Dinner wars: adoption and dealing with food related anxiety issues

Since our adopted children arrived our dinner table has been known to turn into a war zone. There are some days when I feel even a UN peacekeeping force would be challenged to settle our table top battles over food and eating. But it is common for adopted children to experience food related anxiety making mealtimes challenging.  And this is one area where I have made mistakes and my best efforts have come unstuck. But five years on we are starting to see a few wins.

The early days

My biggest mistake

My biggest mistake was to emulate my adopted children’s foster mum and to try and make food the children were already used to. This was in an attempt to transition them to their new home, new parenting style and new types of food.

Big mistake. I should have started out with my food from the very beginning. I didn’t.  And during the early days, this gave the children ammunition with which to reject me. (Ouch that hurt!)

My mental vegetable Venn diagram

When it comes to the green stuff, there was, and still is a narrow zone of vegetables that both children are willing to eat: peas, carrots (soft), peppers (crunchy), cucumber (yup we dig cucumbers), sweetcorn (high five!)

After five years, we have made progress –  green beans have reached the narrow zone. (Big win!)

The breakfast battleground

This was and often is the starting ground.

After 12 hours sleeping, with blood sugar at rock bottom, the children can wake up with the serious grumps because they are STARVING.

And newly woken, irritable little ones, welcome in the new day with a scream, a yell, or a grunt. One kid would hide behind a defence line of cereal boxes the other would fire out bullets of anger and hunger. I’m there tip-toeing over broken eggshells, dodging artillery fire.

Cooking up a storm together

My first attempt at cooking with the kids ended in disaster.

Super Girl and I had a bonding session making meatballs. We had a happy, fun filled morning of squishing and squeezing mince into meatballs for dinner.

But I knew I had to have something prepared for Wonder Boy, who was at school, doing fun things like phonics, literacy, sums, and handwriting.

I had it all figured out, I’d collect Wonder Boy from school and we’d spend the early evening making chocolate chip cookies, perfect.

Off we went to pick up Wonder Boy, Super Girl blurts out she’s spent the morning making meatballs with me while he’s been doing his school stuff.

BANG, POW, BOOM – Wonder Boy’s face puckers up, goes from bright red to puce, and what should be a ten-minute walk home, becomes 30 minutes of screaming, hollering, screeching, tears and tantrums.

But we did bake cookies.

Five years’ on ….

Dinner time can still be hard, the children can drive me to distraction and we are still dealing with some adoption-related food anxiety issues, but we have developed a few strategies to try and keep the mealtime mayhem under control.

1. Distraction

Anything to take away the focus from the food.

Games, times tables, drawing and card games have all helped to reduce food related anxiety. Twenty-one has been particularly successful, this is how we taught Super Girl mental arithmetic. She’s going to be a winner at the Blackjack when she grows up! (We have explained the dangers of gambling.)

2. Accept regressive behaviour

This used to happened a lot in the UK.

I’d have to send the kids round the island in our kitchen pretending to be animals doing bunny hops, kangaroo jumps, slither like a snake – you get my drift.

After each round, they’d eat a mouthful or mouthfuls of food. Dinner used to last a looooong time. Guess they missed out on that during their toddler years.

3. Eating as a family

This has been easier to do while living in France, as I am not working and King on the Mountain’s commute is a lot shorter.

We try and eat together as much as we can and this helps to reduce food related anxiety making meal times run a whole lot smoother.

But I get it’s not so easy when you’re working. I remember making the mad dash to grab the kids before the afterschool club shut its gates, dragging tired, hungry kids home to eat some kind of dinner, before bath, bed, story and a good night kiss.

3. Don’t seat the kids opposite each other

Now that I have stopped the kids from sitting opposite each other at the dinner table, the bickering, squabbles, and fights have greatly reduced. We still have the odd flare up, but no way as bad as when they sat opposite each other.

4. Praise

I try and do this as much as possible, but it’s hard to do when meal times arguments have started. But praising the kids for eating their vegetables, trying something new, showing good manners, being nice to each other and me, all helps.

5. We don’t eat out as much

Paris doesn’t have a whole lot of dependable chains, (Pizza Express, Nandos, Wagamama) which is great for us, we love those individual, cute corner Parisian restaurants and cafes.

But for our kids, when they think they’ve ordered something they like or might want to eat, and when it arrives it wasn’t what they were expecting the reaction is: “Yuk!”, “Disgusting”, “I’m not eating this”. The meal out goes rapidly downhill.

Oh and we’re saving a whole lot of money too!

6. Bribery (because I’m at my wits’ end, and nothing is working)

Yup this old chestnut, and for dessert, if you eat this you can have……as soon as the words have left my mouth I want to kick myself.

Then the negotiations start, if I eat this much what will I get. Yup, I’ve lost.

7. Get a slow cooker

Ahhhh, my slow cooker hero, my saviour.

Why didn’t I get one of these beasts before? What a revelation it has been.

The slow cooker is my cooking mediator. It cooks, not me, and it produces superbly succulent feasts. The kids have been far more receptive to chili con carne (so long as we can pick out all the onions and kidney beans), slow cooked pork, slow cooked chicken. It’s all delicious when it’s been cooked in the slow cooker.

But tell you what, get a bargain bucket of KFC and all issues are resolved!

Adoption and food related anxiety

It’s not uncommon for children adopted from care, like mine, to experience food related anxiety which in turn triggers behaviour issues at meal-times.  In the case of my children, this is linked to their early life experience when food was a rare commodity, meals-times were erratic, and their diet wasn’t the most nutritious.

If you are experiencing food related anxiety with your adopted (or birth children) you may find these resources useful:

 

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45 Comments

    • Thank you, it’s good to know we all have go through this regardless of our children being adopted or not, they all know how to push our buttons!

  1. We’ve been having some mealtime issues over the past couple months. I suspect it is due to teething. Recently I started praising Peachy for taking a bite and clapping. She found that very amuzing. She is much more likely to eat now and often claps her hands when she takes a bite. It’s adorable. #SharingtheBlogLove

  2. Such an interesting insight, thank you for sharing, always happy to discover a new blog to follow! #sharethebloglove

    • That is so true, but sometimes it’s so hard to ignore, gosh I really find mealtimes tough!

  3. This is a really interesting post, thank you for sharing your experiences. I never thought about the positioning affecting behaviour, but now I think I will avoid seating my boys opposite each other in the future (when youngest is out of the high chair!) x #sharingthebloglove

    • Hey give it a go, it’s really helped us, as my two just love goading each other on until one snaps and then it’s pandemonium!

    • Tell me about the battle, but the dining table is where the kids really have full control and don’t they just milk it! Adopted or not!

  4. You’ve just reminded me I desperately need to replace our slow cooker after our broke ages ago – I really miss it! Taking note of the ‘don’t sit them opposite each other’ tip, and for what it’s worth, I’d have gone exactly the same route as you on the first one and tried to stick to making what they were used to. I feel for you on the lack of chain restaurants – they’re our go-to when we’re out as you know they’ll have something on it that won’t get rejected! But you’re right, lots of money saved! Thanks for joining us at #SharingtheBlogLove
    Katy – Hot Pink Wellingtons recently posted…To pregnant women everywhere: Be in the photo!My Profile

    • Girlfriend, get that slow cooker, it saves my week! I am no longer the screaming banshee!

  5. My girls are not adopted, but I found these tips useful. I definitely have to distract Holly to get her to eat and they don’t sit opposite each other. Such little things can make all the difference. And I always use the three more spoonfuls and you are done! thank you for joining us at #SharingtheBlogLove x
    Laura – Dear Bear and Beany recently posted…Review: Sands Alive Cake Shop…My Profile

    • I agree eating together really helps, but darn those little ones and meal times! They really have me over a barrel!

  6. What I realise now as a parent, that I don’t think I fully expected, is how fussy kids can be! I employ all sorts of tactics in order to get B to eat at times! What I have realised is that he isn’t the same with me as he is with his grandparents. However, we do have some staples that are winners, no matter what: cheese (mature 😂), fruit – almost all, potatoes – most forms and carrots! I’d never considered food anxiety for adopted children, but it makes sense. Thanks for sharing xx
    Kat recently posted…#AnFWord is Time| Why I don’t wear a watch #4My Profile

    • Thank you! I agree those staples alway help. For us it’s scrambled eggs on toast and some veggies on the side is a sure winner! Just love the way they get us to run rings around them!

    • Yes now I have one, I can’t understand why everyone doesn’t have one, they are so amazing! And thanks for your lovely comment. Hope all is ok with you.

  7. #MarvMondays plus, adopted or not children are like little drunks and really don’t make sense (most of the time), sometimes there is no logic and they are just *enter swear word of your choice.
    Best of luck with the rest of the veggie world. We love cucumber too, and broccoli which are clearly tiny trees!

    • Ha! Ha! Yes little drunks love it!!! Only one of my kids will touch a broccoli. And you ar right, logic does not prevail at meal times!

  8. One of my children has many of the same likes and dislikes as yours. I’ve learned that some people have far more taste buds than the average, I think maybe this affects her as her sensitivity is superhuman.

    • Oh mine have onion vision, no matter how small that onion is they find it! Yes completely agree about the sensitivity, to smells, taste and textures too!

  9. Some really good tips. I have a terrible eater so have been reading with interest and will be trying some of your advice. #marvmondays

  10. This is really interesting, I had no idea that this was common for adopted children. It sounds as though you are finding great ways to resolve some of the battles though 🙂 #bigpinklink

    • Sometimes, tear my hair out ways! Gosh they really know how to make push my buttons at meal times!

  11. Lovely post and really interesting to hear about the links of issues from living in care with food. I had never thought about kids sitting opposite each other before, but it totally makes sense that it increases the chance for bickering. We have a lot of running around the place here too in between every mouthful so it’s good to know we aren’t alone. Thanks for sharing your post on #fortheloveofBLOG

  12. Meal times can be such a battlefield. Don’t worry I think we all use pudding as a way to encourage eating their main meal…or at least I do anyway! We moved away from eating out so much as I seem to just get to anxious about the whole thing. Much easier to eat at home or take a picnic. Fab tips x
    #ForTheLoveofBLOG
    Helen @Talking_Mums recently posted…Parents’ Evening. The first of many judgements.My Profile

    • Hi thank you, you’re making me feel a whole lot less guilty. Seriously why are mealtimes a battlefield?

  13. Great tips thank you! I hadn’t previously been aware of problem of food related anxiety in adopted children, it must be difficult for you all to deal with but sounds like your doing a great job and making progress! #9 FB bloggerclubuk

    • Thank you. It’s getting easier now, but there are times when, one just despair. But small steps and little wins all mean we are moving in the right direction.

    • It’s just amazing how our early life experiences really shape our lives in such a big way and thanks for the lovely comment Vicki. x

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