What is Food Chaining? Individualized Help for Picky Eaters

Food chaining is an approach to expanding a picky eater’s diet that uses a step-wise and individualized approach.  

It is especially useful for children that have extremely limited diets or food selectivity related to food textures or tolerate only specific brands/flavor profiles. In cases of extremely limited diets (20-30 foods), food chaining is an effective way to greatly increase the number of foods consumed as well as the nutrient quality of their diet.

What is a Food Chain?

A food chain is a sequence of foods or a road map to help a child try new foods. For example, a child may be only eating a specific brand of breaded chicken pieces and the goal is to get the child to accept baked chicken. A food chain would start with very gradual changes to the accepted food.

The first step might be to change the shape of the currently accepted food and then change to different brands. Once several different brands of breaded chicken are accepted, homemade breaded chicken would be offered. The chain would progress to baked chicken. 

How is a Food Chain Developed?

A food chain is highly individualized and starts with a comprehensive evaluation of currently accepted foods. This would include detailed food history with careful attention to both the texture and flavor profile of accepted foods. 

The goal of food chaining is to create a road map of foods that are most likely to be accepted. By carefully determining both the types of food accepted and looking for a progression that leverages familiarity, battles can be avoided.

Does Food Chaining Work?

Food chaining has been studied as a treatment for children with feeding aversion (1). It is both highly individualized and can be easily implemented in the home. With parent education and support from an experienced professional, this systematic approach can be used by parents to help their child eat a wider variety of foods.

How Can I Get Support to Try Food Chaining with my Child?

Creating and implementing a successful food chain can be accomplished on your own, but the benefit of a professional gives you added support as well as expertise to evaluate your child’s diet and to develop a chain that has the highest likelihood for success. With each food chain, many adjustments and detours are made as individual responses to foods are incorporated into the road map. 

For many parents, having support to ask questions as well as recommend products as well as understand how to navigate barriers as they arise improves the success of a food chaining program. When selecting a professional to support you, be sure to ask for specific expertise in developing and using a food chaining approach. Advanced knowledge in sensory related aspects of food and feeding is a key component that the professional offer.

What Tools are Used as Part of a Food Chaining Program?

When using a food chaining program, it is necessary to use objective data to evaluate the success of the food chain. This means keeping careful records of how your child responds to each food offered. A detailed tool should be provided by the professional you are working with or you can design your own.

For older children, engaging them directly in the evaluation of foods is often recommended. An approach that is tailored both to the age of your child and developmental status helps to create a successful food chaining program.

Conclusion

Food chaining is an individualized and systematic approach to expanding food variety for a picky eater.  It utilizes a carefully designed road map of foods to gradually transition to new foods. Foods are carefully selected based on current foods accepted after an assessment of flavor, texture and visual properties. An expert with expertise in implementing food chaining can help to produce the best results and offer support for challenges and necessary modifications to food chain.

Next Steps

If you have specific questions or want to explore food chaining as an approach for your child, schedule a complimentary discovery call. I provide online nutrition visits as well as in-person nutrition counseling. With the right support and knowledge, you can help your child eat better.

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References:

1. Fishbein M, Cox S, Swenny C, Mogren C, Walbert L, Fraker C. Food chaining: a systematic approach for the treatment of children with feeding aversion. Nutr Clin Pract. 2006 Apr;21(2):182-4.