Being a picky eater, and having a sensory defensiveness against certain foods, are two different things. It should be noted that many children are indeed picky eaters, and for them, all the internet tips do work. You’ll hear things like ‘mix veggies in with smoothies’, or ‘disguise’ them in other foods. We even did an article on how to get your child to eat more veggies! These all work, but only up to a point, and if your child has a sensory aversion to food, then it’s no use trying these methods.

What exactly is a sensory eater?

If you’re dealing with a picky eater, then there’s simply various foods they just don’t like to eat. When trying new foods, they might not want to eat it, but only because they don’t like the taste. Sensory eaters, on the other hand, can actually experience a sensory overload when trying new foods. This sensitivity can be towards textures (smooth purees versus crisps), flavors, or smells. In other words, they experience an actual physical or mental pain or aversion when trying these foods.

Because many parents think they’re only dealing with a picky eater, they often force a child to eat something, not knowing that the child’s senses are in total overload, and that they could perhaps be experiencing actual pain. Obviously, if parents understood this, they would take a different approach to introducing new foods to their child. This adds to the stress surrounding meal times, not only for parents, but also for the child.

What you can do

Luckily, there are a few steps you can take to make it easier for both you and your child. Don’t put pressure on them to eat something, especially if you see a big reaction towards certain foods. Again, your child might be a picky eater (and a drama queen), or they could actually be experiencing a sense of pain.

You won’t know if you don’t ask. When a child does not want to take a second bite of something, ask them why. Even more, ask them to be descriptive and explain what they experience when eating.

Having such reactions towards food can make a child dread mealtime, so make it fun. Studies have shown that children who work with food from a young age, are more inclined to try them. So, get them to be hands-on in the kitchen. This works especially well for children who are hesitant to try foods with different textures.

Finally, introduce new foods slowly. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is your child’s palate. When you want to expose them to a new food, make sure to include other foods they already love. Do this once a week, then twice a week, and so forth.

NOTE: This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. If you think your child has a sensory aversion towards foods, you should consult a medical professional.