How sensory sensitivity may affect your child’s eating

How sensory sensitivity may affect your child’s eating

Sensory sensitivity could be playing a big role in your child’s fussiness around food.

More and more is being understood as to how our child’s sensory experience may have an influence on the foods they love to eat or downright refuse to eat.

Although straight away the smell and taste of a food come to mind as potential senses that may dictate our eating preferences, there are actually a number of senses that influence our eating behaviour, especially for our sensitive kids.

Whether or not your child has a diagnosis of ADHD, is Autistic, or requires any kind of developmental support, we all have specific sensory sensitivity needs and requirements, some of them are just a bit more particular than others.

Let’s have a look at exactly which senses may be affecting your child’s eating.

How does sensory sensitivity affect taste?

The taste of a food is a big factor in our likes and dislikes.

Some people love sweet tasting food, some savory, some salty. There are also sour and bitter tastes, that are often not as popular for children. Food tastes that we may seek out or crave can provide clues as to potential nutrient deficiencies that we may have, and also the bodily systems that may require some additional support.

How does sensory sensitivity affect smell?

The smell of a food can make a food attractive or repulsive. Your child may tend to avoid smelling certain foods or the smell of foods they do not like.

For some children if it is a meal they do not like or contains a food that they just can’t tolerate, they may be disgusted by even the smell of the food cooking in your kitchen.

On the other end of this spectrum, you may find that your child loves to smell foods, smells absolutely everything they can, but sometimes won’t always eat the food after they smell it.

Such sensory ‘seeking’ and ‘avoidant’ behaviour can give an indication of your child’s sensory profile.

An Occupational Therapist is the best trained to give you advice on your child’s sensory needs, however I think the book The Out of Sync child is a great introduction.

How does sensory sensitivity affect touch and feel?

How a food feels to touch is very important, with some children recoiling at the touch/feel of certain foods.

When we think about how a food feels, especially to a child, there are a few considerations to think about.

There is how a food feels to pick up and hold, how it tastes in your mouth, and then the feel/texture of the food once you have chewed it.

So even though your child may be happy to hold and walk around with a strawberry, they might not like the way the seeds feel once you take a bite and start chewing the strawberry.

Helping children articulate how a food feels can be helpful to make the situation more objective. Teaching them words like rough, smooth or slimey, will guide them away from more generic ‘yucks’.

How does sensory sensitivity affect the sound of food?

The sense of sound must also be considered in our eating preferences.

A sensory seeking eating behaviour can be to eat loud, crunchy foods.

Eating crunchy foods offers sensory input, which a child may be instinctively seeking out to help themselves feel in balance. It’s quite amazing when we consider that via this behaviour, this child instinctively knows exactly what they need to do to feel better.

Other children may recoil from noisy foods. Your first instinct may be to offer ear muffs or noice cancelling headphones, but that can make the noise coming from inside their mouth even noisier!

By following our children’s sensory cues and acknowledging the foods they can and cannot tolerate for now, it can really help parents to best understand and support their child’s needs.

As specialists in feeding, we can guide you towards foods for your child that are loud and crunchy, but also provide the quality nutrition all kids need.

How does sensory sensitivity affect the sight of food?

For sensitive kids, even the sight of a food can be disgusting.

Aversions to certain foods based simply on how they look or appear are not uncommon, with a very relevant example being children that will not eat a food because it is green in colour.

Many children will gravitate to more bland looking food – beige, white and brown. So what other foods meet this criteria? Potatoes, parsnips, white beans, chicken may all be foods to consider to diversify their beige food diet.

Other common foods that are avoided due to how they look are foods that are foods that are mixed together, particularly in a sauce, and not separated individually on a plate.

Interoception

The sense of interoception is an important sense, that many are only just developing an understanding of.

Unlike the above-mentioned senses, that are more “external”, our sense of interoception is the brain’s perception of our internal state and the signals it receives from the internal organs, such as being able to recognise or feel hunger or thirst for example.

Although your child’s sense of interoception may not influence the type of foods that your child will eat, like the senses detailed above, it will influence how much and how often your child may eat or drink and is worth considering when we think about sensory influences on eating behaviour.

As you can see, there are many contributing factors to the impact of sensory sensitivity and eating behaviour.

Considering sensory influences can help parents understand that for some of the reasons described above, their child is actually unable, not unwilling to eat some, or many of the foods that we feel should be part of a healthy, varied diet.

The experienced team at The Paediatric Naturopath can review the factors that may be contributing to your child’s sensory sensitivity with foods, and support you in gently, affirmatively building upon the variety of foods that they are able to enjoy, not simply tolerate.

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