Food chaining is a simple method to help kids try new foods.
If you have a picky eater or two in your house, you know how stressful introducing new foods can be. They haven’t even seen, smelt or felt it and they’ve already decided that it’s “disgusting”.
There is a large component of picky eating that’s in their head. Especially if you have anxious children.
But knowing that doesn’t necessarily make it easier. You can’t “argue” with them that they would just like it if they actually “gave it a go”.
Telling them to put aside all their negative thoughts and move on, isn’t going to work.
Most adults have problems doing that so it’s hardly reasonable to expect kids to.
In fact, the more you “argue” and “coerce” the more they dig their heals and “know they really hate it!”
So what can you do?
Food chaining can help your picky eater
Food chaining will work for kids of any age. Even if you have a toddler who won’t eat.
Remember what you’re aiming for. A healthy balanced diet for kids.
Start my making a big list of things that your kids will happily eat.
You might find that they love everything carbohydrate. Bread, pasta, bread sticks, croissants.
Or they love soft fruits. Strawberries are their favourite.
It can be helpful to identify why they like a food group. Is it the texture? Do they like things that crunch? For your carb junkie that might be crisps, bread sticks and crackers.
For some children it might be a colour theme. My son loves green apples but won’t touch a red one.
It may not be logical but don’t fight it!
Once you’ve worked out what they love, you want to “work outwards”. You want to pick things that are similar but slightly different.
Moving on to our carb loving kids, we might add naan bread, chapati or different shapes of pasta. (Yep! Different shapes count as different things.)
For your strawberry lover, you might try raspberries.
The idea is to gradually increase the list of foods on the “acceptable list”.
An example of food chaining
Let’s take a look at an example of a carb loving kid that also likes peas, and how you can use food chaining to move them towards becoming more comfortable broccoli.
- Let’s start by moving from bread, to another bread product – bread sticks, and then on to crackers. You are maintaining similar flavours but changing up the presentation and textures.
- Then start serving up some cheese with those crackers, and then adding peas to it also so you are slowly building on the foods they like but being served in a different way.
- If they are comfortable with the peas and cheese, it’s time to give broccoli and cheese a go! You could be creative with this by trying it with cheese sauce over the top, or in a cheesy broccoli muffin or frittata.
- Work with what you know your child likes, with making slight adjustments each time you serve it.
- Once the broccoli and cheese gets the thumbs up (hooray!) you can try to serve it on its own.
You can combine food pairing with food chaining. Food pairing is when you take a food they love and combine it with a new food.
Think cheese, bacon and other favourite toppings.
The first time I cooked baked peaches, I added sugar and vanilla. My son told me I was “fablious!” (He was 3 at the time.)
Since then, I make baked peaches with just water. No added sugar. They are so firmly on the “accepted and loved” list that I don’t need to add more sugar.
Remember Not to Pressure
It can be tempting to coerce or nag your kids to try new foods. I am not a fan of the “one bite rule” (and here’s why.) Picky eaters don’t respond well to pressure. It normally has the opposite effect.
And finally, relax and remember that childhood is a training ground for healthy eating!
Need more support?
Join our group
- Playful ways to help picky eaters – no more mealtime battles!
- Essential guide to preparing meals for picky eaters
- Fussy eating – how to get your child to eat healthy meals
Dr Orlena is a Paediatric Doctor turned weight loss and health coach. She is the host of the “Fit and Fabulous” podcast. Helping you make healthy living easy and fun.