Food is so many things to us- comfort when we’re sad or stressed, pleasure, survival, connection with family, friends and our culture, adventure, control. It’s no wonder, then, that food can be a stressful thing in an adoptive family. It pulls us back to our own childhood, has the power to create family warfare, or can be used as a tool for rejection or power. In the case of kids who have suffered deprivation, it can cause great fear and insecurity. For kids whose world is out of control, it can give them one thing to have dominion over. Let’s cover a few common food issues that adoptive families struggle with.
Hoarding (or “stealing” food)- don’t be surprised if you catch a child sneaking food or hiding it in strange places. The fear of starvation is deep-seated and very real. Instead of accusing your child or shaming, make sure they know that you won’t withhold food from them. Let them keep a couple of healthy snacks in an airtight container and let them have fruit and vegetables whenever they want. If the thought of waiting for dinner freaks them out, let them have a salad while the meal is being cooked.
I’ve often heard parents call this “stealing food.” The food in your house belongs to your child, so they are not stealing it, they are taking it without asking first. Explain to the child that all the food is theirs, but you need to help them meet their needs. Asking can be difficult for some kids, but establishing that as a habit can help your child realize that you provide them with good things. Go as far as to let them know that if they are hungry during the night, they can wake you up and you’ll fix them a snack. It builds connection for you to provide food. They may not have had an adult in their lives who took care of them in that way.
Overeating and gorging on junk food- start with a very small serving so your child can have seconds. Keep junk food out of the house and only have it occasionally if it’s a problem.
Pickiness- pay attention to what your child likes and dislikes or even absolutely refuses and look for patterns. Is there a certain texture that she can’t tolerate? A strong taste? It could be a sensory/ tactile issue. If you see a pattern and there are other clues as well, ask for an OT evaluation. Your child may need some therapy to overcome this sensitivity.
Refusing certain food- some kids have had trauma around a particular food. Maybe someone in their past lost their temper when a child wouldn’t eat green beans or mushrooms. Maybe there was an uncle or cousin who caused fear (and smelled like onions). We don’t know our kids’ back-stories and often they may not even remember. If there are a couple of foods that seem to throw your child into a bad place, let it go. It may have been fine when your mom insisted that you eat your peas, but compassion helps you understand that this is not a battle to take on with this child.
Food issues can be complicated. NM Fiesta Project Family Mentors are available to brainstorm with you about anything you are struggling with in your adoptive family. Find us at nmfiestaproject.org. While you’re there, check out the other services, classes and library available across the state.