Preventing Food Jags: What’s a Parent to Do?
By Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP
*This post was originally published on ASHA’s online blog. The original can be found here.Photo Credit: r.nial.bradshaw via Compfight cc
As a pediatric feeding therapist, many kids are on my caseload because they are stuck in the chicken nugget and french fry rut…or will only eat one brand of mac-n-cheese…or appear addicted to the not-so-happy hamburger meal at a popular fast food chain. While this may often include kids with special needs such as autism, more than half my caseload consists of the traditional “picky-eaters” who spiraled down to only eating a few types of foods and now have a feeding disorder. I even had one child who only ate eight different crunchy vegetables, like broccoli and carrots. Given his love for vegetables, it took his parents a long time to decide this might be a problem. The point is: These kids are stuck in food jag, eating a very limited number of foods and strongly refusing all others. It creates havoc not only from a nutritional standpoint, but from a social aspect too. Once their parents realize the kids are stuck, the parents feel trapped as well. It’s incredibly stressful for the entire family, especially when mealtimes occur three times per day and there are only a few options on what their child will eat.
It’s impossible in a short blog post to describe how to proceed in feeding therapy once a child is deep in a food jag. Each child is unique, as is each family. But, in general, I can offer some tips on how to prevent this from happening in many families, again, keeping in mind that each child and each family is truly unique.
Here are my Top Ten suggestions for preventing food jags:
#10: Start Early. Expose baby to as many flavors and safe foods as possible. The recent post for ASHA on Baby Led Weaning: A Developmental Perspective may offer insight into that process.
#9: Rotate, Rotate, Rotate: Foods, that is. Jot down what baby was offered and rotate foods frequently, so that new flavors reappear, regardless if your child liked (or didn’t like) them on the first few encounters. This is true for kids of all ages. It’s about building familiarity. Think about the infamous green bean casserole at Thanksgiving. It’s rare that hesitant eaters will try it, because they often see it only once or twice per year.
#8: Food Left on the Plate is NOT Wasted: Even if it ends up in the compost, the purpose of the food’s presence on a child’s plate is for him to see it, smell it, touch it, hear it crunch under his fork and perhaps, taste it. So if the best he can do is pick it up and chat with you about the properties of green beans, then hurray! That’s never a waste, because he’s learning about a new food.