Have you ever noticed times when your child wants to eat the SAME foods every day, and for EVERY meal? They are pretty adamant about wanting nothing but their favorite.
Literally nothing else will do.
In fact, it’s a tantrum waiting to happen.
That’s what’s called a food jag!
In this post, we’re going to be talking about what exactly is a food jag and why we must not let our little ones fall into that cycle. Plus, you’ll find a few of my favorite tips to help your child get out of one.
What is a food jag?
This happens when a child decides to restrict their food intake to a few favorites
What in the world is a food jag?
Have you ever noticed times when your child wants to eat the same foods every day, and for every meal? They are pretty adamant about wanting nothing but their favorite foods.
During a food jag, they will generally refuse anything that is not part of their own internal approved list. They end up eating the same thing over and over again, ALL-THE-TIME!.
They will gravitate towards foods that are easier to eat and chew. Common offenders include chicken nuggets, pastas dishes, pizzas, hot dogs, deli meats, muffins, breads … to name a few,
You’ll also notice younger toddlers will also gravitate towards foods in their puree forms. Smoothies, soups or purees pouches all of a sudden become more requested.
Why Are Food Jags bad?
So why are food bags bad? Why do we want to avoid them?
Think about what happens to you, when you eat the same food over and over again. You eventually get sick of it and don’t want it for long periods of time. The same thing happens with your kid too. They ate that same food so often that they’re just done with it.
So if you ever noticed that your child used to eat xyz food so much when they were younger and then all of a sudden, they don’t want anything to do with it anymore … that’s the result of a food jag.
They’ve just overdone it with the food and now they need a break from it … and sometimes for very long time.
Now the danger is that if your little one is struggling with eating a variety of foods, the more foods they drop, the worse mealtimes become.
For example, if they’re only eating 10 foods, dropping any more is going to make it nerve wracking on you!
That’s why it’s important to have at least 30 different style of foods your child can eat. If they’re going to keep dropping foods as they get older, you want to have enough foods in there to combat their food jags.
I dive deeper into the strategy about how to use those 30 foods to your advantage while supporting your little one through a food jag here.
Why do Children go through Food Jags?
Food jags tend to happen most often when your little one is going through a cognitive leap.
Essentially, there are three cognitive leaps they will make in their little lives. The first is when
They are 2 to 3 years old. The second one when they are 5 to 7 years old. The last one is when they are 9 to 11 years old.
Wih each leap, they are more tired. They’re expanding and growing so much in their mind and brain that they are exhausted and overloaded. Think about times when you are burning the candle at both ends. You just want things to go smoothly and be easy.
Same with your child. They’re just overly tired. Their sensory systems are overloaded. They just don’t want anything that is hard. They don’t want anything that is hard to process. And they just seek easy.
That’s how you get a baby that goes from eating everything that you’ve offered them to a three years old who starts to refuse foods. To a 5 year old who is refusing to eat old favourites. To a teen who eats maybe 20 foods as part of their rotation.
If your child’s food jag is left unchecked, they will progressively drop foods, so we definitely don’t want them to food jack if we can help it.
Tips to avoid Food jags
Add variety early
The first tip is going to be an obvious one. Add as much variety of foods as you can.
Expose them to as many different styles of that same food too. For example, let’s use a tomato. You can offer cooked tomatoes, a tomatoes sauce, or raw tomatoes,
Another example are carrots. Whether it’s roasted carrots, raw carrots, boiled carrots, just add that variety early.
Never stop. Cut apples in different shapes or rotate form the hundreds of apple varieties.
My second tip is to rotate as much food as you can.
If you have enough different variety of foods, don’t offer your child the same food two days in a row. Even three if you can even push it that far.
Don’t let them eat the same thing over and over again, rotate your foods as much as you can. You will need to have at least 30 foods on your child’s safe food list. They don’t have to be different foods, but the same food cooked or prepared differently. For example, raw carrots and roasted carrots count as two foods because they taste and fee drastically differently.
Offer small portions
The next tip I have for you is to offer smaller portions.
Oftentimes, if your little one finds a certain food overwhelming to eat, when they see too much of it on their plate, they’re going to feel like they have to eat all of it.
Next they’re just going to start to panic and think “Oh my god! No! I can maybe do one or two bites of that. It’s too much. It’s too messy on my plate”.
They’re going to start overthinking it which quickly leads to them breaking down and making excuses they don’t want to eat before the meal even really began.
So we want small piles, sometimes as little as two to three bites of different foods.
Just let them know that it’s okay if they want more of a favourite. You can use wording like this:
“It’s okay if you feel it’s too little and you want more. We’re going to serve more on your plate, no worries”
If they don’t want to eat a certain food you can say:
“If you don’t even want to eat that …that’s totally fine. We’ll push it to a little side of our plate there”
Now this goes well into the next tip that I have for you.
Combine harder to eat foods with easier to eat ones
The best example I have for you is when you offer a piece of chicken and the veggies side is green beans, with pasta. Two out of those three foods are actually quite hard to eat and break down mechanically from an oral motor perspective.
So chicken is hard. I mean sometimes it takes a quite a few choose to get a broken down and kind of liquefy into that bolus before we can swallow it.
But so are the green beans. They need a little bit of chewing. So you have two foods that they are working at.
The pasta is a saving grace for your child as it does break down pretty easily.
Does it make sense now why kids can be so easily attracted to pasts dishes?
Expect at that meal, your little one is going to get cranky faster.
Think about yourself when you’re tired and things don’t go your way and you have to put an extra effort. You’re not always going to be in the best mood and feel perhaps exasperated.
Keep that in mind when you’re choosing your meal prep.
Don’t let them food jag on their safe foods
The next tip is to not let them food jag on the foods on their safe list or on family favorites meals.
If they happen to eat the same meal every day, multiple times a day, eventually the risk is that they will drop it if they overdo it.
You don’t want them to drop a meal that you cook often with your family or one of their favorite foods.
It goes back to a previous tip to rotate, rotate, rotate foods.
Don’t be a short order cook
the next tip I have for you is to not be a short order cook.
Now if you follow the division of responsibility, it is on you to decide what foods you’re going to offer.
You’ll need to take everything in consideration when choosing what meal to prepare.
Recognize that your child is going into a tougher time or is extra tired. Acknowledging how they feel in their mind and body, you’ll know to mix and match foods that are going to be easier, some that will be hard to eat, and others will be brand new.
You’re going to try to give them that balance in their food choices.
You decide what you’re going to offer, and your child will decide WHAT and HOW MUCH they’re going to eat.
Stick to the division of responsibility and be confident that you gave them appropriate food options. Because they are food gagging, they’re going to try everything in the book to get you to go back to the kitchen and make them a grilled cheese or make them another piece of toast or make them something else altogether.
The answers of big fat NO,
If your child asks for a different meal, you can say:
“Honey, I’m sorry, mommy prepared these foods for this meal. You can choose to eat anything you’d like from these options. You don’t have to eat something you don’t want to, but you can choose from these options.”
To say that confidently, you need to know, there’s enough foods that are realistic for them to eat. Because you cannot say that to them if inside your freaking out.
“Oh my gosh, no, I gave too little foods that they like” or
“There’s only one foot out of the whole thing that is their favorite everything else they don’t particularly eat”
You’re gonna feel guilty and you’re going to go back in the kitchen.
But once you get the hang of it … once you really get a good idea of what they can handle how far you can push them, that whole meal planning process will become so much easier.
Avoid liquid calories
The next tip I have for you is to avoid liquid calories.
A lot of parents offer milk, toddler formulas, nutrition shakes, puree pouches, or even smoothies.
Just be mindful that all these “liquids” do add calories.
Even drinking a good 20 ounces of milk can account for as much as 40% of their daily caloric intake.
Now kids are excellent regulators. Studies have found that no matter how many calories kid are given at breakfast, kids ended up compensating and regulating so that by the end of the day, they roughly had a very similar amount of calories no matter what they started with.
If 40% of calories are consumed from a liquid and they will eat almost half as much food offered.
You don’t want to be frustrated that why are they not eating more of their foods if they only eating half their plate and are full.
Don’t let them fill up on liquid calories, especially when they’re food jagging.
They’re gonna crave easy to eat foods like pasts, hot dogs, chicken nuggets, pizzas, toast, grilled cheese
So just be mindful of where their overall calories are coming from.
A smoothie in the morning is incredibly healthy. You can load it up with lots of goodness.
Eating hearty soups is another way to get some awesome nutrients int heir bodies.
If you’re going to do liquid calories, make them count.
Don’t force them to eat
The last tip I have for you is to never force your child to eat a food that they’re just not wanting to eat.
Even it’s food that you’ve served them 100 times before.
Even if they’ve eaten and yesterday, or the last week.
Even if it’s a favorite that they’ve eaten over and over again,
If your child chooses not to eat any food from what you offer, don’t pressure them. Let them work it out at their own pace. Let them have that bit of control in their lives.
To feel confident … to trust that your child is still going to get some food in them, make sure you provided lots of different realistic and viable options for them to choose from.
If they want to eat just eat meat all the time at that meal. Let them. If they want seconds and thirds of only the meal. Do it. Let them choose how much and what to eat.
I have this one fried chicken recipe that my kids just absolutely love, especially the same day make it when it’s still nice and moist. They can easily eat two chicken breasts at that meal and completely disregard their carbs.
The day after is the complete opposite. As the chicken gets drier and drier gets a little harder to eat, don’t tone that down. And then they’ll switch back to add a bit more carbs and veggies and greens in as part of the meal.
But again, kids are excellent regulators. However, you can’t determine if they got all their nutrients in one meal. Not even in one day.
But over the week, you’ll see them shifting and choosing to focus on one group some days and another food group on other days. And that’s completely normal.
I always want to give you guys a reminder → The only reason your child should be eating is because they’re hungry. And the only reason they should stop is because they’re full.
The only thing that I asked my kids before when they indicate they want to leave the table, is their tummy full.
If I don’t feel they ate to be truly full, I gently remind them that they have to live with that consequence of being a little extra hungry until the next meal comes around. Ultimately they think about it and no matter what they decide I support them.
I hope you find these tips helpful to avoid food jags or how to get yourself through them.
Because they will happen and now you can be ready for them.
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