Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Toddler and Child Nutrition: Food jags

The mother of a 2 1/2 year old girl recently told me that her daughter only wants to drink milk and will not eat much else.  Clearly frustrated, she requested my advice.  If you've ever cared for a toddler, this is probably familiar territory.  Well, the RD is in, and I would diagnose this as a food jag.  Food jags occur when a child prefers to eat only a few favored foods over the course of several days, and it's actually quite normal for a young child to experience them on occasion.  What parents need to realize first is that children around this age are developing their independence, and this is really just a sign of that.  This could shed some light on one of the toddler's favorite words - NO! And it also helps explain their constant testing of limits, which is a true patience-builder if you ask me!  Preferring to only drink milk does not necessarily mean that this little one only likes milk nor does it mean that she won't eat anything else.  So, what do we do with these food jags?

When a child experiences a food jag, instead of rewarding the behavior with negative attention, it is best to relax.  Focusing on the food jag may only serve to intensify and extend it.  Remember that you're the parent, and the parent's job is to feed while it's the child's job to eat.  I always rely on Ellyn Satter's division of responsibility in feeding:  1) Parents are responsible for what, when, and where children eat and 2) Children are responsible for whether and how much.  This means that it is up to the parent to purchase, prepare, and serve a variety of healthful foods to the child and to trust her to eat the right amount that she needs. It's alright to continue offering the favored food along with a variety of other foods at meal and snack time.  If the child chooses to eat only the favored foods for a week, breathe easy as the reality is that your child will not develop malnutrition from a temporary food jag.  Food jags can be harmless depending on how we respond to them. I do suggest that you remain observant of lingering food jags as sometimes it can be a sign of something more concerning, such as a food allergy or intolerance that evolves into a fear of eating a wide variety of foods.

For more advice on feeding children, I suggest these resources.

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Andrea said...[Reply to comment]

Great post Michelle! We have to talk about food jag because it can turn into a nightmare if you force your children to eat. The more focus the food jag receives, the longer it may last. They will not become malnourished from eating only one or two kind of food for a week. But if it lasts longer it requires more attention.
It is important to make every meal enjoyable, even parents should eat whenever they offer something to their children. They learn from example, they want to be just like us. We just have to stay patient and show them that tasting a new flavor is fun.
Some ideas to get over the “milky days”: continue to offer variety of foods along with milk. Try to make tasty milk shakes with fruit or simmer some vegetables (carrot, potato or parsnip) season with little sea salt if required and blend with milk making a thick sauce. Toast some bread cut into sticks and offer the sauce as a dip with it. Make porridge or semolina pudding with milk. Encourage them to help in the process.
Andrea (Bsc. Diet) from Shannon

pediatric emr said...[Reply to comment]

Oh' that little girl was so cute! I wish I can also have a daughter like her. Thanks for sharing.


Michelle Loy, MPH, MS, RD said...[Reply to comment]

@pediatric emr Isn't she? Thank you for visiting!

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