The gustatory system is responsible for the body’s ability to detect the chemicals in food that allows us to differentiate between sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami (savory) sensations. Children with gustatory processing issues may have an unusually high or low appetite or very particular food preparation requirements (served at room temperature, chopped into small pieces, etc.).
While the act of tasting is technically limited to this chemical process, the gustatory and olfactory senses are closely linked and combine to create what we perceive as flavor.
See below for a quick guide on identifying gustatory issues as a seeker, avoider or sensory challenged and how you can help support your child with these struggles.
Gustatory Issues May Appear As:
- Seem to have an unusually large appetite.
- Chew or suck on inedible objects, such as clothing or toys.
- Prefer foods with specific flavors, such as sweet, bitter, or spicy.
- Prefer foods with specific textures, such as crunchy, chewy, or mushy.
- Enjoy the taste or texture of non-food items, such as Play-Doh, glue, or paint.
- Seem to have an unusually low appetite and/or be underweight.
- Be “picky eaters” and have very specific food preparation requirements.
- Avoid foods with specific flavors, such as sweet, bitter, or spicy.
- Avoid foods with specific textures, such as crunchy, chewy, or mushy.
- Be unable to detect flavor or distinguish between flavors.
- Seem to have an unusually low appetite and/or be underweight
How to Support Gustatory Issues:
- Prepare a wide variety of meals and specific foods with new and interesting flavors.
- Keep small packets of spices or flavoring handy when traveling or eating out.
- Add orange or lemon slices to water to ensure your child is drinking enough.
- Use gum or chewable jewelry to provide oral stimulation when not eating.
- Find edible alternatives that have a similar taste or texture to non-food items.
- Never force your child to eat.
- Use a slow, tired approach to introducing new foods.
- Keep mealtimes calm and allow preferred foods to be on the menu.
- Expose your child to new foods by having him/her help with shopping or cooking
- Set and stick to a meal and snack schedule. Set an alarm to help your child know when it’s time to eat.
- Incorporate calorie rich meals and snacks into your child’s diet, such as protein shakes or chocolate milk.
- Practice reading and understanding expiration dates, food labels, and all kinds of household packaging. This will help your child avoid spoiled food and other harmful substances.
- Practice observing the way others react when tasting something that is dangerous or unpleasant. Teach your child to use these reactions to identify potentially harmful substances.
Read more about the gustatory system on the STAR institute’s website.