Many times kids in foster care come with severe food issues. While I am by no means an expert, and I am sure there are a ton more that I have not experienced, I will do my best to talk about some of the ones I have seen and dealt with.
- Won’t Eat Any Healthy Food. Many children in foster care come from low income families or come out of neglect situations. Things like daily vegetables are a mystery to them. Food that is prepared in a healthy manner (i.e. not macaroni and cheese) are often times alien concepts to them. It can take a long time to overcome issues like this. Kids do not always adjust well to change and that can cause long term repercussions in their dietary life span. What we do is allow the kids to pick 2 foods that they absolutely do not want to eat, and everything else they have to take a “thank you” helping of. Now be careful for the smart alecs who will inevitably try to pick a whole food group. (And yes that has happened to me). No it is one food. One of my kids picked tomatoes and broccoli so anything I prepare with tomatoes and broccoli, she does not have to eat. Everything else, whether she likes it or not, she has to have at least one serving of.
- Consumes Caffeine Regularly. A majority of my foster kids have come into care as regular caffeine drinkers. Coffee, soda, redbull, you name it. I have seen kids as young as one come in with soda addictions. This is hard to overcome as the bio-parents allowed it so the kids don’t understand why you don’t. Repeated and firm no’s are really the only way to deal with it. When asked for an explanation, tell them different families do things differently and in this family that is not appropriate. Be prepared to deal with caffeine withdrawal in some of the heavy users. I would recommend asking your doctor how they best think to handle this. Our doctor recommended Ibuprophen for the older kids and a lot of naps for the younger ones.
- Does Not Eat on a Normal Schedule OR Eats Whenever. A lot of kids especially coming out of neglect situations are not used to having three meals a day with scheduled snack times. Most of the time, they are responsible for feeding themselves if they are hungry. They tend to be very food oriented and do not seem to understand that they need to wait until dinnertime to eat. In situations like this we keep pre-made “snack packs” of veggies in the fridge where they can reach. If they need to eat between meals, they can have veggies only. If they are hungry, they will eat the veggies and it is better for them to fill up on veggies than anything else.
- Food Hoarding. It is inevitable that some foster kids will hoard food. When you never know when your next meal is going to come, it gives the kids a sense of self-preservation to stash food for the next dry spell. While I have never had a case of food hoarding that wasn’t solved by the free veggies rule, some foster homes I have worked with have. They have solved this by providing the kids with a plastic bin for them to put “their” food in. That way the kids know they always have food for the next time in their bin.
- Obsession with Feeding Schedule. Children who do not get their food needs met, will develop a preoccupation with food. Everything is about when is the next meal, where is the next meal, what are we having for the next meal. I cannot tell you how many times we will be eating lunch and the kids are already asking me what is for dinner. I deal with this by having all meals and snacks scheduled. The kids can look at the time and know that is when the next meal is. We try to keep to the schedule as best we can. Meals are written out on a calendar and the kids can check the calendar whenever they like to find out what is for the next meal.
- Texture Problems. Some kids have texture issues. For example, I had one two year old who would not eat anything soft. Mashed potatoes, pasta, rice, etc. These are issues that need to be addressed by a doctor and/or therapist.
Again these are just a few of the food issues, that I have dealt with and how we dealt with them. This post in no way should take the place of advice from a licensed therapist but I hope it gives some insight into the extreme food issues that many foster children have. It is something that is extremely common and new foster parents should definitely be prepared for it.
- Keeping the Entire Family Healthy (silosmasherswellness.wordpress.com)
- Raising A Food Smart Kid (bestfruitsmoothies.com)
- State to pay $11 million to foster children from Tacoma ‘house of horrors’ (blogs.seattletimes.com)