food is no different. A little bit of squishing and squeezing and mixing and mashing, for example, teaches your child about the texture of different foods.
That said, kids also tend to play with food they don't want to eat. Your child might play with her food because she doesn't like it, is afraid to try it, or is just plain not hungry.
Exposing kids to new foods is how they learn to like new foods, and disliking or being afraid of them is natural. But it's important to continue offering new foods, even those your child has refused in the past. Her tastes and willingness to try different foods are continually changing. So keep offering the same food multiple times, but try different shapes, sizes, and cooking methods – boiled, roasted, baked, or raw.
In addition, when you offer new foods (or foods your child has not liked in the past), include them as part of a meal you know she likes. This helps make sure she eats something at the meal even if she isn't quite ready to eat much of the new food yet.
Mealtimes are also when children learn about table manners. If your child starts throwing food or using her dinner to create modern art on your wall, you may want to take the food away. Not only will it protect your kitchen and save you from having another mess to clean up, but it also lets her know that behaving that way causes food to go away.
If she is truly done eating, you're simply demonstrating a simple rule about not throwing food. And if she's still hungry, eventually she'll realize that she needs to eat the food in front of her – not throw it and make a mess of it – or she'll lose it.
Bottom line: Allow a little wiggle room for food exploration, but make sure you're encouraging appropriate behavior in the future