As mentioned in my post last month, food chaining is one of the best strategies to help expand your little one’s diet. It works wonders for picky eaters and children with more significant feeding challenges. So… where and how do we begin?

First, if you have the opportunity, read the book: Food Chaining: The Proven 6-Step Plan to Stop Picky Eating, Solve Feeding Problems, and Expand Your Child’s Diet by Cheri Fraker, Mark Fishbein, Sibyl Cox, and Laura Walbert. It’s an awesome resource for families and therapists, and explains this treatment method in way more detail than I’m able to provide here.

Also before getting started, ask yourself– does your child:

  • Eat less than 25 different foods
  • Skip whole food groups
  • Cough or choke while drinking or eating
  • Suffer from vomiting or constipation
  • Gag while eating
  • Have difficulty chewing or swallowing

If so, contact your pediatrician and request a clinical feeding evaluation. It’s important to address any underlying chewing, swallowing, or gastrointestinal issues prior to beginning this treatment method.

Now, with that said…


Use the ChiKids’ food-chaining-planning-guide.

Make a list of your child’s preferred foods. Pay attention to the flavors and textures he or she prefers. Then work within your child’s flavor and texture preferences to complete the list of goal foods at each of these three stages.

Stage 1: Same flavor and texture as preferred, but different brand, shape, or presentation

Stage 2: Same texture as preferred, but slightly different flavor

Stage 3: Same flavor as preferred, but slightly different texture

Plan to offer foods in Stage 1 until your child is eating several of these foods. Then, gradually move through Stage 2 and 3. Work at your child’s pace, and continue to offer preferred foods with each meal. As a general rule of thumb, most of the food you offer your child should be preferred, with only one or two new chained foods offered each day.

Keegan’s Food Chaining Example:

Keegan prefers freeze-dried raspberries.

Stage 1: Offer Keegan a different brand of freeze-dried raspberries.

Stage 2: Offer freeze-dried strawberries (same texture as the freeze-dried raspberries, same color, sweet, but a slightly different flavor); or dip freeze-dried raspberries in greek yogurt (greek yogurt is also a preferred food–this changes the flavor slightly, but stays within the same texture family).

Stage 3: Offer fresh raspberries, but try to dry them off as much as possible with a paper towel before offering (same flavor, slightly different texture).

Liam’s Food Chaining Example:

Liam prefers chicken nuggets.

Stage 1: Offer Liam other store-bought brands of chicken nuggets or homemade chicken nuggets; or cut nuggets in a different shape than typical.

Stage 2: Encourage dipping preferred chicken nuggets in a sauce (ketchup, BBQ, range, mustard); or make homemade chicken nuggets with a slightly different flavored breading (use different brands of breading or different spices to change the flavor).

Stage 3: Offer fish nuggets, breaded pork or breaded turkey; or try chicken without the breading, but dipped in the preferred sauce from above.

Most important… be creative, move slowly, avoid pressure, and have fun!

Happy Chaining!

-Catherine Callahan, MS, CCC-SLP, CLC