During these challenging and stressful times, the last thing you want to be thinking about it is ‘what would happen if our specific brand of food is out of stock’, left wondering ‘what is my child going to eat if this happens’.
Children can quite often become fixated on specific brands and packaging of food leading to repetition of these foods and refusal when new brands and labels are introduced. As parents we can also become rigid in only buying the brands we know our children will eat.
Food chaining is a useful tool used here at Lively Eaters to help children gradually expand their accepted food choices. Food chaining is creating a road map to gradually and slowly change the way accepted foods are presented- paying careful attention to the texture and flavour profile in accepted food.
For example: Chicken Nuggets.
Start by having another brand but removing the packaging. Present them in a separate plastic container, so there is no label and packaging. Engage your child to help prepare the meal so they have a chance to touch and smell the food. If you have some leftover of the previous brand, mix them together in the container with no labels.
Then introduce different sizes of chicken nuggets (chicken bites, popcorn chicken, fast food and home prepared nuggets), fried chicken patties cut into pieces etc. These are great strategies for maintaining the current taste and texture but slowly changing the presentation of accepted foods.
The next step might be to maintain the texture but vary the taste. This can be done through different flavours of chicken nuggets including barbeque, honey mustard, smoked, etc. Using different sauces can also help to expand the taste while maintaining texture.
From here we can then maintain the taste but vary the texture. This might include chicken strips, chicken drumstick, chicken breast and ground chicken patties. By varying the texture of the chicken we are slowly expanding children’s range and variety of accepted foods.
And finally, we can vary the taste and texture to include a range of different food choices which could include breaded fish, breaded ground meats, breaded vegetables.
Be rest assured, this does not happen over-night! Keep offering new foods, it may take multiple attempts. Children can reject new foods 12-15 times before accepting them. It may be useful to use a divided plate or have food on the plate next too, but not touching other foods.
A social story? This may be helpful in explaining to your children that during this time, sometimes their favourite foods might not be available and that is okay. This could be your opportunity to be brave and try something new – both parents and children alike!
Occupational Therapist – Lively Eaters Feeding Services