Children can be taught to notice if a food is wrong for them. Most food sensitive children are supertasters and supersmellers. That is why you can’t trick them by changing the brand of some favourite food. They will know!
They are aware that food is too smelly because of some reason for them. Maybe it is too stale, too acidic, too strong or just a flavour they don’t like at all. They may tell us loud and clear that a food “smells too old!” or “smells mouldy” or “tastes too yucky!”
The ability to be very fussy can help children learn what foods they can tolerate once they are on the diet. As challenges are planned you can involve them in the testing of challenge foods. You and ask them to taste and smell the test food and guess if they may be able to handle it without getting their usual symptoms. Then compare notes when they did or did not react to the food.
As you progress through diet management you can talk about foods you are testing. Over years of clinical research where families tested food and let me know what was tolerated I learned that tolerance is in many ways related to taste and smell. See Tolerating Troublesome Foods for stories of what families find.
Apples are a good example. You can talk about different varieties and which one tastes sweetest for your child. You can taste a slither when they are crisp and notice how acidic it is, then taste and test the variety when the apple is fully ripe. A very bright little boy named Charlie said he is happy to tell his story. His mum has been very careful managing the diet trial and challenges. Charlie’s dad is also a supersmellers, especially when it comes to meat. Meat that still smells fine to Charlie’s mum he generally considers “off”. And his mum, Charlie’s grandmother, always makes a comment of smells whenever she first walks into their house. Just a day before we talked she walked in and said she could smell meat. It was some time since mum had cooked some chicken for their lunches.
When doing single food trials Charlie’s mum says he “goes hyper almost like a switch has been flicked” after red delicious apples, but there is no change after Royal Gala. As an example of his awareness of smells I was reminding him to smell any fruit he wants to test and he surprised me by asking if he should “smell it on the outside and on the inside”, showing that he knew that for him the smell on the outside was different to the smell on the inside!
We are used to our wine-loving friends talking about the different qualities of wines all based on flavour. This awareness of flavour is also present in food sensitive people and they should consider themselves gourmet people too. In fact their awareness is not just for the pleasure of eating. It can make the difference between them getting symptoms of not. Children like Charlie can use their supersensitivities to help them choose foods they are likely to tolerate. And they will probably make great wine tasters when they grow up!
Joan Breakey Dietitian specialising in food sensitivity