A food jag is when a child will only eat a few foods, meal after meal. Often times after eating one particular food for multiple meals a day for consecutive days (sometimes consecutive weeks or months) that one food will suddenly be discontinued and the child will not start eating another food to replace it (or at least not right away). This can be very stressful for families when a child is already a picky eater and then all of a sudden, they stop eating one of their very few preferred foods.
One way to prevent food jags is to try to only present one food every other day. If a child has enough foods in their repertoire it may be possible to only present one food every three days. Here is an example of how to think through this. For more information, look at the SOS (Sequential Oral Sensory) approach to feeding and their advice on food jags.
If we’re thinking about an ideally balanced diet, we would want to present about three foods to a child for every snack and every meal. This would include one carbohydrate/grain, one fruit or vegetable and one protein. To start out, put all of the foods your child eats into these three categories.
Carbohydrates/grain: oatmeal, rice cracker, bread (on a sandwich), muffin, saltine crackers, Kix cereal, Cheese-it peanut butter sandwiches (also will count as protein), pretzel sticks, rice rolls, spaghetti-O’s, Cheerios, Curry puffs, scone, mini pizzas.
Fruit/vegetable: raisins, snap peas, grapes, pomegranate, broccoli, banana, tomato, celery, apple sauce, Romanesco, Strawberries, lemon cucumber, pear, apple slices, carrots.
Protein: walnuts, almond butter, orange cheese, strawberry Go-Gurt, chicken breast deli meat, pumpkin seeds, peanut butter, eggs, sunflower seeds, string cheese, sunflower butter, hamburger patty.
Then, start filling in one carbohydrate/grain, one fruit/vegetable, and one protein for every meal. Here is an example:
|Meal||Day 1||Day 2||Day 3|
|Breakfast||Oatmeal with raisins and walnuts||Kix cereal
|Snack||Rice cracker with almond butter
|Cheese-it peanut butter sandwiches
|Lunch||Grilled cheese sandwich
Celery with peanut butter
|Peanut butter sandwich
Apple slices with sunflower butter
Chicken breast deli meat
New flavor of Go-Gurt
In this example schedule it was taken into account that morning snack was usually in the garden and included one vegetable from the garden. Other families may make other adjustments given a particular meal and mealtime schedule. Sometimes new flavors of foods or foods that are very similar are added in if there aren’t enough foods from a particular food group (usually fruits and vegetables!). All in all, presenting a visual example schedule usually shows families that their child usually does have enough (or almost enough) foods in their diet to not repeat one particular food for a whole two or three days.
Food jags can be hard to break, and a pediatric occupational therapist who specializes in eating and feeding can help. Go to allabouttherapyforkids.com for more information on finding your child help with eating and feeding.