Friday 26 July 2019

Food Jagging ... Say What Now?

**** If you feel that you or your child are food jagging, please seek advice from a trusted medical professional. ****

The one thing that I am constantly reminded of while on our Autism journey is that there is always something new to learn. There is always an aspect of Autism, or something that is related to Autism, to learn about.

Earlier this year, L attended a food school therapy in the hope that it would broaden his range of foods that he would eat. It had the opposite effect but that is another blog post. But before and during food school, I learnt all about food jagging!

I've always said that the more I know and learn about Autism, then the better off I am to assist my little superheroes. So after hearing the term food jagging, I set out to find out as much about it as I could.

But first a little background. Towards the end of 2018, we started to notice that L was cutting particular foods from his diet. These were foods that he'd normally eat day in, day out. Foods such as green apples. By the beginning of 2019, he no longer wanted to eat green apples. It was at this point when we mentioned this to L's Occupational Therapist that she said "It sounds like he is food jagging." Say what now???

The term "food jagging" describes when a child wants to eat the same foods, that are prepared in the same way, every day and sometimes at every meal. When a child "jags" on a particular food, it is very likely that they will eventually tire of that particular food and they will eliminate it entirely from their diet. This is exactly what L did with green apples (as well as a host of other foods.)

Put simply, food jagging is when an individual limits their diet to a couple of their favourite foods and they then start to eliminate foods from their diet that they once happily ate.

Before I go on, it is important to note that food jagging is NOT the same as having a food aversion. Food jagging is not refusing to eat a particular food due to the texture, taste or smell. It is also important to note that during a typical child's development, all children at some point in time will tire of their favourite foods and cut these foods from their diet. But after a few weeks, or perhaps a few days even, they may add that food back into their diet. This is perfectly normal and is not considered to be food jagging.

As with anything, when the food has been cut from a child's diet for a long period of time, that is when it becomes food jagging.

Any child, or adult, can be susceptible to food jagging but those who have a difficulties with eating are at a higher risk of food jagging, in other words those who have food aversions may be prone to food jagging.

There are many reasons as to why an individual starts food jagging. It could be due to poor oral development which means that the individual is unable to properly eat or chew the foods being offered. They may have developed a negative association to the food - they may have become ill after eating the food. There is a train of thought that children may food jag as it is a way in which they can assert their independence and have some control over what is happening in their every day life. With L eliminating green apples from his diet, I honestly think he just got tired of eating them. Individuals may food jag if they're not offered new foods on a regular basis or they may develop anxiety over trying a new food.

While eliminating a few foods from a diet may not be cause for significant concern, if a child (or an adult) continues to food jag for an extended period of time, they may significantly limit the amount of food and types of food in their diet. Food jagging can cause a lack of variety and poor nutrition. There is a risk that the individual may become tired of eating their other favourite foods and eliminate other words as well. Food jagging can mean that mealtimes become stressful for themselves and their loved ones.

So what can you do??

If your child will only eat a limited range of foods, continue to offer them a varied and healthy diet on a regular basis. The more foods that a child is offered on a regular basis provides greater opportunities for the child to expand their food repertoire.

You could offer your child the opportunity to assist with the food shopping and food preparation. In assisting with the food preparation, this alone will introduce your child to new textures and smells. They may also be more inclined to try the food as they have helped to prepare it or have chosen the food.

When you offer your child the desired food, offer it with other healthy nutritious choices and in small portion sizes. A large portion size may be too over whelming for a child to deal with and manage to eat. We offer new foods to  in bite size portions alongside foods that we know that he will eat. Through talking with L's Occupational Therapist, she mentioned that some foods have big smells and the smell of the food alone may put children off from eating the food. Foods such as egg, fish, chicken, certain types of cheese, salami. Offering these in small portions may reduce the smell a little.

When offering new foods, rather than putting them on the same plate as foods that your child will eat, offer them on a separate plate. You could place this plate on the opposite side of the table so that your child will tolerate them in their personal space and then gradually move the plate closer to your child. We've used this strategy with L and he has ended up trying small bite sized pieces of the food.

When offering the foods that your child will normally eat, prepare them and serve them in slightly different ways. The changes should be noticeable enough so that your child is able to see the change but subtle at the same time so that your child will accept the food to eat at that point in time. You could change the shape of the food, the colour or alter the flavour slightly. Generally the shape is the easiest way to change food but also your child is more likely to accept that change. The final change that you should make to food is the texture. From experience, changing the texture of food can often cause the most stress for a child who has a limited diet.

When offering new foods, try to make the environment as fun and relaxed as possible and offer the new foods alongside foods that you know that they like. If the child feels relaxed, they may be more inclined to try the new food.

We've begun to reintroduce green apples in small amounts to L but we know that the process could take some time. We've set small, realistic goals so that L knows that there is no pressure what-so-ever.

Lastly when you are introducing new foods to your child, or if your child is food jagging, try to remain calm and not take it personally if your child refuses to eat the food. There's quite possibly a genuine reason behind why your child is unable to tolerate the food.

I'd love to hear any tips or tricks that you have used to introduce new foods to your children.

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