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Children Who Won't Eat [Insert Food]

Should You be Concerned about Your Child's Picky Eating?


Updated July 05, 2011

Children Who Won't Eat [Insert Food]

You say this is food?

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Does your child refuse a certain food? It may be perfectly normal, or it may be a sign of a hidden food sensitivity.

Everyone has at least one food that makes them shudder. I can’t stand the thought of Oyster Casserole. Oyster Casserole is my family's traditional Christmas Eve meal, but the mere thought makes me feel like gagging. It’s hard for me to imagine, but my child feels the same about chocolate ice cream. I think chocolate ice cream is the food of the gods.

Some food aversions are merely psychological aversions. I don’t like the thought of Oyster Casserole – it's just gross. Other food aversions may be physical in origin, or a combination of physical and psychological. Actually, now that I think about it, I’m lactose intolerant. Maybe my aversion to Oyster Casserole is only partly about thinking that oysters are the texture of snot, and partly about knowing that the pint of heavy cream in the recipe will make me sick.

If your child refuses to eat Grandma’s special lasagna, even though he loves lasagna at home, it may just be unfamiliarity. Grandma uses spicy sausage instead of ground beef, or bakes in a different shaped pan. To a young child, that means it is a new food. Children need many exposures – up to 50 – to a new food before they will accept it and eat it.

Rejections of certain types of food may indicate food sensitivity. Children do not have the reasoning skills necessary to figure out the cause of their tummy discomfort, so they may continue to eat a food they do not tolerate while instead rejecting an innocent bystander. Their aversion to broccoli may be because they are always served broccoli with cheese on it, and really they are lactose intolerant.

That said, if you child rejects one of these foods, check with your doctor about testing for food sensitivities:

  • Fruit - There is a type of food allergy called Oral Allergy Syndrome. In some people with pollen allergies, eating raw fruit can cause them to have a skin reaction around and inside their mouths. Some children will describe the mouth as feeling “fuzzy” or “spicy” after eating fruit that causes a reaction.
  • Milk or Dairy Products - An aversion to milk may be due to its taste, or it may be a sign of lactose intolerance, in which your body lacks the enzymes necessary to digest milk.
  • Bread, Pasta, or Baked Goods - Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disorder in which the body cannot process gluten (a protein in wheat and other grains). Celiac symptoms can also be delayed, making it difficult to figure out what is causing them.

Read more about picky eaters and hidden medical problems:


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. Accessed online 1/14/2011. http://www.naspghan.org/user-assets/Documents/pdf/diseaseInfo/2008%20Revisions/Hepatitis%20B%20-%20Reviewed%20August%202008.pdf

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