7 Ways to Help Kids Who Are Sensitive to Taste and Smell

By Amanda Morin

Some kids can be highly sensitive to tastes and smells. That can make everything from spices in foods to minty toothpastes to scented shampoos a potential challenge. Here are some ways to help kids at home.

1. Keep track of how kids react to foods.

Kids’ reactions to foods can change from day to day. How they react to taste and the ability to deal with unpleasant sensations can be affected by things like having a rough day at school or not getting enough sleep. Keeping track can help you look for patterns. It can also help you predict trouble spots.

2. Understand the connection between taste and smell.

Taste and smell are closely connected. Your taste buds can identify basics such as salty, sweet, sour, and bitter. But your sense of smell provides the rest of the input to notice flavor. That’s why smell can make a difference to kids who are sensitive to taste.

3. Encourage “snake tastes.”

It’s important to take it slowly when introducing new tastes. Occupational therapists sometimes start by having kids simply be near the food and look at it. Then the goal is to get comfortable handling the food.

The next big step is to do a “snake taste.” That’s essentially a quick lick. Help kids work up from snake tastes to letting the food sit on their tongue for 10 seconds. Then you can encourage them to swallow a small bite. This may take weeks or even months, so don’t rush it.

4. Set and stick to limits.

Set limits you can all agree on. If you want your child to take a “snake taste,” don’t push for your child to swallow a bite—even if the taste is OK. If you want your child to take one bite, don’t push for more. Showing that you know this is hard for your child will help build trust.

5. Present foods in new ways.

Taste and being sensitive to textures go together, so using a different form of a food may help. For example, your child may not like the wet feel of fruit, but might not mind the taste if the texture is different.

Instead of fresh banana slices, give crunchy banana chips a try. Instead of a whole apple, offer dehydrated apple rings. Plan on some trial and error. Those textures and tastes may not work consistently either!

6. Introduce new foods over time.

Asking your child to try too many new foods at once can be overwhelming. And keep in mind that it can take 10 to 15 tries before kids decide if they like a new food. Pay attention to how your child is responding. If a food isn’t a hit, try other forms of it before giving up and moving on to a new food. For instance, try a banana smoothie instead of a whole banana.

7. Set up “no scent” zones.

Have you ever smelled something so strongly you can taste it? Kids with taste sensitivities can have a lower tolerance for scents. Try keeping areas you eat in free of air fresheners, perfume, and other strong smells.

    Tell us what interests you


    About the author

    About the author

    Amanda Morin is the director of thought leadership at Understood and author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.” She worked as a classroom teacher and early intervention specialist for more than a decade.

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Vanessa M. Pastore, MA is a pediatric occupational therapist who specializes in sensory integration. She has a private clinic in New York City.