Food Jags Explained

Food Jags Explained

‘My son has wanted to eat a particular brand of yoghurt every day since I can remember, and now he’s totally gone off it. What’s that about?’ Parent

The term for this is “food jag” and it’s common in young children

Food jags occur when a child is only interested in eating a certain type of food/foods prepared in a certain type of way (or a specific brand) - day in and day out. Food jags can occur at any age. Even as adults we can go through food jags. Just like with fussy eating, food jags can be a normal part of childhood development. It can be a way of your child trying to gain some control and independence. A food jag behaviour may show up when your child only wants to eat:

  • one particular food (e.g. bread) or a small group of foods (e.g. fruit) at most meals
  • vegemite sandwiches in his lunchbox everyday without a break
  • apples as their only fruit
  • milk with every meal
  • a certain brand of cracker, refusing all other crackers
  • toast cut in a triangle and refusing toast cut in any other way
  • a certain colour of foods (e.g. white foods) or refusing a certain colour (e.g. red foods)
  • only crunchy foods and refusing foods of other textures.

Some children have food jags with one particular food (e.g. crackers) or multiple foods.  This behaviour can create stress associated with mealtimes (for the child and caregivers).

Food jags can reduce the variety of foods your child eats over time

This can:

  • Lead to a child missing out on important nutrients over time.
  • Reduce the number of foods they are likely to eat and enjoy over time, as eventually a child usually goes off that food (often overnight).

For children who are already limited in the variety of the food they eat, this makes feeding more difficult.

Food jags may be a sign of sensory issues

Becoming very particular about food choices can be related to your child’s sensory development. They may be drawn towards or away from a certain texture, smell or taste based on their sensory needs.  Another reason is that they may have developed a positive or negative association with that food or with eating.  This can happen if your child had feeding difficulties in the past due to illness, or if they ate a food one time and then became unwell and now have a negative association with that food. Read more about food and sensory issues

Feeding tips that may help reduce food jag behaviour:

  • Keep offering a variety of foods (this can include different brands or flavours of an item).
  • Offer the “favourite food” alongside other foods.
  • Try not to make a big deal of the behaviour.
  • Try not to use food as a reward or bribe, this can set up an expectation around a food.
  • Remember your feeding roles – you provide, and your child decides, you can reduce the number of times in a week you offer the food/s which you feel your child is preferring. This can help them reduce the reliance on that food.

Seek the help you need

While many children outgrow their stage of food jags or general fussiness, some may need some help. If you’re concerned about your child’s eating, please discuss this with your GP, child health nurse or Accredited Practising Dietitian.