Thursday Tips Senses Series: How Do You Know If You Like It–You Haven’t Tasted It?

PB and J Food Art Food FaceTaste is simple and extremely complex. It is binary–I like it or I don’t–and infinitely nuanced. 

Taste buds on our tongue taste five main flavor categories: sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami. Beyond these, taste is directly related to and intertwined with our sense of smell. Since smells are directly linked to memory centers in our brains, taste is intimately connected to memory as well.

We think we know how something will taste based on prior interactions with foods that look and smell similar. This is how we get those definitive statements of “I don’t like it,’ before a taste has even been ventured.

We want tastes of foods to be linked with positive memories in order to “like” that food in the future. The best way to do this is with positive praise and steps to ‘tasting’.

Tasting a food is the final step in a progression of becoming familiar and comfortable with a food. We often tell kids to taste something as if that is their first interaction with the food and the only way they’ll know if they ‘like’ it.

Maybe a child isn’t ready to put a bite into their mouth, but they might kiss a food and ‘taste’ it with their lips. This is a great step to praise and create a positive memory around interacting with the food!

Maybe your child isn’t ready to taste with their tongue or their lips. You can still introduce the language of ‘tasting’ by having them ‘taste’ with a finger, which is really touching, but is a great step toward tasting with their mouth. Whatever level your child ‘likes’ interacting with a food will provide the comfort level, the stable base, for them to move on to the next level of interaction.

I wish you all so much fun playing, learning and tasting at whatever level your child is ready to experience foods!

Happy food play!



8 thoughts on “Thursday Tips Senses Series: How Do You Know If You Like It–You Haven’t Tasted It?

  1. So true, that our memories are closely stored with aromas. This is a primitive survival link that helps us avoid things that are hazardous. I’ve seen countless children with severe food aversion after having had long-term reflux/regurgitation problems and I always tell the families that if they had experienced the awful taste and feeling of (vomit) after every taste of food/drink they would eventually turn away all offers too–especially if a g-tube supplies all necessary nutrition. Those automatic, primitive patterns are deeply embedded in the subconscious and require a lot of work to relearn. Anyway, would like to reblog your post on OT Interactions!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As a dietitian, I talk with parents of pediatric patients about how it can take up to 20 exposures to a food before a child will accept it. I also think that this can remain true with adults – I have many adult patients who refuse to try things because they ate it once upon and time and don’t remember liking it. Do you think this exposure idea could hold true for adults, too?


    1. Hi Jamie, Yes! I definitely see this with adults and have experienced it personally, too. The body will protect us from foods we had a negative experience with, so adults have even more history to get past with foods they ‘don’t like’ or ‘remember not liking. For many of us, it’s not a problem, though. We have enough of a food repertoire that not eating beets, or mushrooms (or in my case apple pie!) isn’t going to affect us too much nutritionally. But when these restrictions become severely limiting, either nutritionally or socially, repeated positive exposure can definitely work in the same way to retrain the nervous system around these foods!


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