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Is food jagging affecting your fussy eater?

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Emma Shafqat
Paediatric dietitian

If you find that your child is continuously wanting to eat the same food meal after meal, they may be experiencing a ‘food jag’. Food jagging is when a child is only interested in eating a certain type of food prepared in a certain type of way, day in and day out. This can happen at any age, even during adolescence and adulthood. A food jag isn’t something to panic over as it’s usually short term (lasting several weeks) and is a common part of children’s development. If food jagging continues for longer than this however, you might like to discuss it with your paediatrician.

Examples of food jagging behaviour include:

  • Solely eating berries as their fruit source
  • Wanting a cup of milk alongside each snack or meal
  • Only eating a certain cereal flavour and brand
  • Wanting the same food for every meal
  • Only eating food of a certain colour (often white or beige food)

What are some of the causes of food jagging?

Common causes of food jagging include negative or positive associations with food, as well as sensory issues. Children with sensory issues are often more prone to food jagging as they may be sensitive to different smells, tastes, or certain textures.

How can you prevent food jagging from happening?

Food jags can be prevented by encouraging healthy eating habits. This could be through setting consistent meal and snack times, allowing your child to serve themselves, and to decide what and how much they want to eat at each meal. Rather than encouraging the ‘clean plate club’, encourage your child to listen to their body’s hunger and fullness cues, which encourages them to eat when hungry and stop eating when full. Frequent exposure to new foods, the rotation of foods your child enjoys, and providing options at meal times are all helpful ways to prevent food jagging from starting in the first place too.

What are the consequences of food jagging?

Most food jags are temporary and do not have lasting effects on a child’s health. However, persistent, ongoing food jags can result in a child missing out on micro and macro nutrients that are important for early childhood development. Other consequences include low energy and low body weight. If food jags continue for several months, it may be helpful to consult your child’s paediatrician.

How can you treat food jagging if you already have it?

The main thing is that if your child is experiencing a food jag, you do not want to completely remove this food from their meals and force them to eat something new. This could result in a stressful mealtime for child and parent, and a decreased sense of autonomy and safety for the child. Instead, try to offer their food jag food with one or two other foods, without any pressure to eat the other foods. This amount will be enough to allow them choices without feeling overwhelmed. You can also gently encourage your child to try new foods by setting an example and eating a healthy variety of foods yourself.

Other methods for treating food jags include:

  • Allow your child to play with their food to familiarise themselves with the scent, texture, colour, etc.
  • Get your child involved in the meal prep and cooking process to encourage them to try new foods
  • Offer a variety of foods
  • Slowly incorporate different brands or flavours of their ‘favourite food’
  • Incorporate their ‘favourite food’ into a meal with other foods
  • Don’t treat the food jag as a big problem as this may be counterproductive and increase stress in you and your child
  • Reduce the number of times a week a food is offered to reduce the reliance of that food

If your child does experience food jagging, it can be treated through exposure, hands-on experience with the food, and a slow reduction in how often your child is offered this food. Remember: there is normally no need to fret if you think your child has a food jag, as they’re typically short term and treatable.