Food Jags: What are They and How to Prevent Them
What is a food jag? Children with feeding difficulties tend to eat the same foods every day, even at every meal. Typically they require that the foods be prepared in the same way each time. For example, your child may only eat a hot dog for lunch every day. S/he will only eat the hot dog if it is a specific brand, boiled on the stove, and put on the plate with the ketchup (specific brand) not touching it. This example demonstrates a “food jag.”
So what is the big deal if my child eats the same thing every day for lunch? The biggest problem with food jags is that eventually your child will become bored or burned out on his/her preferred foods. Once a child with feeding difficulties neglects to eat a preferred food, it is usually lost from his/her food repertoire for good. The practice of eliminating foods from his/her diet may then continue until there are only a handful of foods left to him/her.
How can you prevent a food jag from beginning in the first place?
- Do not offer the same foods every day. Try to offer each food only a few times per week or less.
- Make variations in the foods you serve.
— Try serving different brands of the same foods (e.g., crackers, cereal, pudding, etc.).
— Try different flavors of the same food (e.g., chocolate instead of vanilla pudding).
— Vary the way that you prepare a specific food (cook something in the microwave instead of the oven, or change the shape).
— Use the same ingredients to make new foods. For example, use a soft tortilla shell to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich instead of a taco, or make garlic toast by toasting a piece of bread in the toaster, buttering the bread and sprinkling garlic powder on it instead of buying the frozen already prepared garlic toast.
- Have your child help you prepare the foods, giving the opportunity to explore the foods as well as deciding what flavors to add.
- Don’t force your child to eat new foods, but do present foods on multiple occasions to allow your child the opportunity to try them when s/he is ready.
- Be sure to offer a variety of foods for your child to choose from at each meal.
- Be a positive role model for your child by eating a variety of foods and trying new things, talking about your experiences with your child.
In the event that your child has a limited amount of foods in their repertoire, it is very important when adding variations that you go very slowly. The difference to your child’s preferred food should be barely noticeable at first. As your child is better able to accept differences to his/her food the changes can become more noticeable. Every child is unique in how small the change must be in order to prevent a meltdown and refusal to eat the food.
Preventing food jags is a long careful process, but it is extremely important in preventing the loss of foods from your child’s diet. Prevention is not always possible for some children. If you have a child who seems to jag on food, but you are not able to vary the food in any way and his/her diet continues to get smaller, it may be time to seek professional assistance.