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Children Who Only Eat One or Two Foods

Is it a Food Jag or a Hidden Medical Problem?

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Updated January 25, 2011

Toddler Refusing to Eat Food

Just one bite, please?

Life Boat - Getty Images

Children may be stuck on one, two, or a handful for foods as part of a food jag, or because of an underlying medical problem.

It may be that they have food allergies or sensitivities, and they have found a few foods that make them feel OK and stick to them out of fear. It may be that they have a psychological attachment to those foods, or it may be a sign of a hidden medical problem.

It is common for toddlers to have food jags - periods of days or weeks in which they only eat one or two foods. Usually they will come out of the jag themselves and try new foods.

If you child or teenager has been stuck on chicken nuggets and plain noodles for months or years, it can be helpful to have them evaluated for food allergies, sensitivities, and Sensory Processing Disorder.  It can also be helpful to meet with a psychologist that specializes in eating disorders.

Some causes of only eating one or two foods:

  • Food Allergies or Sensitivities – Children with food allergies or sensitivities, such as lactose intolerance, may not understand the cause of their symptoms and may refuse to eat anything other than a handful of foods they know and trust to not make them sick. When I was a child, I developed an aversion to milk but did not know why. Because the reactions in lactose intolerance are delayed, and because I had milk at every meal, I never made the connection between how I felt and what I was eating.
  • Eosinophilic Esophigitis – Children with EE may be unwilling to try new foods, sticking only to foods they know don’t cause them pain.
  • Autism – Children with autism may become very attached to just a few foods and refuse to eat even those if they are prepared in a new way.
  • Sensory Processing Disorder – Extremely overresponsive children may fix on just a few foods that are an acceptable texture to them. (My toddler ate only O-shaped cereal for 4 months.)
  • Emotional Distress – Children may limit their diets severely out of anxiety or stress. Even if there is a physical cause of your child’s picky eating, it may be helpful to talk to a psychologist about how it affects the family.

More About Picky Eaters and Hidden Medical Problems

Sources:

Ernsperger, Lori, Ph.D. and Tania Stegen-Hanson, OTR/L. Just Take a Bite: Easy, Effective Answers to Food Aversions and Eating Challenges. Future Horizons, Arlington, TX.

North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition. Hepatitis B Vaccine. Accessed online 1/14/2011. http://www.naspghan.org/user-assets/Documents/pdf/diseaseInfo/2008%20Revisions/Hepatitis%20B%20-%20Reviewed%20August%202008.pdf

  1. About.com
  2. Health
  3. Food Allergies
  4. Allergies Age By Age
  5. Children with Food Allergies
  6. Food Jags and Medical Problems - Pediatric Medical Problems and Food Jags in Picky Eaters

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