What is a food olfactory aversion?

People learn about foods (especially new ones) with their senses. And for some people the smell of food is overpowering. Their smell sensory system – known as the olfactory system – experiences an overload. This will mean that people may struggle to be around cooking, at the table with others eating these foods or sit near new foods at school. In these instances, people will find ways to avoid these situations and enact a range of coping strategies. 

Helping Children with a Food Smell Aversion

There are two ways to help children with food smell aversions:

  1. Work on building their resilience to handling smells.
  2. Work on providing them with coping strategies that are not disruptive and are more conducive to helping them in the longer run.

The remainder of this article will focus on one method for helping a child build some resilience to handling smells through play (and tactile – touch – resilience).  For more information on a COPING strategy that I use with kids for big smells, head on over to my post on cooking fish!

Also, the strategies in this blog are general in nature and there are many strategies available. Read this article, if you need more information on working out what is right for your situation.


A worked example of building a child’s sensory resilience to handling smells, through scented playdough.

We love using scented playdough in our food playgroups and at home before meals for the following reasons:

1)  To encourage smelling natural scents in a positive and non-pressured way.

2) To encourage touching, making a mess and empowering the child with self-cleaning.

3) If playdough is still difficult from a tactile response, using a cutter and a rolling pin is a good stepping stone toward full hand contact and play.

4) To get some proprioceptive sensory system input (pushing and pulling / forces) helps our body “RE-SET” before going onto other tasks.

Why does sensory work before meals help children focus better and try new foods?

I love this YouTube clip that explains how different senses have different thresholds for each person.  It is told from the view of a boy, Neil, who has Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). (Note: it’s only Sensory Processing Disorder is only used if medically diagnosed and is recognised in your country’s health system.)  He outlines the 7 sensory systems that all humans have and what it’s like to have over-responsive or under-responsive sensory systems.  He has the perfect analogy to help you think about your child’s own sensory cups!

Every child’s sensory cup varies in size.  I know that with myself and my children, we all have very different thresholds for our sensory processing.  I have a small cup when it comes to auditory processing – I hate balloons popping!  Whereas, my youngest daughter relishes the opportunities to eat noisy foods and sing at the top of her lungs outside on the trampoline.  My oldest daughter re-sets by getting some big vestibular system inputs (ie, swinging, doing a cartwheel, hanging upside down).  And this is why the downward dog yoga pose works well for her when we get ready to eat.  

Natural Scents that you can mix into homemade playdough:

Amalie summed it up perfectly in her recipe here for lemon scented playdough when she said:

Sensory experiences such as Play Dough allow children to develop their senses and emotional development.  It helps children to regulate their moods.  Sensory play builds nerve connections in the brain’s pathways which lead to the child’s ability to complete more complex learning tasks.

Therefore, a great activity for you to consider adding to your bag of tricks is to have some scented playdough at the ready before mealtimes.

I have also written a tutorial for making MINT SCENTED BUBBLE MIX. Blowing bubbles is a great pre-mealtime activity to help your child get ready for the work of eating.

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