Heres what to do if your child is guilty of food jagging

Bet you’ve never heard of 'food jagging' before? Well, if you have a fussy or picky eater, you are more than likely to have experienced it. Food jagging is when a child will only eat one food item, or a very limited group of food items, meal after meal after meal until they eventually get tired of it, eliminating it altogether from their diet.

This can cause lots of mealtime stress as you try to encourage/plead with your little one just to try a tiny bite of x (potato, carrot, kiwi, cheese, sweet potato)

So what to do? Well, first things first - what kind of a fussy eater is your child? There are generally two types; normal fussy eaters who will eat up to 30 different food items and extreme picky eaters who will only eat 10 -15 different items and sometimes as few as three-five foods.

For the latter, you might need the help and advice of a feeding expert or therapist. In this piece, I am going to deal with the former, children who will accept up to approximately 30 different foods, are happy to sit at the table with the rest of the family at mealtimes and may reintroduce food again after elimination.

Firstly, this type of behaviour is quite common especially from the age of 2+. It could be that your toddler’s rate of growth has slowed down and they no longer need all the fuel they did previously so it’s easier for them to reject food. Kids like familiar things and routine so they get into the habit of only eating certain foods and recoil from trying new foods. Or, it could just be your toddler asserting some control.

Here are some simple tips to help with a child who is jagging: 

  • Take their favourite food (eg. toast) and change it, bit by bit (depending on their level of jagging). Toast it for longer, cut it a different way, use different bread.
  • Use the rotation rule - while you might change up your dinners every day, how often do lunches, breakfast and snacks get changed? Try the rotation rule where toast cannot be eaten for more than one or two days in a row. Offer cereal, eggs etc. on the third day, promising the return of toast on day five. (see more here)
  • Get them involved in food shopping. You can offer them a sense of control by allowing them to select the bread they want from two different options.
  • Add a new food to their familiar, favourite food (eg. use different spreads on toast such as a different brand of peanut butter, chia seed jam, cheese, a thin spread of avocado).
  • Get them cooking - I know I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again because that’s what all the research shows. 

I had a cousin who only ate bananas for about three years straight - it’s part of our family folklore. He now eats all around him! The moral of this story is, how many adults do you know who are very fussy eaters? Probably not that many. So your child will often grow out of it, try not to worry too much (unless your child is losing weight or is otherwise unwell) and just keep presenting new foods.

As a mum of 3, I know how difficult, challenging and difficult (worth saying twice!) it can be, feeding them a healthy, balanced diet. A couple of years ago, I left my full-time job and retrained as a Health and Nutrition Coach - much to the disgust of my children. My goal is to teach children about the joys of healthy eating (so yes, I know how difficult it is!) through my business, The Cool Food School (www.thecoolfoodschool.ie). I also like to run, drink coffee and ignore the housework.

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