It’s all too easy to take your next meal for granted. Many of you may have already planned what you’re going to eat next, who you will be sharing it with and when it will be ready. But for many foster children, meals simply aren’t a given. Before being removed from their parents, some children in care were left to rummage through the trash or rely on the charity of neighbors to get enough food.
The trauma of not knowing the next time he would eat may have caused your foster son to develop issues with food, such as hoarding, eating quickly or overeating. Here are some ways you can help break your foster child’s bad eating habits.
Your first thought when trying to curb his unhealthy ways may be to limit his access to food. While it may prevent him from overeating at first, it could turn out to be a temporary fix. In some cases, it could even worsen his food insecurity, bringing back memories of his past. Restricting food can lead to your foster son returning to an unhealthy lifestyle when he is older.
When starting the process to break your foster child’s bad eating habits, consider allowing him to have a shelf in a cabinet or a drawer in the refrigerator where he can keep his food. This may help him deal with some of the anxiety he feels while adjusting to living with you. It will also reassure him that he will not go hungry in your home.
Two of the best things that you can do to break your foster child’s bad eating habits are to ensure that he’s fed on a regular schedule and to not be strict about how much food he eats. This will help him develop an understanding of when he’s hungry and when he’s full. A routine will also give him a sense of security and reduce stress because he will know when he can expect to have food again.
If your foster son is younger, offer him a meal or a snack every 2 to 3 hours; for older children do this in 3 to 4 hour intervals. At first you may need to offer food more frequently until he develops a trust in you.
During these snack or meal times, don’t force him to eat more than he wants. Letting him decide how much to eat will teach him about self-regulation and the importance of proper eating habits. While you shouldn’t limit his food intake during scheduled eating times, try to prevent eating between meals and snacks to help him further understand why he should eat an appropriate amount of food.
Withholding certain foods, such as candies and other sweets, from your foster son can deepen his food insecurity. If your foster son previously was not fed enough, he may have a preference for foods that are high in carbohydrates and fats. While you may feel the need to stop him from eating these foods, the desire for them comes from his body’s natural response to food deprivation and should subside once he’s used to a regular eating schedule with healthier options.
Studies have found that food restrictions are linked to poor eating habits and obesity in children. Researchers noted that these limitations can lead to your foster son wanting to eat even though he isn’t hungry. It was also found that children who were told they could have all the candy they wanted ate less sweets than those who weren’t allowed to have any.
When possible, have a family dinner at your table. This will help break your foster son’s bad eating habits in a number of ways. First off, it allows you to lead by example. Sitting at the table with you allows him to see your healthy eating habits and may result in him wanting to emulate them. Eating together, free from the distractions of mobile devices or the television, is also a great bonding opportunity. During this time, don’t try to make him talk if he doesn’t want to; keep it as stress-free as possible to help undo all of his negative experiences associated with eating.
Following these steps will help you break your foster child’s bad eating habits and set the building blocks for a healthier outlook on food. It will take some time and patience, but you can help your foster son go from seeing his next meal as a stress-inducing experience to something he happily looks forward to.