What is a food jag?
Many children, especially those with feeding sensitivities, tend to find a preferred or “safe” food and will get stuck in a pattern of only wanting to eat that food for every meal possible. This pattern is referred to, in the world of feeding therapy, as a “food jag”.
Why do we want to avoid food jags?
The problem with food jags is that eventually the child will become burnt out on this food and will no longer be willing to eat it, decreasing the amount of accepted foods they have. Often with children with feeding sensitivities, once they have been burnt out on a food or become bored of it, they are highly unlikely to accept that food again in the future. If this cycle continues with all of the child’s preferred or “safe” foods, they can quickly end up with a very small repertoire of foods that they will accept.
It is understandable, from a parents perspective, that it can sound like an overwhelming task to try to get your child out of a food jag or to avoid this pattern in the first place when there is finally a food that they are willing to eat, or asking for, and all you want is for your child to be fed. Below are some simple and easy to implement strategies that can support your child in avoiding this pattern and potentially eliminating foods from their repertoire:
- Alternate food schedules; only offer that particular food every other day. You can add even more variety by alternating what is being offered with that food as well to keep things new and exciting.
- Transfer the food into a different container/bowl before presenting to avoid the child becoming reliant on specific brands or packaging. Be sure to alternate which bowl or plate (color, size, material, etc) to make each presentation a little different.
- Make one small change to the food each time it is presented. This may look like changing the color, shape, texture, temperature, utensils, or taste
Ways to change colors:
i. Add food coloring (or even better, let your kiddo add the coloring!)
ii. Cook the food slightly longer or shorter such as browning on toast
iii. Buy the food in different colors (Rainbow Goldfish vs original)
Ways to change the shape:
i. Cookie cutters (also a great way to get your kiddo involved!)
ii. Cut sandwiches in different styles
iii. Change the type of noodle in the pasta
iv. Offer nuggets of different brands with varying shapes
v. Present a banana sliced at one meal and the next time present it whole
Ways to change the texture:
i. Add a thickening agent like cornstarch
ii. Make an omelet instead of scrambling eggs
iii. Add another preferred food to make a new combination
iv. Use a different cooking method such as grilling instead of frying
v. Explore the magic of the air fryer
Ways to change the temperature:
i. Put yogurt or other purees in the freezer
ii. Toast the bread before making a sandwich
iii. Freeze fruits and vegetables
Ways to change utensils:
i. Use toothpicks rather than a fork
ii. Allow your child to use toys to self-feed
iii. Eat with your hands when you are used to using utensils
Ways to change taste:
i. Add in new or different spices
ii. Mix two preferred foods together in a new way
iii. Added different syrups or sauces (offering sauce on the side can allow your child to explore how much they want on their own)
The importance of SMALL changes:
It is to be expected that your child may resist changes to their preferred foods at first and it could potentially lead to them refusing the food if you try to change too much too quickly. If your child experiences food sensitivities, they will typically be hyperaware of even the smallest change so it is important to include them in the act of making the change or at least be honest about what has changed about the food. It is recommended to start with the smallest changes first (utensils, presentation, shape, color, etc) and work your way up to bigger changes like taste and texture. If you find that your child is refusing, this is your cue that the change is too big and you should back down to trying a smaller change and get your child involved in the process!
If you have any concerns about making changes to your child’s preferred foods please consult with their feeding therapist. If you are not working with a feeding therapist and are concerned that your child’s food repertoire is dwindling please contact us for a feeding evaluation.
Blog by: Amy Lowman COTA