As any parent knows, you can’t force a child to eat. Eating problems can become real battles for control if they’re not handled well. Foster children can present challenging behaviors around food. Fortunately, there are ways you can help your foster child with food issues and avoid power struggles. Here are some ideas:
Hoarding: Most foster children will stop hoarding when they begin to feel certain that they won’t be deprived of food. You can promote this feeling in simple ways, such as involving them in food shopping, meal planning and meal preparation. This helps show her that she won’t go hungry. It also provides opportunities for bonding and building trust. Help your child pick out healthy snacks and identify a place in your kitchen where they’ll be stored and provide her with access to it.
If your child persists in hoarding food, consider setting up a way for her to keep a personal supply of food in her room without sneaking or creating health hazards. Be clear about the rules for storing food, such as not keeping anything that is perishable in her room. Get a plastic container with a lid and let her select “approved” snacks such as crackers, granola bars and raisins. And then, forget about it. Given permission to keep emergency rations in their room, the need to hoard may diminish and eventually disappear.
Eating too much and too quickly: This is a behavior which may stem from worrying about not having enough food. Try to keep the atmosphere around shared meals relaxed and upbeat. Encourage family members, including your foster child, to talk about their day. This will slow down everyone’s eating. Serve reasonable portions to everyone. Model taking time to eat and avoid rushing through meals. As your foster child becomes more secure in your home, she’ll become more trusting that she’ll get enough food.
Eating a very limited variety of foods: Your foster child may not be used to eating a wide variety of foods. Foods which are common on your table may be new to her. Handle this much as you would with a younger child. At each meal have at least one food which your foster child likes. Ask her what her favorite foods are and try to serve them regularly. Find out if there are particular ethnic or traditional foods which she is accustomed to eating. If so, prepare and serve them.
Encourage everyone to try a small serving of a new food. Remember that most children need to try a new food numerous times before starting to like it. Include your foster child in preparation of foods which may be unfamiliar. Helping cut up fruit and vegetables for salad will let her become more familiar with new. And, her involvement in preparing the food will make her much more likely to eat it.
So much of what helps kids in foster care is based on the foundation of trust they build with your family. This takes time. But as they trust you more and feel safer in your care, they’ll begin to believe that their needs, including their basic need for nourishment, will be met.
As time passes, you may eventually hear an enthusiastic, “What’s for dinner!”