Sensory and Behavioral Feeding Issues in Kids

Picky eating, also known as food selectivity, to a degree, is where a child may prefer a taste of one food over the other. For example, they may eat beef, but not like the flavour of goat. Another scenario is also having a preference for fried meat versus boiled vegetables in soup.


Sensory eating problems meanwhile are caused by the discomfort of eating a food item and feeling averse to its texture. The sensitivities may also extend to a food’s smell sometimes.

In fact, it goes on a deeper level than simply not liking something and even regard eating food as a negative experience.1 2, 3


What features are common with sensory and behavioral feeding issues?

 Sensory – If you notice your child chewing their food for too long, holding food in their mouth without attempting to swallow, taking more time than necessary to finish food, or simply refusing to touch or go near food, there may be more serious issues and a pediatrician or other medical professionals should be consulted.2, 3

Behavioral – Sensory and behavioural issues can be intertwined. Behaviours like acting out during meal time and resisting to sit still when they are able to. Or outright refusing to eat even under parental threats, throwing food, screaming, vomiting on purpose or insistent complaining to get out of eating can all stem from a sensory issue they may have.2, 3


How to cope

Going out to restaurants or other types of eating events are stressful to both the parent and the child who has sensory and behavioral feeding issues. Here are a couple of suggestions to cope2, 3:


  1. Do not pressure – Your first reaction would be that they eventually have to eat that particular food because that is all they are going to get. For a child with sensory issues, food is seen as pain so treating that pain with fear will not improve the situation. Allow your child to explore at their own pace with monitoring and steering in the most favorable direction.2, 3


  1. Get your child analyzed – Sensory and behavioural are intertwined, but can also be a medical issue. Oral, digestive or nutritional deficiencies are all possible causes of food refusal. While it is ultimately best to get your child analyzed by a Medical Professional, in the meantime, talk to your child and let them know that you understand their distress.2, 3


  1. Ease into trying new things – Mix it up and experiment to slowly ease away their aversions. Cooking meals together will also give them a hands-on experience to familiarize with new textures or transform old ones they previously feared. Easiest order to get them used to a food is first by smell and then progress to touch with hands or mouth. If they have gotten past the smell, then try to get them to take a bite and eventually swallow. Praise and reward them long the way.2, 3