Food Families: How to Connect Preferred Foods to New Ones

There is little that is more frustrating than when your child only accepts 5-6 foods – especially when most of those foods don’t contain enough nutrition to function as pillars of a caloric, nutrient-dense diet. But there are ways to help your child to expand his or her repertoire, and one way to do that is to identify foods that are related to the preferred food, and to offer them together. This mimics taste testing, and provides your child with opportunities to explore and sample new things in a pressure-free way.

Let’s say, for example, that your child loves French fries (who doesn’t, right?)! One way to use this love of fries to move beyond that food item is to think of other foods that are “related to” or “in the same family” as French fries, and to offer the preferred food alongside the relative food.

There are closely related “sibling” foods, like baked fries, homemade fries, or larger/smaller fries (shoestring vs. steak). Or perhaps you might offer a more “distant relative” like a seasoned fry, curly fry or a sweet potato fry. Then, you might think about visiting with some of the fry’s “second cousins,” “nieces,” or “nephews” – things like tater tots, hash browns, roasted potatoes, or mashed potatoes.

Another progression example could relate to mac n cheese! Perhaps you may want to move from Kraft, to Velveeta, to homemade, to Alfredo, to elbow pasta with tomato sauce, to spaghetti and so on and so forth. As you progress, take the time to provide lots of education about the food item as you are presenting it: “Look how they are all elbow noodles!” “Noodles feel like ‘this’ when you put them in your hand.” etc.

With the exposure to each member of the family, close or distant, your child has the chance to explore and try a food item that feels safely connected to what he or she already enjoys. So offer these relatives with no pressure to accept – truly, that is the key!

Becky Keifer, MA, CCC-SLP, Lead Feeding Therapist