Avoiding Food Ruts with the “Rotation Rule” 

Main image for the article [Avoiding Food Ruts With The “Rotation Rule” ]. Pictured is a toddler sitting at the table and making a disgusted face at her food.

We know the division of responsibility in feeding says that parents are in charge of choosing what, when and where foods are served. Let’s discuss the “what” part for a second. 

Toddlers are notorious for their ability to get into a food rut where they continually eat the same thing on repeat. It might be one or two…or maybe three foods they request over and over, meal after meal and they do this for weeks before getting bored and then moving onto the next food they get stuck on. And so to cut to the chase…usually this is solved by continually exposing your child to a variety of food…regardless! Graduates of my online courses know that continual exposure (I’m talking more than 10-20 times!) is a primary principal when feeding babies/toddlers…because it works!

But what’s interesting is that we often miss out on continually exposing our child to new foods when we ourselves fall into a food rut of our own! Which in turn leads them to fall into a food rut (or makes their food rut worse). So what can happen (and it’s totally unintentional) when we’re meal planning, is we serve the same food over and over again without even realizing.

Let’s look at the most common scenario for the majority of us parents out there.

Usually, we’re GREAT at rotating dinners. We don’t usually eat the same dinner two nights in a row. So if we have chicken fajitas one night…we’re likely wanting to have something else the next night. However, think about what happens with breakfast, lunch and snacks. They’re often repeated a lot! For example, so many of you say to me “I’m a creature of habit” and so maybe you eat (or offer) Cheerios for breakfast every single day – that’s just your go to breakfast.

And look…I get it. One less “What am I going to make” decision every day means a lot less mental space is taken up in our already overwhelmed minds. 

But here’s something I just want you to be aware of.

Take a look at this sample menu below – this is a little over simplified, but it’s very common to see menus like this for a week where out of 25 weekday eating opportunities, only 13 of them are different!

  Monday Tuesday Wednesday  Thursday Friday
Breakfast Cheerios & Milk Cheerios & Milk Cheerios & Milk Cheerios & Milk Cheerios & Milk
Snack Yogurt Tube Yogurt Tube Goldfish Crackers Puree Pouch Yogurt Tube
Lunch PB&J with blueberries Mac & Cheese PB&J with blueberries Ham & Cheese with applesauce Mac & Cheese
Snack Puree Pouch Puree Pouch Yogurt Tube Energy Bar Goldfish Crackers
Dinner Chicken & Rice Meatloaf & Veggies Pot Roast & Mashed Potato Spaghetti & Meatballs Nuggets & Veggies

This means that the same foods show up 12 times over the week. That’s 12 repeated exposures to the same thing over and over which starts to teach your child to learn to like only those foods! And you can start to see how their food repertoire slowly starts to narrow down week by week. Remember the golden rule of exposure is…your child will learn to like what they are offered most! 

Now, I’m certainly not saying that your situation is exactly like this, but it is something to be cognizant of especially if your toddler just won’t budge from a food. It’s also not something to feel guilty over (I HATE mom guilt). Rather, realize how great it is to be aware of this and that awareness is the first step to being able to make some changes! 

So how DO we make changes?

Adopt the “Rotation rule”

This is a rule that I first heard of from Dr. Dina Rose who has a wonderful, logical approach to changing a child’s eating habits.

Here it is:

Avoid offering the same food (except milk) two days in a row. 

It’s that simple. 

I like to add the caveat that, if you can’t do that, at least make it so that the food is not served in an identical way as it was the previous day.

So ideally, if I served yogurt for snack yesterday, I’m going to serve cheese and crackers the next day. If I served Mac and cheese for lunch, I’m going to serve a turkey sandwich the next day. Or maybe if I served rotisserie chicken one night on it’s own, I put it in a wrap the next day so it looks different.

One important piece to this is that you’re not going to expect your child to eat a brand new food or a food they don’t like yet just because you served it. You are going to rotate the foods you know they already accept (and ideally, in addition to a small amount of a new one…but that’s a post for another day). So if your daughter’s only accepted foods (without putting up a fight) are mashed potatoes, peas, spaghetti with sauce, toast with butter, grapes and Cheerios, then you will still make sure to include these foods in her menu, but the same food doesn’t show up two days in a row. Make sense?

If your child is really picky, you can start with changing just one characteristic of the food as a good first step. Variety is variety after all and we may need to work with where your child is at. Perhaps change the brand, the colour, the shape, the size or the flavour of something. Here are a few examples:

  • Offer a generic brand of “O’s” with milk instead of Cheerios and milk
  • Offer Shreddies instead of Cheerios
  • Offer penne noodles instead of the usual spaghetti noodles
  • Try steaming instead of roasting broccoli
  • Instead of apple slices, serve it in matchsticks or in shredded form
  • Instead of PB&J sandwich cut in half, cut it into triangles
  • Use almond butter instead of peanut butter on the PB&J
  • Use blueberry jam instead of raspberry jam on the PB&J
  • Add chia seeds in the applesauce if they’re used to eating it plain

I’ve seen many many private clients and my online course graduates see so much success with this strategy alone. Once we’ve removed pressure and fully achieved the trust cycle that proper implementation of the division of responsibility brings, implementing this rule actually makes it easier on both the parent and the child to branch out. It’s a rule that you would communicate with your child, and once they know it…stick to it! This is critical because here’s the thing…they WILL push your boundaries. They WILL try and test if you really mean it that these are the new rules. And if you give in, they will know that the “rules” don’t mean anything and won’t accept the change. If you can be consistent though…they will come to accept things usually within a few days. Note: There is always room for flexibility and grace at your discretion when it comes to “rules”. If your child ate pizza at a friend’s house and you happened to make the same thing for dinner, well…just eat the dang pizza 😛 Let him/her know it was an exception and the rule still holds for other days.

You can take all this a step further to avoid serving the same foods within the same day; snacks tend to be easy to repeat within the same day. This will force you to branch out even more. So if they already had a puree pouch for morning snack, then offer a different snack in the afternoon. The more opportunities they have to be exposed to a different food, the better the chances they will accept a more varied diet. 

Adopt the mantra that “different is the new normal!” It shows your child that different food served at every meal is the norm, and it’s ok that it doesn’t look the exact same as it did yesterday. It wouldn’t be normal if it always did! So when they come to expect variety…they will be able to accept variety. It may be slower for some kids to get accustomed to this while maybe other kids accept the variety much more easily! Be patient, take your time and know that your situation is individual and different from others. But trust yourself in that this will bring about long term change in your child’s eating habits!

If you are looking for help with feeding your baby/toddler and really just want to confidently tackle your worries, confusion around what and how to feed, and stress around picky eating being a thing…please know that my Baby Led Feeding online course and my Feeding Toddlers online course are here to help you! Join thousands of other parents who have seen feeding success and achieved the confidence they were looking for feeding their little ones!


meet edwena

Registered pediatric dietitian, mom of two picky-turned-adventurous eater, and the creator of the Texture Timeline™ – an exclusive tool to help move your baby through easy to more advanced purees and finger foods to prevent picky eating.

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