Toddler Holding Food In Mouth? 5 Tips To Stop Food Pocketing

Is your toddler holding food in their mouth at meal time, instead of swallowing it? This frustrating trait is known as food pocketing and is more common than you may think. Are you wondering why on earth your toddler is holding food in their mouth and how to get them to stop doing it? Are you worried that your toddler isn’t “normal”, or that they aren’t getting enough nutrients? 

Aside from the annoying meal-time battle, food pocketing comes with a serious risk of choking, so it’s time to sort out this pocketed food once and for all.

My Toddler Life are a team of health, nutrition and parenting experts who have been there, done that. We understand that you want the why, the what, the how – but most importantly you want REALISTIC and simple ways to help your toddler get that food into their tummy.

We get it – we’ve reached the point of wanting to scream “JUST SWALLOW!!” with our little ones – but these tips below really helped us get through to the other side.

So go on, jump in! 

Table of Contents

Why Is My Toddler Holding Food In Their Mouth?

toddler holding food in mouth, looking sad

From both our studied knowledge and our experience as parents, these are the most common issues and reasons (inc. medical conditions) we have seen for your toddler to be pocketing their food. As always, if you are concerned about your toddler, please book in to see a health professional – especially if some of these more serious possible causes show up. 

Too Much Food

One of the simplest and most common reasons for toddlers holding food in their mouths is that they have simply put way too much in there. Have you ever put a lot of food in your mouth (way too much food!) to the point that its hard to chew and even harder to swallow? Yep? Me too….hello burgers! 

You Have A Picky Eater

Who doesn’t have a picky eater toddler at some stage? The ultimate in meal-time battles, your little picky eater may simply be utilizing a new technique to avoid actually eating their veggies. 

Behavioral Issues

When and if your toddler moves part simple toddler behaviour and into behavioural issue territory, one of the side effects is issue with meal time. Being able to say no to food, or to swallowing it, is one of the few areas in your toddlers life they have any control over. It makes them feel powerful and secure having control over something. 

Trouble Swallowing

If your toddler is having trouble swallowing the food, and it’s not a form of picky eating / attention seeking, there could be a swallowing disorder or some form of oral sensitivity involved. If your toddler appears to be physically unable to swallow the food, this calls for pretty urgent medical attention. Get to your GP stat. 

Sensory Issues

You may be aware already, or you may not be – but your toddler may be suffering from what’s known as sensory processing disorder or may have some sensory processing issues. Sensory processing disorder is essentially an issue with the way your young child processes any kind of stimulation to their senses – i.e bright lights, loud sounds, different textures of food and tastes.

A different texture or taste to what your toddler is used to can really upset a child with sensory issues. If you think your child is suffering from this, or anything like this, you will be best to book in to see a pediatric occupational therapist.

Feeding Disorder

Feeding disorders are another weird and wonderful part of this life we live – a feeding disorder would cause your toddler to have trouble chewing, sucking and swallowing (anything to do with the physical act of eating). This can definately lead to your toddler holding food in their mouth and not swallowing.

If you think your child is suffering from this, or anything like this, your next steps should be to book in to see a speech-language pathologist or a speech therapist. 

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease

Otherwise known as GERD, or simply acid reflux – gastroesophagal reflux is a long term condition causing reflux in both children and adults. If your toddler is suffering from GERD, eating certain foods can cause them pain so keep an eye out for wincing and clutching at their stomach post eating. Hey, if eating caused me pain, i’d probably stop swallowing my food too. 

How To Stop My Toddler From Holding Food In Their Mouth

toddler hiding face

Our team have combined a short list of 6 tips to stop your toddler holding food in their mouth. These are all pretty simple and accessible for all families.

  1. Try serving your toddler finger foods, so that they can pick up the food and take as small a bite as they like. Sometimes, with spoons – toddlers feel like they have to fill the whole spoon with food and eat the whole thing in one go – which can cause mouth stuffing, and difficulty swallowing 
  2. Soft food could also be a winner – it feels nice and soft and smooth going in and is super easy to swallow – plus it’s super easy to make healthy foods soft (hello mash!). Get the rest of the family joining in and eating mash too, so that your toddler feels “normal”.
  3. Instead of getting caught up in having your toddler trying new foods or different foods all the time – focus on their favorite foods. If your toddler likes the food they are eating they are much, much more likely to swallow! 
  4. Small pieces = small bites and easier to swallow. Toddlers prefer a small piece of food – they are easier to pick up with fingers or cutlery (if their fine motor skills and pincer grasp has progressed that far) and are easier to chew and swallow too.
  5. Revert back to baby foods if need be. Puree is still food and swallowing puree is still getting those important nutrients into your toddlers tummy. Solid foods and crunchy food may just be a bit much for your toddler at this stage, and there ain’t nothin wrong with that!
  6. Encourage your toddler to not only have smaller mouthfuls, but to take a sip of water after each. This can help the food to swallow down the throat more easily, and keep your child’s mouth more moist for ease of eating the next mouthful

Is It Normal For Kids To Hold Food In Their Mouth?

What is normal when it comes to toddlers? They are all so different from one another that it is hard to give a definitive answer to this question. 

‘Food pocketing’ or holding food in their mouth, is actually quite a normal part of toddler behaviour. If it is part of picky eating, defiance or acting out that is. If you notice your toddler struggling to chew, swallow, or in pain after eating – they may be suffering one of the conditions we mentioned above and you should book them in to their pediatrician ASAP.

What Is Food Pocketing? 

Food Pocketing is health-care industry speak for holding when your toddler holds food in their mouth for a long period of time, with no intention of swallowing. While a pretty normal toddler behavior, it can also be a sign of something more serious. Keep an eye on your toddler – you’ll know when something is up and it’s time for a doctors visit. 

Why Trust My Toddler Life

Toddler boy climbing pikler triangle

My Toddler Life is run by mama’s, for mama’s. All information provided on our site is thoroughly researched and takes in to consideration our lived experiences and the opinions of industry professionals.

How are we different from other sites doing the same thing? We have fun while doing it (often with a glass of wine in hand) and don’t take ourselves too seriously! We may use affiliate links in this post – rest assured, these do not cost you, our dear readers, any additional money to use – phew!


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