Ewwwww! Have you ever found yourself saying that after finding days old food stashed in your foster child’s room? Have you seen your young foster child eat huge amounts of food and never seem to have enough? If so, you’re not alone.
Foster children and youth may have a variety of food and eating issues, which are confusing for foster parents. And when these issues come to light as a result of finding last week’s pizza stashed in a drawer, things can get downright gross! As with so many other challenges in foster care, it helps to understand what is behind the behavior.
Remember that your foster child comes to you with a variety of experiences, which influence how they handle food and eating. These experiences can lead to some of the following puzzling behaviors:
Hoarding food: Many a foster parent has “discovered” half-eaten and spoiled food tucked away in a foster child’s room. Or, found some of yesterday’s breakfast stuffed in the pockets of jeans headed for the wash. Hiding food is typically the behavior of child who doesn’t trust that he will have enough food. It can continue even after he is in a home where food is plentiful. Food hoarding can be especially difficult for foster parents because they are working so hard to provide for their foster child. Sometimes it can feel like a threat to their ability to be a good enough foster parent.
Eating too much or too quickly: There may be times when your foster child or youth eats so much or so fast that you worry that she will make herself sick. Like hoarding, this behavior often stems from past experiences of not having enough food. If you’re not sure when you will have a chance to eat again, it makes perfect sense to eat as much as you can even if you are no longer hungry. Also, a child may have lived in an environment in which it was “every man for himself” in terms of food. A child who has to compete with others to get enough food learns to eat very quickly.
Eating a very limited variety of foods: Children eat the foods they’re used to eating. Your foster child may have had a diet that was limited to foods that needed little or no preparation due to either the lack of cooking facilities or the lack of an available adult to prepare meals. He may have grown up in an environment where there wasn’t much money for food, or where fresh fruits and vegetables weren’t available. As a result, his food preferences made be very limited and they may not be healthy. This can be challenging for the foster parent who prepares well-balanced meals only to see her foster child reject them.
Remember that to a foster child joining your family everything is new. What’s familiar to your family may seem strange to him. As he’s adjusting to your home, he’ll likely want to avoid things and experiences which are new, including new foods. As he gets more comfortable and starts to trust the safety of your family, some of the food issues may decrease.
As always, remember that your foster child’s rejection of your efforts to care for him has almost nothing to do with you. It is his or her response to what life was like before joining your family.