A little girl doesn't want to eat food her mother likes. A child's taste buds act differently than an adult's.

With review and feedback from ENT doctor Darrell Klotz, MD (SouthPark)

Parents wish their kids wouldn’t eat so many sweets. Kids don’t get why their parents like broccoli. Nothing defines the generation gap quite like the diets of children and adults. It can be frustrating for both parties to see the other’s perspective, but as it turns out, it’s our biology that drives this wedge between us.

Our taste buds

We perceive taste in part through clusters of sensory cells located primarily on our tongues called taste buds. We detect sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and savory tastes. Those senses combined with those we smell make up the tastes we identify when eating.

The multiple benefits of sweetness

But a child’s taste buds are different from an adult’s. Infants and children have a higher concentration of taste buds that are receptive to sweet tastes. Scientists believe this is to make them more receptive to their mother’s milk. Sweet sensations have also been known to calm down infants or even relieve pain in children and babies.

Don’t get poisoned

These taste bud differences also make children highly sensitive to bitter flavors. While this might make children reluctant to eat their vegetables, it also serves an important purpose. Our bitter receptors help us detect toxic compounds. The more sensitive a child is to bitter flavors, the less likely they are to consume something that could poison them. In essence, a child's taste buds are a useful safety mechanism. 

Growing up

While teenagers still prefer sweet foods more than adults, by this time in their lives they are less inclined to eat them than children. They are also able to distinguish between more flavors than a child, and are thus more inclined to try different foods.

How it looks

While biology is a factor, don’t forget the psychological aspect of eating. People, especially children, are likelier to enjoy foods that look appealing to them. If they think something looks gross, they’re going to think it tastes gross, too.

Make sure they eat healthy

Darrell Klotz, MD

While children are wired to like sweets, make sure they eat more than that. Sugar consumption is a major factor in the childhood obesity epidemic. A well-balanced diet will help make sure your child stays healthy.

“Although children may have a hard-wired preference for sweet foods as an evolutionarily-protective mechanism against toxic ingestion, kids will often eat what is put in front of them,” CEENTA ENT doctor Darrell Klotz, MD, said. “Parents have the difficult but important responsibility of balancing their children's plates (and palates)!”


Just because your child would rather eat candy than vegetables, it doesn’t mean they’re stubborn (well, not entirely). Their biology makes them behave that way. But if you believe your child's taste buds are not working correctly, bring them to an ENT doctor at CEENTA. They can help determine what might be causing the problem and get them back to tasting a well-balanced diet before long.

This blog is for informational purposes only. For specific medical questions, please consult your doctor. Would you like an appointment with Dr. Klotz? Call 704-295-3000. You can also schedule an appointment online or through myCEENTAchart.


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