Stuck in a (Food) Rut

Enrichment Therapies

December 21, 2016

Help! My child will only eat boxed macaroni and cheese, Kraft brand, and it HAS to be Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles shaped.  It’s driving me crazy!!!  Sound familiar? When a child refuses to eat anything except for one, very specific food, for every single meal, we call this a food jag.  This tends to be a common occurrence in households where an extremely picky eater resides.

As a feeding therapist, my goal is to expand a child’s food acceptance as quickly as possible. When a child is jagging on a food, my (and the parents’) worry is that the child will burn out on that food and there won’t be another food that will be accepted.  In order to prevent that from happening, here are some steps to modify the child’s current food obsession:

Make changes in this order:  Shape, Color, Taste, Texture.  Have your child help you make these changes so that he or she can watch the transformation from the food they are familiar with to a fun new way to enjoy this same food.  Spend at least a couple of weeks on each step.

Shape: Cookie cutters are your friend!  For many foods, such as chicken nuggets, bread, pancakes, or cheese slices, changing the shape is pretty easy.  Allow your child to pick a different cookie cutter each time they eat the food and help them to create a new shape.  For other foods, such as macaroni and cheese as mentioned above, you may have your child help you prepare two different boxes, one that is his favorite shape and one that is a new shape.  Talk about how you use the exact same ingredients for both.  Present him with a bowl containing mostly his favorite shape, with a few new shapes mixed in.  Gradually work your way to half and half, and then eventually to a bowl of unfamiliar shapes.

Color: For this step, let your child choose a food coloring and help him or her to put a few drops in the food.  If you are making bread or pancakes from scratch, the food coloring can go in the batter.  It can also go straight into macaroni and cheese while it is cooking.  You can also make pasta or rice in different colors while cooking it, or your child can “paint” different colors on cookies or crackers.  Food coloring can also be mixed with butter, milk, and water.

Taste: Changing the taste of a food may involve adding a different spice or herb, cheese, or something sweet (honey, syrup) during preparation.  Your child can also dip things in various sauces (ketchup, ranch, hummus, cheese whiz, etc.) to change up the flavor.  You may experiment with different methods of preparation to change the taste as well (roasted vs. sautéed, baked vs. fried, toasted vs. microwaved).

Texture: Finally, texture changes can also be achieved through the use of different ingredients or cooking methods.  When baking, different amounts of butter/oil, flour, baking powder/baking soda, and eggs will change the texture of the finished product.  Pastas and rice can be cooked for a different amount of time.  Cheese can be lightly melted, bread can be toasted, and vegetables can be cooked or left raw to make them more or less crunchy.

The moral of the story is: BE CREATIVE. And, of course, have fun!  Check out my Therapy Talk about food jags.

Here is another great resource: Melanie Potock is a pediatric feeding expert and in this article, she gives some other tips for helping children who are food jagging.

Enrichment Therapy & Learning Center has locations in the Iowa City, IA area and Des Moines, IA area. We provide individual speech-language therapy and tutoring as well as offering small group academic programs.  At Enrichment Therapy & Learning Center our passion is to help kids achieve effective communication skills and gain academic success.  Contact us for more information on how we can help your child succeed.

740 Community Drive, Unit A

North Liberty, IA 52317


5530 West Pkwy, Suite 300

Johnston, IA 50131


Related Posts

What Is an Oral Mechanism Exam?

What Is an Oral Mechanism Exam?

By: Kaylie Wright, M.A., CCC-SLP An Oral Mechanism (Oral Mech) exam is done to assess the structures and function of the mouth in relation to speech...

Seating for Mealtimes

By: Megan Van Laar, M.A., CCC-SLP I am about to become a mom and I am completely overwhelmed by...

Therapy Talks-Food Jags

Does your picky eater love to eat the same foods for every meal? Megan V. talks to us about what a...