It is very important for a child to consume a variety of healthy and nutritious foods in the right amounts to grow healthily, and this should be the top priority for parents. But a lot of times, even when you plan and prepare balanced meals, the children will not eat them all. This especially happens when children are extremely picky eaters or develop unhealthy eating behaviours like toddler food jags. Food jag means the practice of eating just one type of food over time. For example, your child might want to eat just boiled potatoes for every meal.
Such food behaviours cannot be categorized as symptoms of serious medical issues or psychological problems. They are a normal part of childhood and a way for children to assert their independence and show some control in their daily lives. However, if the habit continues for long, it can lead to nutritional deficiencies.
Food jag: how to deal with it
If your child is interested in only eating a single type of food for every meal, the best thing that you can do is to continue offering a variety of healthy meal choices to them. If their desired food does not take much time to prepare and is a healthy choice, offer them their desired food along with other healthy choices. It might be a long and slow process, but eventually your child should start consuming more variety of food.
If the desired food is not very healthy or is too time-consuming to prepare, offer them other healthy choices during meal times. You have to realize that your child is not going to starve just because you did not prepare their favourite food. Even if they refuse breakfast, they will make sure that they eat something throughout the day. So, do not worry much if your child eats less during some mealtimes.
Consequences of food jags
Eating a limited variety of foods over a long time can result in inadequate nourishment of a child, which is harmful for optimal body functioning and good health. Extended periods of restricted food intake can indicate problem feeding rather than picky eating. In such cases, medical attention is required. If the food preferred by the child is unhealthy, malnutrition is a possibility. However, these days, formulas are available for infants, toddlers and children, which help bridge the nutritional gap. Vitamin supplementation is also a good option. If your child displays below mentioned symptoms of malnutrition, then take them to the paediatrician.
Here are some signs of malnutrition that you should look out for:
- Changes in skin colour
- Hair loss
- Inflamed, dry, and/or cracked tongue
- Skin that is extremely dry, pale, and thick
- Gums that easily bleed
- Unexplained rashes or bruises
- Bones that feel soft
- Tired joints
- Discomfort with light
Tips to promote healthy eating habits in children:
Some tips to deal with kids’ food jags and promote healthy eating habits:
- Be a role model to your kids by consuming a wide variety of nutritious foods at mealtimes. Kids usually repeat what their parents do.
- Involve kids during meal preparation and in activities like washing fruits and veggies, sorting, stirring, etc.
- Do not give junk food to children during snack times. Instead, try offering them healthy snacks like fruit, milk, yogurt, cheese, nuts, or some raw vegetables with hummus, but in small amounts. This is because it should not affect their appetite for main meals.
- Do not offer to cook what they like, additionally. Give them the same foods that others are eating.
- Have meals together as a family.
- Give healthy meals or snacks to your child’s friends when they visit. Children are influenced a lot by their peers, and so if they see that their friends are eating healthy food, they will try that too.
- Give them a variety of foods in different colours and textures.
- Do not give your child large portions of food and do not force them to eat once they are full.
- Give them at least one food that they are already comfortable with, in a meal.
Dealing with toddler food jags can be a tedious process but this a normal part of growing up for most children. With the help and guidance of parents, they will slowly overcome food jags and develop healthy eating habits.
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