Tips for surviving those toddler food jags!
Guest Post By Laura Hoover, RD
When my son was a baby, he was a great eater. He’d eat pretty much anything I put in front of him. All those tricks-of-the-trade I had learned in my nutrition classes were working! I was a great mom! And I’m pretty sure I let the world know about it. Then…things changed. As he approached two-years-old, he develop an opinion about food. A STRONG opinion. Suddenly, he’d go into full-blown temper tantrum mode, just at the site of his once-favorite foods. I was humbled. And frazzled. He was in a food jag: a dreaded, but common, phase when a child will only eat one food item, meal after meal…after excruciating meal. In hindsight, my son had a mild case of it. My daughter, on the other hand, really gave me a run for my money. At least I was ready for it.
Food Jags are Normal
Rest-assured, food jags are a totally normal part of a child’s development. Your child is simply expressing independence in one of the only ways he knows. Given that he has a limited say in most matters in his life, choosing what he puts (or doesn’t put) into his body, is a great way to have some control.
There is also a “survival of the fittest” component to it. Back in the day, our hunter-gatherer ancestors had to be selective about what they ate, so that they didn’t accidentally eat a poisonous plant or berry. These instincts are still alive and well in your little one today.
“This, Too, Shall Pass”
If you’re in the middle of a food jag phase right now, it can seem like an eternity. But it will end. I promise. Here are a few things you can do to manage it:
- Give your child choices. If your child is trying to express independence, don’t force a food on her. It will only backfire. Instead, play into her independence by offering your child choices. For example, ask your child “would you like carrots or peas with your lunch?” Just be prepared. Sometimes the answer will be a big fat “NO!!!” and that’s okay.
- Make mealtime fun: Let’s be real. The food jag period can be pretty miserable, especially if you have a “spirited” child, like my daughter. All I can say, is just roll with it. Play fun music, use party plates, take lots of deep breaths. Do whatever you have to do to get through the meal with a smile on your face. Your child picks up on your emotions and the more fun you have with mealtime, the easier (and hopefully quicker) the food jag phase will pass.
- Keep offering healthy foods: As a parent, it’s your job to set a mealtime schedule and to offer your child lots of healthy choices. It’s your child’s job to decide what and how much he’ll eat. Focus on your part of the job and continue to offer a healthy variety of foods, without pressure.
- Try small changes: If your child insists on eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch every day, try to help them slowly break out of the phase. Mix things up by changing the flavor or jelly or the type of bread. Or introduce just small bites of other foods during mealtime.
When to Seek Help
Even though food jags are totally normal, there are times when you need to consult with your child’s pediatrician or a feeding specialist. A few things to look out for:
- Difficulty sucking, swallowing or chewing
- Gagging or vomiting when eating
- Failure to gain weight (often called “failure-to-thrive”)
- Strong aversion to specific textures
When in doubt, trust your parent-instincts and talk to your child’s health care provider.
Laura Chalela Hoover is a registered dietitian nutritionist who lives in Chicago with her husband and two young children. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of Smart Eating for Kids, a site that shares yummy nutrition ideas, kid-friendly recipes and smart strategies to manage picky palates and other obstacles.