How to Handle Picky Toddler Food Jags

toddler with snack

Maybe your toddler has always been a picky eater, but lately it’s gotten extreme. She’s insisting on the same food, over and over, refusing anything else. You’re worried about her nutrition. You’re making separate meals for her. Or maybe you can’t even leave home to eat.

Your child is likely having a food jag. Find out what it means and what food parenting tactics you can use to get your toddler’s eating habits back on a healthier track. 

toddler with snack

What they are: Your child is having a food jag when she wants to eat the same food at every meal, every day. While it might be normal and common, there are ways to help her enjoy a healthier variety. 

Why they do it: Toddlers want some control over their lives. Restricting their food choices is a way to assert their independence. 

family eating dinner

When your child goes on a jag, he has totally taken charge of mealtime. So the key to feeding picky toddlers is finding the right balance of control. Remember your roles:

  • You’re in charge of setting a meal schedule, with three meals and two to three snacks at around the same time each day.
  • You’re in charge of deciding what to serve. Aim for a balanced meal with a variety of healthy foods. Pair a preferred food with something new or previously refused.
  • Your child is in charge of deciding if he will eat, what to eat (based on what you serve) and how much to eat.

Tip: Letting your child dictate his menu gives him too much control. Insisting he eat takes too much control away. When you strike the right balance of control, mealtime struggles subside.

boy pouting at table

Food jags rarely last long enough to cause harm, but there are things you can do to help:

  • When he asks for his food jag food, calmly say, “We’re not having PB&J for dinner, but we can have it tomorrow for lunch. Want to try some chicken or broccoli?” If he says no, don’t force it. If he chooses not to eat, don’t worry, but don’t offer him something else until the next meal or snack time.
  • Be sure to serve the preferred food later, as promised, without making it seem special.
  • Be patient. Your child will be persistent, but once he realizes you won’t cave in, he won’t let himself go hungry.
  • Follow an eating schedule, and give only water between meals/snacks. This helps ensure your child is hungry at mealtimes.
  • If the behavior continues beyond a couple of weeks, talk to his doctor.

mom and daughter picking peppers in grocery store
  • Keep exposing your child to a variety of flavors and textures.
  • Regularly provide new foods, plus foods he’s refused.
  • Let your toddler help pick out and make foods. He can wash produce, stir ingredients and scoop food onto plates.

Click here for more healthy eating tips.