Welcome our first guest blogger, Janine Segner M.Ed, MS, CCC-SLP! Janine was in my cohort at Gallaudet University, so I can tell you from experience she’s bright, knowledgable and the SLP for you in the Northern Virginia area! Check out her feeding tips and tricks below!

It’s funny to think of it this way, but just like brushing your teeth or exercising, eating is a habit. Three times a day your child engages in a routine with rules and expectations. That means habits, both good and bad, get engrained quickly and deeply. 

Now that’s not to say all children that struggle with mealtime are a victim of bad habits. Children may not be eating well for a variety of reasons. It could be a physical issue or a child might struggle with certain textures or tastes. 

But barring these issues, there are a few bad habits that can absolutely derail family mealtime. What’s crazy is that most of the time as parents we don’t even realize our role in how these habits have been established. 

Gone are the days of eating your eggs and leisurely sipping your coffee. 

Now we are multitasking in the extreme. Pleading with our toddler to come to the table, while we finish making a bit of eggs for our baby transitioning to solids, all while directing our husband not to open the new creamer but to finish the old creamer, which wouldn’t be a problem if HE JUST PUT IT BEHIND THE OLD CREAMER IN THE REFRIGERATOR TO BEGIN WITH.

Anyway. The point is we parents have a lot going on at mealtime. Knowing the labels for some of the most common bad feeding habits can help you catch yourself from slipping into a process that will make things harder in the long run. 

So here are the top three child feeding terms every parent should know:

  1. Jagging— Children’s eating habits can sometimes mimic your music habits when you were 17. You have a favorite song that you listen to again and again and again to the point where it’s the only thing you are listening to (any other Backstreet Boy fans out there?). Then that song is soooo yesterday and you have a new favorite that you listen to until you’ve burned a hole in the CD. When kids do the same thing with food we call this jagging. This can often be brand specific—they eat Kraft Mac’n’Cheese exclusively until its only Annie’s from here on out—or it can be entirely different foods. With the pandemic, many families are cycling through the same 6 meals every week and this can lead to jagging if some care is not put in to introducing some variety in the foods. At my house we have banned the word “yuck” for new foods. My son can only say, “that’s new, I will learn about it.”

2. Short-order cooking— Ah this one takes me back to my waitressing days. You forgot to put in one customer’s order at table 13—which really wasn’t your fault in the first place because their friend asked for 4 substitutions—and now to save your tip you have to go to the cook and ask them to prepare the meal “on the fly.” Its tempting to do a quick “on the fly” meal when your child refuses to eat their chicken because it has a new sauce on it. You KNOW they will eat a hot dog and you can have it microwave in a minute. But hold the line mama. Short order cooking can lead to jagging and the narrowing of food choices. If they know a substitution is on the menu if they complain enough, you could be reinforcing food refusal behavior.

3. Grazing—Kids need to be hungry when they sit down to the table for mealtime. We all intuitively know this but monitoring and managing snack time throughout the day can be hard. Try to avoid a pattern of small meals or snacks throughout the day—try just a midday snack after nap. Also, make sure all the food they consume is at the table. Every once in a while you are going to be on the go and need to deploy that apple sauce pouch of course, but try to make this a rule as much as possible. Some parents have their snacks within their child’s reach so they can self-serve. Try to avoid this as well. Snacks should be provided by the parent sparingly and deliberately to ensure good meal times.

We all want mealtime to be a pleasant time for family bonding. More often then not it can seem like an all out war with lines being drawn in the sand by both sides. Now that you are armed with these terms, you can easily recognize negative behaviors and make sure to win the battles that matter.

Janine Segner, M.Ed, MS, CCC-SLP is a speech and language therapist and owner of 
Expressive Speech and Feeding in Herndon, Virginia.