Many parents feel exasperated when they offer nutritious lunchboxes and their children prefer to ….bring the contents home. If your child likes chocolate, then keep your eyes right here. Let’s start with chocolate! If your child doesn’t like chocolate, that’s OK, but you may find that you can substitute other foods along the way in this crash course on Food Chaining towards more variety, especially lunchbox friendly items. And below you’ll also find an egg free recipe for spelt chocolate brownies.
Food chaining is effectively a series of small changes that you make to the foods on offer to your family that build on properties of food that they are becoming familiar with. In practical sense, this is when you use very similar colours, shapes, smells, temperatures, textures and tastes of foods that your child already eats to guide you toward offering new iterations. This in turn build their dietary repertoire. This is a well researched way to help your child to try new foods. I also find that it is beneficial to serve the currently accepted food with the new version. This means your child can make the choice to learn about the new version whilst feeling secure in the foods they also have on offer.
Let’s start with chocolate
Does your child have a preference for chocolate? Great, write down the types of chocolate that they like. Each type may have a slight difference which can give you hints to ways to present, prepare or flavour the subsequent steps in the food chain to match what your child loves. For example, if your child likes berry flavoured chocolates like cadbury snack, the below recipe can include the suggested boysenberry yoghurt. If your child likes peanut butter cups, you may be more interested in 1/4 cup peanut butter swirled through the brownie mix and use 1/4 cup of vanilla yoghurt.
But I feel guilty that my child likes chocolate!
If you are feeling guilty about chocolate being in your child’s limited list of foods, I understand as there is so much pressure on “GETTING” our children to eat healthily. However, there are many reasons for your child to choose the foods they do. Understanding the reasons behind your child’s preferences is more important that harbouring guilt. You may like to read this article I wrote on the adverse affects of being stressed about sugar around children (as opposed to neutral language about it.) Also, read this article “How to Curb Your Child’s Sugar Cravings without Overly Restricting” by paediatric dietitan, Natalia Stasenko.
Before we start, what is at the end of the food chain?
Before we start plotting a course to increase the variety of the foods we can offer in your child’s lunchbox, we need to remember one thing: START WITH THE END IN MIND. The journey is not going to be linear (as this may start to seem). Progress is the aim, not perfection. Some end points that you may have to factor into your equation – what is your school’s food policy like? Can you advocate for your child to feel comfortable at school with their safe foods by including the teacher in understanding your journey?
When I plot out a food chain with clients, it often looks more like a tree root system. We find that each step can lead to 2-3 options and then each of those can go to another 2-3 options. And to be honest, wouldn’t it be amazing to have all of these come into the repertoire. If you hit a snag or a dead end, that’s ok.
Yet, to start, we need to be pointing in at least one direction.
So, in this example, I’ll be using my fruit, coconut and yoghurt slice (lunchbox friendly and from my book) as our final destination. Here are some characteristics of the slice recipe that may be concerning for you child and why jumping straight to it may be difficult:
- Slightly Mixed Texture (you will see the fruit swirl from the yoghurt)
- Small “lumps” from the Dessicated Coconut
- Beige with Berry swirls
- Room temperature
- Medium level of smell
- Needs 2 – 3 times more chewing than a thin slice of milk chocolate (eg Freddo Frog that melts in the mouth quickly with limited chewing.)
So, now we have our end in mind, we can see that there are going to be MANY steps in our food chain depending on the child’s biggest learning areas.
The Example Food Chain
I am simply going to list all the foods that can make one possible food chain. I will also include some of my thoughts as to why I am going this way in brackets. Yet, from this you may also see how easy it is to come up with another version of the food chain. The important part of food chaining is understanding WHAT you are slightly changing between each link AND determine if that meet’s YOUR child’s needs.
Freddo Frog (A thin milk chocolate in a frog shaped character)
Chocolate from a Block (shape is being change and you need to apply more pressure to bite with the incisor teeth – watch for initial food placement on front teeth vs overstuffing mouth / using molars to do all the work)
Chocolate Covered Berries (usually a berry infused gel filling and round in shape – still mixed texture and a new shape – you can suck the chocolate from around the berry filling too as a learning step before eating it in its entirety)
Chocolate chips studded into a thin slice of maderia / pound cake (adding a new texture to go with the familiar chocolate. Also a good pincer grip fine motor exercise for you to do together.)
The boysenberry chocolate brownie recipe below with obvious studded chocolate chips (At first, your child may pick out the chocolate chips and this is still considered a great learn about this food. You can tweak the amount of chocolate chips depending on your needs.)
Chocolate Chip and Boysenberry Lunchbox Slice – Take the cocoa out of the recipe below and add 1/4 cup extra spelt flour. You can use a whisked egg in lieu of the aquafaba if egg is allowed in your school environment. (changing colour. Later, reduce quantity of chocolate chips by half.)
Berry Yoghurt and Coconut Slice (changing texture and removing the chocolate. You can start out with chocolate chips on top. the end point)
How long does it take to food chain?
How long is a piece of string? You know your child better than ANYONE ELSE. You can be on their team and have a go at learning about more foods so that you are lunchbox ready. Some children will need additional steps between each of these links in the food chain. Some children will just need one go at each step. Some children will race through some steps and get stuck at others for longer.
More lunchbox advice for fussy eaters…
Jo Cormack’s article “Key Principles for packing your picky eater’s lunchbox.”
My article on tips for packing lunchboxes when your child only likes hot food.
Natalia Stasenko’s Mega List of Nutritious Snack Ideas and how to serve them.
My recipe for lunchbox friendly pear flapjacks (and some information on fibre).
Boysenberry Spelt BrownieDifficulty: Medium
An egg-free lunchbox friendly brownie with a boysenberry twist!
Brine from one tin of beans/legumes like chick peas, cannelini beans or black beans (also known as aquafaba) OR one egg
1 tsp vanilla essence or vanilla bean paste
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup boysenberry yoghurt (other flavours to try can be vanilla bean, strawberry, raspberry or coconut)
1/3 cup white sugar
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup spelt flour
3 tbsp dark chocolate chips
- In a stand mixer, whip the aquafaba for 5 – 7 minutes until stiff peaks form.
- Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 150oC and line a medium square baking tin with baking paper.
- In a large bowl, mix the dry ingredients – flour, salt, sugar, cocoa, baking powder and chocolate chips. Make a well in the dry mix.
- Add the yoghurt and vanilla to the well before folding in the aquafaba until just combined. Do not over mix this. If you are using the egg and milk (instead of the aquafaba), mix the wet ingredients separately before you add it to the dry mix.
- Gently spoon the mixture into the awaiting baking tin. Bake slow and low for 40 mins.
- Serve fresh or freeze for up to 3 months ensuring they are wrapped to prevent freezer burn (it is recommended to keep the parchment paper on them for freezing).
Let me know if you have any more questions….
Or if you love the articles by Jo, Natalia and I – Guess What?! We work together as YOUR FEEDING TEAM. A subscription service to 3 feeding professionals. We work on lots of food chaining with our community! Join us!