NAGC has produced this Fact Sheet as an introductory guide to the topic of Sensory
Food Aversion. Sensory Food Aversion is a condition whereby certain food
appearances, textures or odours cause a child to refuse to eat that particular food.
Extreme Sensory Food Aversion that causes anxiety, upset, nauseous feelings or even
vomiting is a serious condition which can seriously affect a person‟s life-long relationship
with food. This Fact Sheet offers guidance on how to increase the variety and volume of
food consumption for your child, and offers useful strategies to help reduce anxiety,
aversion and negative behaviours associated with food and meal times.
Children with Sensory Food Aversion will refuse to eat certain foods because of taste, texture, smell
or appearance. Eating a healthy, balanced diet is not only a natural part of life, but also a vital part
of life. As children are reliant on their parents to meet their nutritional needs, it is of course
incredibly frustrating and upsetting when your child refuses to eat the food that you have prepared
for them. Parents can feel guilty about being unable to ensure that their child is receiving the
correct nutrition that will optimise both physical and mental development. Parents of gifted children
may worry that an eating problem will further affect their child‟s asynchronous development (please
see NAGC Fact Sheet on Asynchronous Development for further advice on this topic) and that this
will somehow exacerbate physical and/or emotional developmental delay.
Indications of Sensory Food Aversion
The way a child reacts to certain foods will indicate whether or not they have a Sensory Food
Aversion. If your child displays the following negative behaviours regularly, it is likely that they have
a Sensory Food Aversion:
Refusal to eat a particular food
Generalising food types- food groups, even food brands
Eating only limited foods
Become upset if the „offending‟ food touches other foods on plate
Gifted Characteristics and Sensory Food Aversion
Many gifted children suffer from anxiety, perfectionism, self-esteem issues which can often stem
from a feeling of isolation and being misunderstood. It is also very common for gifted children to be
highly sensitive to textures, sights, tastes, smells, noise and light. These traits can have a definite
impact on the child‟s relationship with food from a very early age. Fully understanding your child –
their quirks, sensory issues, their worries, and fears; will enable you to begin to understand why
they are holding on to negative behaviour patterns associated with food.
This is often a defense mechanism rooted in the fear of something distasteful and/or unpleasant.
Building up trust by engaging in enjoyable, challenging and regular activities with your child is an
essential first step in dealing with eating problems. An active, lively, happy child that trusts and
enjoys the company of their parents is already more receptive to subtle changes during meal times
which you may need to incorporate on a gradual basis.
© National Association for Gifted Children 2010 - 2012
Information and Advice Service
Charity No: 313182
0845 450 0295
Extreme Sensitivity – Super Tasters and Super Noses!
In many families of gifted children, there are incidences when a gifted child is able to sniff out
certain smells instantly compared with others in the family who may not notice them at all. For
example, a gifted child may notice that an aunt or uncle smells „smoky‟. Or they may detect the
slightest whiff of chocolate after a family member has eaten, despite not seeing any in the room.
This highly sensitive sense of smell adds to this type of child also being a Super Taster. It can be
difficult for people who are not highly sensitive to understand just how heightened senses can be;
research shows that it is very common for gifted children to be highly sensitive to tastes and smells.
This can mean that to them, the feeling, taste and smell of certain foods are overwhelming and very
difficult to cope with. Their highly sensitive senses of smell and touch find it difficult to taste, chew
and eventually swallow certain foods which may be unpleasant in texture, smell or taste. Please
see the NAGC Factsheet on Hypersensitivity (Dabrowski‟s Overexcitibilities) for further information
on sensory hypersensitivity.
Implications of Sensory Food Aversion
Sensory Food Aversion in gifted children can have far-reaching consequences and effects on
general well-being as it can severely affect interpersonal relationships, behaviour, development,
self-esteem, socialisation and cognitive ability. Food aversions must therefore be taken very
seriously and not left unchecked or treated long-term. Health professionals would advise skilled
intervention as soon as the food aversion is becoming entrenched in your child‟s daily life and is
affecting their behaviour and development negatively.
A child suffering from severe Sensory Food Aversion may refuse to eat foods from an entire food
group essential for a healthy diet of a growing child. Children refusing to eat vegetables, dairy or
meats will lack the vital minerals, vitamins and proteins they need to develop good health. There
are also implications for oral motor development if children refuse to eat foods that require
significant chewing. This can eventually lead to problems with articulation and speech
Sensory food aversion, food refusal and food selectivity in extreme forms require professional
treatment as these issues also have a negative impact on the child‟s behaviour and this can cause
a lot of stress within the family. The child‟s problem with eating can become all-encompassing;
therefore, successful treatment programmes will include strategies for the whole family to
There are also social implications of Sensory Food Aversion; children may feel very uncomfortable
during lunchtimes at school, birthday parties, play dates, visits to family, etc, as they will not want
others to notice their issues with eating and food.
All of the above implications make it starkly evident that this can be a serious condition that requires
immediate attention and intervention by parents and/or health professionals.
Control Issues
Control remains a key component of many eating disorders; and it is this control that these children
are reluctant to relinquish to their parents or to professionals involved in treatment. Gifted children
in particular, can be highly willful. When challenged to change negative behaviours, they are likely
to become even more resistant. In treating gifted children that have problems with eating, it is
advisable to follow a holistic approach and understand that this type of child has complex cognitive,
social, emotional and disciplinary needs.
© National Association for Gifted Children 2010 - 2012
Information and Advice Service
Charity No: 313182
0845 450 0295
Classification of Food Aversions
Food aversions have been classified into four types of foods that are rejected because they are:
1. Dangerous- for example a gifted 2 year old refusing to eat avocado states “that‟s
poisonous”, because to him, the strange look of this unusual fruit with its blackish green
bumpy outer skin and mushy pea green flesh, makes it appear to be dangerous and highly
2. Inappropriate- for example a child who feels that anything other than sandwiches for lunch is
„inappropriate‟ or only for adults or that „exotic‟, or „different‟ foods are inappropriate because
they do not fit in with their idea of what food should smell/look/taste/feel like.
3. Disgusting- could be the look of the food, smell, texture, past experience involving the food
or a fact about the food (for example an aversion to milk because it comes from the udders
of a cow and would therefore be smelly/dirty.
4. Distasteful- examples of which are any foods that can be eaten, but only if they are hidden
or blended to mask the texture or sight of them- for example carrots blended into pasta
Helpful strategies to reduce Sensory Food Aversion:
Allow your child to handle foods with different textures as much as possible. Even if they
don‟t eat the prepared meal, allow them to help during preparation- from taking potatoes out
of a bag, to washing peppers under the tap, to pouring pasta into a pot, whisking an egg,
kneading dough, etc.
Do try to sit down as a family and eat meals together as often as possible. Meal times will
then become something to look forward to and provide enjoyable opportunities to catch up
as a family.
Make meal times fun, not stressful.
Lead by example and do not graze all day- rather savour and enjoy a prepared family meal.
Do not overwhelm your child with too much food during meal times- one heaped tablespoon
per age of child is advisable to begin with.
Do not offer more than 3 different food types during a meal.
Never, ever force feed your child.
If your child gags after eating certain foods, offer that type of food after a few weeks interval.
Distraction during meal times can be a useful tool to alleviate anxiety. This can include
conversations about positive/exciting things that are happening at present or in the future,
funny stories, playing relaxing or even upbeat music- the list is endless.
Food Chaining technique- gradually build up „acceptable‟ foods. For example, if your child
will eat a plain biscuit, gradually introduce crackers, then cracker bread, dry toast, toast with
margarine, toast with a thin layer of cream cheese, toast with wafer thin ham, a sandwich
with a filling of their choice, etc. Similarly with other foods and drinks follow a set pattern of
food chaining to eventually build up a nutritionally diverse and acceptable diet that is
essential for a growing child. Food chaining must always follow the same shape, colour and
texture for success. This conveys the idea that new food is safe food as it is familiar and
therefore acceptable.
Although tempting, do not beg, cajole, plead, or bribe children to eat. This will ultimately
backfire and can become a weapon that a child will use to further control meal times.
Do not given them the same foods on a daily basis. Explain that this is not only boring as
there are so many different foods to choose from, but also eating the same food all the time
does not provide the body with a varied diet that is essential to all round growth and wellbeing.
© National Association for Gifted Children 2010 - 2012
Information and Advice Service
Charity No: 313182
0845 450 0295
Further Information Books can be ordered from our website shop: www.nagcbritain.org.uk/shop.php
P74 Hypersensitivity (Dabrowski‟s Overexitibilities)
P56 Asynchronous Development
NAGC Fact Sheet with further information on the
hypersensitive nature of gifted children.
NAGC Fact Sheet on the asynchronous development of
gifted children
Tips for parents on dealing with Food Selectivity
Meals Without Tears: How to get Your Child to Eat
Healthily and Happily, a book by Dr. Rana Conway
Help for parents at „their wit‟s end‟ with their child‟s
eating problems
Just Two More Bites! Helping Picky Eaters Say
Yes to Food, a book by Linda Piette
Offers „concrete help for frustrated parents‟
© National Association for Gifted Children 2010 - 2012
Information and Advice Service
Charity No: 313182
0845 450 0295