Chicken nuggets often become one of very few foods a child will eat. Chicken nuggets aren’t usually a first choice to serve kids but, ‘at least they’re getting protein,’ so they get served over and over because, ‘at least they’ll eat it.’ And this cycle goes round and round because kids will only start eating new foods if they’re introduced to and comfortable with new foods. Because it can take a lot of times of seeing and interacting with a new food for kids to take a taste (let alone eat a whole meal). Chicken nuggets can seem like the easier option, the safer option, the ‘at least he’ll eat it,’ option. But by taking that option over and over, you’re actually digging deeper into the rut…
If you look up information on food jags and the chicken nugget rut, you’ll see advice on ways to learn about new foods. There’s also information on strategies to learn about new foods in my post 5 Ways To Play To Encourage Adventurous Eating (and in most of the activities on this blog). These are all long term strategies that really will start to yield results over time. But they have to be seen as that: long-term strategies. There is no quick fix, because your child’s preferences weren’t set overnight and they have a lot of learning about foods to do.
I really love the strategies of Food Chaining as explained by Cheri Fraker, CCC-SLP, CLC and Laura Wabert, CCC-SLP, CLC in their book and on their blog. Food chaining is a systematic way to approach learning about new foods which takes into account your child’s individual preferences and needs. I find this to be a very kind, child-centered approach to expanding a child’s diet and the fact that there is a plan can help a lot of parents get on board. They can see the end goal and the steps to get there and that can help them be patient along they way.
A first food chaining step for most chicken-nugget-eaters would be to expand the variety of chicken nuggets they’ll accept. Often picky eaters have a particular brand whose taste and texture they prefer (often exclusively). Fish sticks and other soft breaded foods, would be a second or maybe third step depending on the child.
Today we’ll talk about exploring fish sticks, but you could use any breaded food that looks a lot like a chicken nugget. Start with a fish stick and a favorite chicken nugget on your child’s tray. Then describe them. Talk about what’s the same about them: they both have breading, they both look a little bumpy, maybe they’re the same color. Then talk about what’s different: maybe the shape is different, they smell different. Do they feel different? If your child doesn’t want to touch it, you can describe how they feel the same or different.
Then try a deconstruct activity. Start taking the fish stick and chicken nugget apart. What’s the same and different about the insides? do they look the same, feel the same, smell the same?
Add A Song:
Sing about what you are doing with the food to the tune of “This Is The Way We Go To School.” Ex: “This is the way we cut the fishstick, cut the fishstick, cut the fishstick. This is the way we cut the fishstick so early in the morning.”
Add Pretend Play:
Use the pieces of fish stick as cars. You can add other foods for drivers and roads. Use the pieces of fish stick as food for a picnic or tea party. Feed plastic or washable action figures, dolls and animals. Use the pieces to pretend cook. Make a soup and pretend the fish stick pieces are salt, pepper, carrots or noodles. Get silly and make a pretend soup with ridiculous ingredients!
Add A Concept:
Separate the breading and the fish and sort the different parts of the fish stick into two piles or into two bowls.
Make up a Game:
Use pieces or slices of fish stick as game pieces in an obstacle course or board game you make up. Play a dipping game and work up to tasting a favorite dip off of a fish stick. Dips are used in food chaining for flavor-masking, which helps kids eat new foods with the comfort of a dip they know they like. So, try pairing a new kind of breaded food with a dip like ketchup or honey mustard that they already like on other foods..
The possibilities are endless when you start exploring and playing with a new food! How do you introduce and explore new foods at your house? Comment and share your ideas and experiences!
Enjoy! Happy food play!