Food Jags in Toddlers: More Common than You Think!

A food jag is when a child will only eat 1 or 2 foods meal after meal for a period of time, usually about a week. All other food is usually refused and it's difficult to get the child to eat another type of food. Many toddlers and young children will experience a few jags as a way to express their independence and exercise control.

Although a food jag may happen with any food, it's often the foods commonly thought of as toddler foods that children fixate on. It is more common for one to consist of macaroni and cheese, pizza or fries than broccoli, carrots or cauliflower. My own toddler is currently going through a food jag with pancakes. All he wants are pancakes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Although it can be frustrating,by giving him a small pancake alongside what I want him to eat he is beginning to eat the strawberries, eggs or rice and just today, 3 days into the jag, he left his pancake on the plate, untouched while he enjoyed the whole wheat spaghettiand veggies I gave him!

By giving her what she wants you are showing your child you respect her and her preferences, and by offering other foods you are letting her choose, and eventually she will choose a food you want her to have. 

Why do Food Jags Occur?

Choosing what to eat is a way for toddlers to express control and independence. It is a perfectly appropriate developmental phase and is not usually cause for concern. As parents, we try to control everything our children do. We often choose what they wear, where they go, when they sleep and wake up, etc. Although we can try our best to control what our children eat, this is one thing toddlers quickly learn they can control. Because of this, food usually becomes something kids try to manipulate.


The Solution

First and foremost, do not panic. If he is otherwise healthy and developing well, there is probably no need to worry.

DON'T

Force your child to eat what she doesn't want to. This will reinforce her need for control and prolong the food jag.

Give up on offering new foods. Although he may only eat macaroni and cheese every meal for a week, make sure to put other foods on his plate as well.

Obsess over the food jag. Don't pay attention to it or let your child know it worries you. If he knows you're anxious about it he may prolong it. Don't pay attention to it and he will soon forget about it.

Panic if he doesn't eat much one meal. When he's hungry he will eat, and he will likely make up for it the next meal.

DO

Offer new foods or healthy foods you know he likes.

Allow him to eat the preferred food and always have other food on his plate.

Ignore it and allow him to control what he eats.

Realize that this will pass, be patient and let him work through it.

Know that he will not let himself starve and trust him to know and respect his body.

Most of the time a food jag is not dangerous and will not lead to malnutrition. As with everything, there are exceptions to this rule. If your child is developmentally delayed, he's already below the third percentile on the growth chart or if the food jag lasts more than a week or two, call your pediatrician or make an appointment with us.