Why We Use Food Chaining In Our Therapy
Today let’s talk about food chaining!
What is food chaining?
Food chaining is a therapy we use to help kids bridge from foods that they already comfortably or safely eat to something that is new to them, whether that’s something they’re aversive to or something that’s challenging for them due to oral-motor deficits.
Help with chewing issues
Some children have oral-motor deficits related to chewing. With these children, we need to work on building those oral-motor skills, but often the child will also have limited experience with the solid food that they need to chew. We have to find a way to introduce this solid food to them in a way that they feel comfortable with.
How do we do this? We start by taking a food that the child likes, something that’s preferred and comfortable with, like yogurt. We offer different flavors of yogurt, and perhaps yogurt with fruit in it. Then we start to add different food items in with the yogurt, such as crumbled graham crackers. We might do that for a few sessions and then start to use bigger pieces of graham crackers, all the way until the child hopefully accepts something that will melt in their mouth but also require a little bit of chewing, like graham crackers.
Then we vary things a little more. We might add different types of cereal to the yogurt, or we might try this with pudding or oatmeal. We can individualize what foods we use based on what the child likes and what their preferences are.
Help with sensory issues
We might also use food chaining for kids with sensory aversion, who maybe only eat foods that are a certain color, texture or shape. For instance, let’s say your child eats Cheeto Puffs, which melt in your mouth and are pretty easy to eat. We might introduce something with the same flavor, such as crunchy Cheetos, and then hopefully eventually move to something like raw carrots.
We do not do any force-feeding. We want the child to feel comfortable, and we want them to have a healthy relationship with the food item. And we always want the child to take little steps with the food. We might have steps such as smelling the food, describing it, touching it to their lips, then their tongue—we take lots of little baby steps. The hope is that, over time, we’ll be able to take bigger steps with food items because the child will feel comfortable exploring foods on their own.
Your next step
If you’d like to try working on this at home, think about your child’s food repertoire, what types of flavors, textures, shapes, and colors your child eats. Are they missing a food group or color? Are they missing a texture or shape? Think about these things and then think about just making little changes. If they eat green apples, you might introduce red apples or yellow apples or even applesauce, helping the child understand that we can eat the same food in many different forms. This helps their comfort level and flexibility in eating foods!