Grandson Has Sensory Food Aversion

By December 11, 2012

My six year old grandson is the perfect example of sensory food aversion. He was a preemie. He did not start foods until he was almost a year old. Now he eats very few things. How do you get him to try eating more variety? Thank you. – anonymous

Dear visitor,

You are a caring grandmother to seek helpful information for your grandson. It sounds like his food intake is very limited in terms of variety, and that can be very frustrating for all of you.

First, I’m wondering if your grandson is growing and developing normally from a physical perspective. Is his pediatrician alarmed? If he is healthy overall, then you can relax and take a deep breath. With time, patience and persistence, many picky eaters improve a little bit every year, and ultimately eat a wide variety of foods. Here are some general things to think about:

  • Keep mealtimes as relaxed as possible. Too much pressure and coaxing works negatively and can set the tone for eating issues later in life.
  • It is the adult’s responsibility to offer a variety of healthy options, but only the child can determine what and how much to eat. We have to accept some lack of control.
  • Don’t lose sight of the big picture; it’s easy to get into a power struggle over one item and forget that you are trying to teach overall healthy eating.
  • Children often need multiple exposures to the same food before they will accept it, so don’t overwhelm your grandson with too many new foods in a row. Keep trying with a limited number, and ask that he at least take one bite at each meal. It might also help to only work on one new texture at a time. Even if he reacts negatively or gags, praise him for trying and tell him it will get easier as he gets bigger. This process can take weeks to months.
  • Involve your grandson in meal preparation in a fun way. Often, children are more willing to try something new when they helped make it. If feasible, growing a little vegetable garden can also motivate kids to be more adventurous.
  • Emphasize that eating more variety will help his body be healthy and strong.

There is a book that I highly recommend by Ellyn Satter called Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family. It contains practical information, including nutrition tips and the emotional aspects of feeding children.

If your grandson is delayed in physical growth and/or has a consistent strong gag reflex (or regularly vomits), then I would recommend professional help. An occupational therapist trained in sensory integration therapy could work with your grandson and his parents to incorporate the textures and tastes to which he has an aversion.

Although there isn’t one simple solution for your grandson’s feeding issues, you can gather ideas and techniques to implement, which will bring positive results—one step at a time. Keep your expectations realistic, be encouraging and celebrate each small victory.

Ann Capper, RD, CDN