Updated: Jan 21, 2021
Kids go through substantial stages during the first 18 years of life. For parents, especially first time parents, this can be a challenging period because what appears to be unusual behaviors in children can actually be very common. One of many evolving behaviors is eating habits.
Children naturally vary food consumption to match their growth needs, which range based on their development and activity levels. A child’s need for protein, vitamins and minerals increases with age.
Beginning at the toddler stage, age three to five, there is a natural increase in food jag – consistently eating only one or a couple foods prepared the same way. While adults can food jag too, it begins around the toddler stage.
Temperament and Food Jag
Every child is born with and develops a temperament, or behavior style. There are three basic temperaments for children.
Easy – about 40% of children are in this category, adapts easily to schedules, tries/accepts new foods fairly easily
Slow-to-warm up – about 15% of children are in this category, slow adaptability and refuses new foods with mild reluctance
Difficult – about 10% of children are in this category, irregular eating patterns, slow adaptability, strong reluctance to new food
The remaining children are classified as intermediate-low/high meaning they have a combination of behaviors but gravitate to one.
Based on the child’s temperament, he may or may not be willing to try new foods. When he gravitates to one or a couple food items made a certain way and shuns others, he is on a food jag. While most children move through this phase without difficulty, it’s still void of daily nutrition obtained from food variety. One food can’t supply all the vitamins, nutrients and amino acids we need on a regular basis. It may seem convenient to serve the child one thing for a week or two. However, there is a threat of the child becoming a mono-eater with nutrition and developmental deficiencies. Fortunately, children typically move out of this stage on their own, but parents can help the process end faster or prevent it by introducing new foods.
To prevent food jag, it is recommended that parents introduce a new food along with the preferred one – this works for adults too. For example, if the child likes mashed potatoes, try serving carrots or green beans a few times with it. Don’t give up if the child does not accept a new food at initial introduction. It is common to introduce and suggest a new food up to 15 times or more before a child gravitates toward and accepts it. However, at the toddler stage, it is best to keep food combinations to a minimum so that potential allergies or intolerance can be identified easier. Simply introduce one new food at a time, over time, with the food he likes.