How to Help Children with Texture Aversions to Food

Learn When to Talk to Your Pediatrician About 'Picky Eating'

Determined girl refusing to eat.
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Your toddler will only eat pureed food. Your son will only eat crunchy foods like hard pretzels, celery, and chips. Your daughter calls any food wetter than a cracker "slimy." Are your kids picky eaters, or could they have a hidden medical problem?

Yes, in some cases this may just be picky eating (lots of us have food preferences, and mixing them into a toddler-parent relationship is an easy recipe for power struggles).

But if your child limits himself exclusively to certain textures of foods and refuses to eat others, it may be a sign of a sensory processing disorder (SPD). Your pediatrician can help you determine whether a very picky eater actually should be evaluated for the condition.

Sensory Processing Disorder and Food

Children with sensory processing disorder have a difficult time making sense of the sensory information that their body collects. This makes it difficult or impossible for the child to respond normally to external stimuli, such as food with a particular texture.

In practice, these children may gag if forced to eat food with the problematic texture, and they'll likely refuse it if they can. The texture that triggers this aversion could be crunchy, slimy, near-liquid or something else.

Sensory processing disorder can cause a variety of other symptoms. For example, some children may be “overresponsive” – averse to being touched, tormented by tags in clothing, and unwilling to touch textures they find distasteful.

Others may be “underresponsive” – oblivious to pain or their proximity to others, and constantly seeking out more sensory input. These children may only like very hot or very cold food, or only very crunchy or hard-to-chew food.

Treatment of sensory processing disorder involves physical and occupational therapy that eventually should help your child become accustomed to more textures and types of food.

A trained occupational therapist can evaluate your child’s sensory processing and determine if the food texture aversion is due to the condition.

Other Potential Problems with Texture

Not every child who has an aversion to a particular food texture actually has sensory processing disorder.

For example, if your child will only eat soft food, it may be that he has difficulty chewing and swallowing other foods. This can be due to dental problems such as untreated cavities, pain in the mouth or throat, lack of muscle control, or a physical difference in mouth structure that makes chewing and swallowing difficult. A child who has always been in pain believes that pain is a normal state of being, and will not describe feelings of pain when eating.

Children with autism often have rigid rituals around meals that can include refusing to eat certain textures, tastes or temperatures of food. They also are more likely to have a sensory processing disorder; the two conditions are separate but linked.

More About Picky Eaters and Medical Problems

Picky eating can indicate a variety of potential medical problems.

Here are several articles with additional information, depending on your child's particular behavior:


Ernsperger, Lori, Ph.D. and Tania Stegen-Hanson, OTR/L. Just Take a Bite: Easy, Effective Answers to Food Aversions and Eating Challenges. Future Horizons, Arlington, TX.

North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition. Hepatitis B Vaccine.

Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation. About Sensory Processing Disorder fact sheet.

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