Food Chaining: The Proven 6-Step Plan to Stop Picky Eating, Solve Feeding Problems, and Expand Your Child’s Diet. By Cheryl Fraker, CCC-SLP, CLC; Mark Fishbein, MD; Sibyl Cox, RD, LD, CLC; and Laura Walbert, CCC-SLP, CLC. Marlowe & Company/Da Capo. $15.95.
First, work your way through the bewildering array of degrees possessed by the four authors, from medical doctor to registered dietitian to certified lactation consultant. Then realize that their prescriptions for ending picky eating and expanding children’s food choices are not quite as universally applicable as they claim. At that point, you will find Food Chaining a useful, clearly written book that is worth trying with any child whose health is endangered by a reluctance to go beyond a few favored foods.
Food Chaining offers an attractive (and deceptively simple) approach to expanding a child’s food choices. Start with the core diet of foods the child eats reliably anywhere, the authors advise. Then do flavor mapping, evaluating each type of flavor that your child accepts (forms in the back of the book help parents do this). Next, engage in flavor masking by using a sauce or condiment to conceal the taste of a new food from your child. The idea is to decrease the amount of masking over time, letting your child gradually get used to the new food until the extra flavoring is no longer necessary. You can also use transitional foods to encourage a child to try new ones – say, giving him or her a bite of a favorite food between bites of a new one. Also useful are surprise foods, offered about once a week and significantly different from the child’s core diet.
Because of the very different specialties of the four authors, Food Chaining approaches the picky-eating problem from a variety of perspectives. Cheryl Fraker and Laura Walbert are pediatric speech pathologists and lactation consultants; Mark Fishbein is a pediatric gastroenterologist; and Sibyl Cox is a pediatric dietician. One thing this collaboration produces is numerous “Did You Know?” boxes that include information not covered in the main text but often very useful to parents. For example, “Spoons with a shallow bowl or a soft but firm bowl often work best for children who have sensory issues or gag easily.” This and other brief items show just how many angles there are to the picky-eating issue – and how many approaches a parent can use to try to overcome it. And that is, unfortunately, a weakness in the book. Like many other well-researched, intelligently written books intended to help parents handle a specific aspect of child-rearing, Food Chaining makes the implicit assumption that parents have plenty of time to try its various approaches after carefully analyzing the circumstances facing their particular picky-eating situation. This is simply unrealistic for most families; indeed, it is arguable that in the vast majority of cases, trying to follow the multiple recommendations in a 400-page book (or even reading the book cover to cover) will be beyond the capability of parents. Indeed, at a certain level, the depth and extensiveness of Food Chaining represents overkill for a problem that, in the vast majority of children, goes away on its own. Parents would be well advised to let kids eat their favored foods for a while – commensurate with their health, of course – and perhaps then, if children stay with those foods and only those foods for a time that seems long to the family pediatrician, consider the basic “food chain” plan of this book. Food Chaining calls itself “The Kid-Tested Solution for Stress-Free Mealtimes,” but sometimes all that’s needed to reduce stress is for parents to lighten up a little and not become too intensely concerned about a child’s eating habits.