Many parents of picky eaters struggle with introducing new foods to their children. It’s why I created an entire course dedicated to taking the stress out of introducing foods to kids! Depending on how sensitive the child may be, it can be quite challenging. If your child is hesitant to try new foods, food chaining may be a good option.
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What is Food Chaining?
Put simply, food chaining is a technique where you make gradual changes over time to introduce your child to a new food. You start with a food that your child prefers and make small changes to it. The change can be as small as cutting a sandwich horizontally instead of diagonally. Once your child has accepted one small change, you can begin working on another. Over time, you can introduce brand new foods.
As with any technique, food chaining needs to be tailored to your individual child. Some kids are able to make bigger changes more quickly. Some may need to make smaller changes over a longer period of time. Neither is better or worse. Meet your child where they are at.
How to Do It
Food chaining takes time. It is a very gradual approach. While you are introducing new foods, you should also be serving foods that your child is comfortable with. Remember that even if these changes seem small to you, they can be extremely stressful to your child.
- Start with a food your child likes. For this example, I will be using fish shaped crackers. Figure out what it is that your child likes about the food. Is it the shape, color, texture, etc.
- Find a food with a similar characteristic. If your child likes the texture and fish shape, try getting the different colored fish crackers. This may not seem like a big change to you, but it may be huge to your child. You can even mix in a couple of colored fish with plain ones.
- Once your child is accepting of the first change, you can make an additional change. Maybe you can get another cheese cracker or maybe you can get a fish shaped cracker in a different flavor.
- Continue making small changes over time and you will eventually be able to introduce completely new foods. If you hit a wall, you can always slow down or back track. Because this approach needs to be very individualized, it can be helpful to work with a specialist.
Food Chaining Examples
Food chaining needs to be tailored to the child. These examples may use leaps bigger than your child is willing to make. The starting foods may not be tolerable to your child and the end foods may not be foods you hope your child will eat. Use them as inspiration, not as a roadmap.
- Applesauce pouch → applesauce served into a bowl served with a spoon (same food, served differently) → applesauce with diced apples (same food, added texture) → diced apples (same food, cut differently) → sliced apples (same food, cut differently) → sliced pears (new food, same shape)
- French Fries from a restaurant → baked fries at home (similar shape, new brand) → potato wedges (new shape) → baked potato (new shape)
- French Fries from a restaurant → baked fries at home (similar shape, new brand) → sweet potato fries (same shape, new food) → roasted sweet potato (new shape) → roasted butternut squash (new food, similar color/shape)
- Chicken nuggets from a restaurant → chicken nuggets baked at home (similar shape) → chicken nuggets at home (different shape) → fish sticks (new food, same shape) → fried fish (same food, looks different) → baked fish (same food, no breading)
- Macaroni and cheese → macaroni and cheese with diced broccoli (added in new food) → broccoli cheese soup (similar food, no noodles) → broccoli with cheese sauce (similar food, bigger pieces of broccoli) → roasted broccoli (no cheese sauce)
Krystyn Parks is a Registered Dietitian and Lactation Consultant who specializes in feeding children. She has a Master’s Degree in Nutritional Science from California State University Long Beach. She is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and has been registered with the Commission on Dietetic Registration since 2013.