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.
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.
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:
- The Feeding Doctor by Dr Katja Rowell has lots of really useful advice and articles, and strategies to help parents with children who have food related anxiety
- Healing from food insecurity: Beyond the stash
- Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting: The Revolutionary Programme That Transforms Family Life Noel Janis-Norton. I love this book Noel has some real common sense strategies addressing food-related anxiety issues