Food Jags: What Are They and How to Avoid Them.
Is your child going through a phase where they only one want to eat one or two particular foods prepared in the same particular way? It might be yoghurt or spaghetti bolognese, even bananas or vegemite sandwiches. But whatever it is they will want to eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Every day.
This is known as a food jag.
Picky eaters can easily narrow down their range of foods to just a few favourites. It can be comforting to know that if they refuse their dinner there will be something they do want to eat but at the same time you might be concerned their diet is not varied enough or they may be lacking in particular nutrients e.g. zinc, iron, calcium.
Food jags are common and not only experienced by children. Adults can experience them too. Have you bought a new cereal or type of bread and it eaten it every day for a month? Is that it? Have you then had enough of it and are now browsing the supermarket aisles for something different. If an adult ‘burns out’ on a food they are typically ready to eat it again after 2 weeks but with children they often don’t want it again. For a very long time.
We sometimes hear stories of children loving our recipes so much that that’s all they want to eat. It’s flattering to hear our food is a success but it also raises alarm bells.
Reasons why kids experience food jags
- Poor oral motor development so they aren’t able to properly eat or chew the alternative foods being offered
- Sensory issues relating to the taste, touch, smell of foods may result in food aversions
- They aren’t offered new foods often enough or are reluctant to try new foods
- They have developed negative associations with that food e.g. they had a tummy bug when they first tried tomatoes
- Meal times are stressful for the child and the favourite food is comforting to them.
Problems with food jags
- Lack of variety and poor nutrition if a child’s diet is too limited
- Fussy eating & food refusal can become the new routine
- Risk of burnout on the favourite foods leaving them with an even more limited diet
- Mealtime stress and anxiety for both the children and parents or carers.
How to avoid food jags
- Don’t offer the same food prepared in the same way over 2 consecutive days
- Offer a variety of foods preapared in a variety of ways
- Encourage your children to help with food prepartion and cooking
- Offer new foods in a fun, relaxed way alongside foods you know they like and enjoy e.g. as part of their tasting plate
- Introduce a meal time ritual and make meal times relaxed and comfortable.
How to overcome a food jag
It can be unrealistic to completely remove their preferred food and expect them to eat an entire meal of non-preferred or new foods. Going slowly and making slight changes to their favourite or preferred food over a series of small steps helps children to become more accepting of new foods. The changes should be small enough that the child will still eat the food but large enough for them to notice it. And, if they are involved in making the changes the process will be much easier and often more successful. Enlisting the help of a health professional trained in treating food jags will be invaluable to your success. Continuing to offer their preferred foods along side new foods helps to take the pressure off everyone involved.
Patience and persistence
It takes a lot of patience and persistence to get back on track with eating and but slow and steady wins the race. Set small, realistic and achievable goals that will help make the changes sustainable long term.
Don’t forget to read our disclaimer. If you have any specific questions or concerns regarding the nutritional adequacy of your child’s diet or their health and wellbeing please consult a medical practitioner or an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) for individualised advice.
If you suspect your child has a medical concern that is affecting their appetite or influencing food refusal, or they are consuming a limited diet due to food jags we recommend you consult your medical practitioner for assessment and referral to an appropriate health care provider e.g. an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD), Speech pathologist, Occupational Therapist, Physiotherapist or Psychologist.
This article was featured in our Autumn/Back To School issue of our Magazine. To find out more about our popular magazines or to purchase online see the links below:
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