Today, we are going to discuss food jags! What’s that you say? You’ve never heard of a food jag? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. My better half was pretty sure it had something to do with the military and attorneys and food law (maybe because he is one of those attorney guys…just not the JAG type). Contrary to popular belief, food jags have nothing to do with courtrooms and lawyers yelling, “You can’t handle the [fruit]!” I can also guarantee every parent and parent-to-be has or will experience a food jag in their child at some point… probably more than once. And it will be frustrating. And you may think your child is going to starve. But they won’t! So let’s talk about it.
A food jag is just fancy lingo for when your little sprout (typically toddler-preschool age) doesn’t want/refuses to eat. If you want the official definition you can read it here. Sound familiar? Ever notice how one day your child will eat a 3-course gourmet meal and the next they just want 5 cheerios for the whole day? That is a food jag. Or how about when they eat broccoli 3 nights in a row and you think you’ve finally discovered a green vegetable they’ll eat so you buy 5 pounds and then the next night your precious little one won’t touch it? Yup, food jag. These food jags can last a few days, weeks, or maybe years, but today I have a few do’s and don’ts to make these phases a little less frustrating for you mamas (and dads).
Do: Keep calm when your child won’t eat. Mealtimes shouldn’t be a struggle and getting upset only provides negative feedback that your child will associate with food and mealtimes. We want to encourage positive relationships with food and eating (even if they aren’t doing so much of the eating thing at the current time) so stay positive and try to not let the frustration show.
Don’t: panic. Food jags are NORMAL! This is a part of the development and maturation process. It won’t last forever (though sometimes it seems that way for you parents out there). Your child will eat when they are hungry and just because they don’t want green beans now does not mean they will always reject green beans. A food jag does not indicate that your child will always be a picky eater or grow up hating vegetables. Just like that cute little outfit you bought them, they will grow out of food jags too.
Do: continue to offer a variety of foods, including the foods they seem to continually reject. Giving your child the opportunity to try a food if desired is an important part of raising a healthy eater. My rule of thumb is to offer at least one food I know G (my little guy) will typically eat along with 1-2 new foods or foods that he may or may not want to eat. Sometimes kids just have to get used to seeing a food before they are willing to try it.
Don’t: forget that appetite typically coincides with growth. If your child is eating less, it may be because they aren’t currently growing as fast. Wait until their next growth spurt and you may notice their intake increase. Children are excellent at regulating their appetites, meaning they eat when they’re hungry and stop eating when they’re full (if only that skill lasted a lifetime right?!). Yes, sometimes they are just stubborn and don’t want eat those vegetables, but sometimes they are simply not hungry and don’t want to overeat. Try to trust their instincts.
Do: provide a good example. If you want your child to eat healthy, it’s pretty important for you to eat healthy. Serve nutritious, balanced meals with a variety of foods and then eat the foods that you prepare. When your child sees you eating, they may be more inclined to eat with you. Monkey see monkey do, right?
Don’t: force your child to eat. Your child will eat when they are ready. Forcing can lead to that negative feedback I mentioned earlier. And, just because they don’t want to eat apples, does not mean you should give them fruit snacks. If a child learns they can eat fruit snacks and potato chips when they refuse their applesauce and roasted potatoes, they probably won’t be extremely motivated to eat the applesauce and potatoes. I mean, I know everyone loves a good fruit snack, but it’s not really a good substitute for real fruit.
Now, whether you need to add a few do’s to your meals, or cut back on some don’ts, just remember this: food jags might make you want to scream but close your eyes, take a deep breath and remember that you are helping your child develop healthy eating habits… whether they’re actually eating or not 🙂