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How To Use Food Chaining To Expand Your Palate

How To Use Food Chaining To Expand Your Palate

What Is Food Aversion?

Food Aversion is a strong dislike or avoidance of a specific food or food groups. It is primarily caused by sensory processing issues, but can also develop from anxiety related to bad experiences with food or newly developed changes such as pregnancy. Food Aversion can significantly affect one’s diet and limit their ability to adventure into new cuisines.


Whom Does It Affect?

Food Aversion does not have to develop from a pre-existing condition, but it is heavily correlated with: Autism Spectrum, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder. All of these disabilities often come with symptoms of sensory processing issues that can, in turn, affect one’s experience with food. Food Aversion is usually associated with young kids that are labeled as “picky eaters”, but it’s often forgotten that Food Aversion occurs in adults too!


What Is Food Chaining?

Food chaining is a customizable roadmap that integrates “safe foods” with new food experiences. By building off foods you are comfortable with, introducing newer foods becomes less intimidating. What makes food chaining so helpful to those with Food Aversion is how much you can personalize your food chain. You set the pace, decide the goal, and how it begins! Feel like your food chain roadmap is going too fast? No worries! You are in charge, and taking it slow won’t damage your progress.


Example: Building Towards a New Variation Of Your Favorite Safe Food!

  • Let’s say your favorite safe food is plain pasta in a butter sauce, but you’d like to one day eat spicy, chunky arrabbiata pasta topped with chicken and veggies without gagging at the mixed textures and flavors. 
  • As an example food chain roadmap, you’d start a meal with your buttered pasta. Once you are ready, your next meal would be buttered pasta, but with a side of smooth marinara sauce. Integration of the marinara sauce will help build towards your goal, but by keeping it separate for this step, you still have the option of your safe food if you become overwhelmed by the new food. Remember: you set the pace! 
  • Your next meal would be pasta mixed with the marinara sauce, with a side of chicken breast and veggies. By this step, you’ve conquered the marinara! Now you can slowly start introducing the new textures that may have been intimidating you before, with chicken and vegetables. By maintaining a slow integration of the new food experience on the side of your safe food, each meal is still edible if you become overwhelmed by the food experience.
  • Your next step on your food chain roadmap would be to incorporate the chicken and veggies into your marinara pasta, but add a small side of the arrabbiata sauce. Arrabbiata and Marinara share a lot of the same ingredients and flavor profiles, making this an easier flavor conversion than buttered pasta to marinara. This step would mostly focus on texture aversions. Chunky rustic tomatoes and flakes of spicy red pepper are common in arrabbiata, as well as chopped onion and other noticeable textures. This may be intimidating for someone with hypersensitivity to textures, so just as before – take your time! Repeat this step as much as you need.
  • Finally, the endgame. Spicy pasta arrabbiata topped with chicken and veggies. Maybe even with a sprinkle of chopped fresh herbs if you’re feeling confident! Once you’ve gotten comfortable with this final step of your roadmap, feel free to change it up! You can customize your food chains to help you with challenging textures such as sliced onions or minced garlic.

How Food Chaining Helps With New Ingredients Or Cuisines

Did you just receive an invite to a dinner party with multiple dishes you’ve never had before? What about that vegetable a friend recommended to you that you’ve never even heard of? Build towards that unfamiliar ingredient or slowly introduce yourself to the flavors of the cuisine with a food chain roadmap.

For example, okra. If this is an ingredient that you’re unfamiliar with, starting off with a “safe food” vegetable such as green beans would be a great starting point. Green beans are often suggested as a substitute for okra, due to their mild flavor. It is a common veggie that can be found in grocery stores, making it a great start to your food chain. Once you are comfortable, the next step would be moving onto another substitute of okra – zucchini. Zucchini has a much more similar texture and mouthfeel to okra than green beans, and helps maintain the visual expectation that looks similar to the end goal. 

As any chef will tell you, “a customer first eats with their eyes”. Small details like color and shape will help overcome food aversion when it comes to specific ingredients/foods. Another helpful tip is to maintain the cooking technique used! If you plan to try fried okra, have your food chain also include fried substitutes. By keeping with the “fried” aspect, you’ll be somewhat comfortable by the time you reach the end of the food chain. Just as mentioned before, feel free to customize your food chain based on your needs! 


Build Your Own Food Chain!

Now that you’ve learned a little bit about food chains, it’s time to design your own! Start with a list of your “safe foods”, with an attempt to have safe foods from every food group if possible. Then make a list of all your preferred textures, flavors, smells, and pairings! Examples would include: crunchy textures, garlic aroma, hummus, ketchup, etc. 

Lastly, write down new foods you’d like to try, starting with foods that have similar textures, flavors, or aromas to your safe foods for an easy introduction. Brainstorm how you can chain these foods together to create a roadmap!


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