Is your child’s feeding stuck in a rut? Food jags: why they occur and how to avoid them

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Think about your child’s food preferences. Do they have a food they used to eat quite often, but all of the sudden, they’ve stopped eating that food? Did they eat this food for every meal and then turn right around and get sick of that food? Do you feel confused as to why they won’t eat that food anymore? If so, you know about food jags. Food jags are common in young children, especially those that have a limited food repertoire.

A food jag occurs when a given food is eaten so frequently, that a child gets sick of that food and refuses it in the short, or long term. Think about eating the same leftovers for dinner 3 or 4 or 5 nights in a row, you would get sick of that food, right?

Food jags are common in toddlers and young children. As children may become more selective around 1-2 years of age (which is developmentally normal) and are getting their nutrition from solid foods, we want them to eat. Many times, we provide them with the same food because we know they will eat that food.

So how do we avoid food jags, or at least try to prevent them?

  1. Focus on variety. Make a list of foods your child eats on a regular basis. If you can, separate these by food group. Using this food list, try not to offer a food on two consecutive days (a good rule of thumb is to offer the same food only every three days). Does your child only eat fish sticks and chicken nuggets? Offer the chicken nuggets for dinner on Monday and the fish sticks on Tuesday. Will your child eat two different flavors of yogurt? Offer vanilla on Monday and lemon on Tuesday. If your child is more selective and does not have a wide enough list of foods to only offer a given food every 3 days, see if you can change up their current preferred food. Can you change the shape (cutting a sandwich in a different way) or the color (adding more strawberries to a smoothie so the color is a darker red)? Even though these changes may feel small, they are helping your child to accept a greater variety.

  2. Remember that if at first your child refuses a food, keep offering. Research shows that it may take 20 (or more!) times of offering a new food before your child accepts that food. If at first you offer a food and your child doesn’t go for it, have no fear: keep offering that given food. That doesn’t mean that you offer that food every day, but every so often (think about how often the rest of the family eats that food). When parents seem to feel defeated with their child eating new foods, I like to tell the story of my older daughter and her journey with salmon. As an infant, she loved salmon, and we ate it often - it’s a food I enjoy and its nutritional profile is outstanding! Around 1.5 years of age, she stopped eating salmon. She might occasionally touch it, but had no desire to consume it. We kept offering it to her: about 2-3 times per month (whenever we were making salmon for ourselves) she was provided with salmon. She was always given something else with the salmon (that we knew she liked). For almost 2 years, she did not touch salmon. Fast forward those two years, and now she eats salmon, not every time we offer it, but a majority of the time. We have also been experimenting with new seasonings and marinades, which has helped as well.

  3. Offer new flavors and textures. Don’t get pigeon-holed into only providing your child only with the food they like. Offer them foods with new flavors and textures, without the expectation that they will try these foods right off the bat. Continuous exposure is important in getting children to try new foods (as illustrated by our salmon journey above). Experiment with new flavor profiles. Do you have a child that gravitates toward sweet foods? Try offering veggies with a sweeter marinade: roast carrots and marinade in a sauce of honey, salt, oil and lime. Or maybe your child gravitates toward a nutty, savory flavor? Create a nutty dip with peanut butter and plain yogurt. Don’t be afraid to step out of the box and try something new. Changing up the texture can also be beneficial. Does your child like grilled cheese? Serve un-toasted bread with a slice of cheese. Do they like frozen chicken nuggets? Fry them one day and bake them the next. This change in texture can help to expand their repertoire.

  4. Continue to follow the division of responsibility. Remember, you are responsible for the what, when and where of feeding. You control what you are offering, while your child decides how much and if they want to eat the given foods provided. When you continue to follow this approach, you are creating a menu, which can avoid your child eating the same thing every day (because you are not offering that food every day).

Have you tried any of these approaches? If you’re feeling frustrated, and not getting anywhere, contact me to see if we should work together to overcome your feeding challenges.