A food jag is a change in a child's usual eating habits. This can
take the form of repeated requests to eat the same food at every meal. It can
also be evidenced by the child refusing foods that he or she liked in the
past. Food jags are commonly seen in
children between the ages of 2 and 6 years.
What is the information for this topic?
During the preschool years, children's growth slows down and
their appetite tends to decrease. Children at this age are more interested
in exploring the world around them than in the food they eat. This can
cause concern for caregivers who want to be sure the child is eating enough.
Food jags can occur for a number of reasons. The child could
be bored with the foods usually served. He or she may also be testing
newfound independence. Toddlers control very little in their
environment. They soon find out how refusing foods or demanding the same
foods over and over can upset their caregivers. These
behaviors can then become a powerful tool for attention.
The best way for a caregiver to handle a toddler's food jags is
to remain low-key and not draw attention to the behavior. The more focus
the food jag receives, the longer it may last. It is the caregiver's
job to offer healthy and nutritious foods. It is also the caregiver's
job to plan meals at the right times. However, the child is not
helped by a caregiver who is either too rigid or too lenient.
Also, children should not be forced to eat foods they do not want. Food
preferences develop as a child is exposed to new foods in a calm,
nonthreatening way. When a child sits down to eat, the caregiver
needs to step back and allow the child to be in control of what he or she
eats. This will help the child to develop healthy eating behaviors.
Caregivers still have control over which foods they offer a child.
They should continue to offer a variety of foods from the
food guide pyramid.
This will allow the child to make food choices from what is offered. It
does not do any harm to offer children their favorite foods, as long as
other foods are offered as well to encourage variety. After a while, the
child will become bored with the same food and will begin making other choices.
Preschool children can often meet their nutritional needs
over several days. They may not get enough of certain nutrients and calories
one day, because they are being picky. But they will usually make up for
it the next day by eating what they need and more. For this age group, it
is best to offer small meals several times a day to try to increase their
food intake. They should have three regular meals as well as healthy
snacks between meals. Healthy snack choices include:
peanut butter sandwich
Taste is not the only factor that matters in children's food
likes and dislikes. Temperature of food is important too. Most toddlers prefer
their food lukewarm. How the food looks and smells is also key.
Children who are active are more likely to be hungry.
However, children will not eat well if they are overly tired. Mealtimes and
playtimes should be balanced. Also, if children snack
before a meal, they will not eat well at that meal. Children should not
be allowed to eat or drink within 1 1/2 hours of a meal.
Here are some other approaches to getting children to try
Offer only one new food at a time. Children should be told in
advance if the taste is sweet, sour, or salty.
Give small amounts of the food at first. This gives children
a chance to see if they like the new food.
Tell children they do not have to swallow the food if they do not
Offer a new food more than once. Many young children try
a new food a few times before they finally accept it.
Be a good role model. If the caregiver asks a child to drink milk
or eat vegetables, he or she should be eating those foods too.
Seat children with siblings or friends who eat a variety of foods. It is
more likely that a child will try a new food if other children at the table
are eating that food.
Serve a new food along with one of the child's favorite foods.
Food jags are a normal and temporary part
of a child's development. However, if
a child refuses whole food groups for more than two weeks, the
caregiver should talk with the child's doctor.