If you find that your child is continuously wanting to eat the same food meal after meal, they may be experiencing a “food jag”. Food jagging occurs “when a child is only interested in eating a certain type of food/foods prepared in a certain type of way (or a specific brand) – day in and day out.”.1 This can occur at any age, even during adolescence and adulthood.
A food jag is not something to panic over as it is typically short term (several weeks) and seen as a common part of child development.1 However, it is a concern if this food jag continues for several months.2
Some examples of food jagging behaviour in a child includes
·Solely eating berries as their fruit source
Wanting a cup of milk alongside each snack or meal.
· Only eating a certain cereal flavour and brand.
· Asking for the same food for every meal 1
· Only eating foods of a certain colour; a common example of this is a child only eating white or beige foods.
In addition to what food jagging is and how to spot it, we will review the understood causes, methods of prevention, consequences, and treatment of food jagging!
What are some of the causes of food jagging?
Children with sensory issues are often more prone to food jagging as they may be sensitive to different smells or tastes; as well as certain textures.1
Additionally, if a child associates a food with a positive feeling and/or experience, they will be more prone to desire the food and consume it on a regular basis. On the contrary, if a child associates a food with a negative feeling and/or experience, they will be to avoid the food and likely refuse to eat it.1
How can you prevent food jagging from happening?
Through the encouragement of healthy eating habits, food jags can be prevented.4 Healthy eating habits may be encouraged through setting consistent meal and snack times, allowing your child to serve themselves and decide what and how much they want to eat at each meal, as well encouraging positive mealtime. Rather than encouraging the “clean plate club”, we can encourage our children to listen to their bodies hunger and fullness cues, which encourages them to eat when hungry and stop eating when full.
Frequent exposure to new foods, the rotation of foods your child enjoys, and providing options at meal time are all helpful ways to prevent food jagging from starting in the first place.
What are the consequences of food jagging?
Persistent, on-going food jags can result in a child missing out on important micro- and macronutrients. This can be consequential, as adequate nutrient intake is especially important during early childhood development.
Additional consequences may be low energy, low body weight, and the development of a dependence on this one food for a sense of security. On the bright side, most food jags are temporary and do not have any lasting effects on the child’s health. If food jags continue for several months, it may be helpful to consult with your child’s doctor or dietitian.
How can you treat food jagging if you already have it?
There is no need to fret, as food jags are typically short-term and treatable. If your child is experiencing a food jag, you do not want to completely remove this food from their meals and force them to eat something new. This could result in a stressful mealtime for child and parent; and decreased sense of autonomy and safety for the child.
Instead, try to offer their food jag food with 1-2 other foods without any pressure to eat the other foods. This amount will be enough to allow them choices without feeling overwhelmed. You can also gently encourage your child to try new foods by setting the example and eating a healthy variety of foods yourself.4
Methods for treating food jags:
· Allow your child to play with their food to familiarize themselves with the scent, texture, color, etc.
· Get your child involved in the meal prep and cooking process to encourage them to try new foods.4
· Offer a variety of foods.
· Slowly incorporate different brands or flavours of their “favourite food”.
· Incorporate their “favourite food” into a meal with other foods.
· Don’t treat the food jag like this big problem, this may be counterproductive as it may result in increased stress in you and the child.
· Reduce the number of times a week a food is offered to reduce the reliance of that food.1
Food jagging is a common aspect of childhood development and is characterized by various behaviours such as wanting to eat the same one food or dish, meal after meal. It typically lasts several weeks, but can less commonly, last several months. The development of a food jag may be attributed to sensory issues and prior experiences (positive or negative) with the food.
Food jags may be prevented through enforcing a healthy relationship with food through frequent rotation of foods in the diet and exposure to new foods. If your child does experience food jagging, it can be treated through exposure, hands-on experience with the food, and a slow reduction in how often your child is offered this food.
What food jags has your children gone through or are currently going through? How long did it last?
If you’d like more like this, you can find more from me by downloading my new e-book or, for a one-to-one consultation, visit www.dietitianwithadifference.co.uk.