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 tabletop 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 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.
Our 7 tactics for dealing with food-related anxiety
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.
2. Accept regressive behaviour and make dinner time fun
My kids weren’t toddlers but they needed toddler food tactics.
I’d send the kids around 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. But this tactic made dinner time fun, silly and less focused on the food.
3. Eating as a family
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.
It’s not so easy when you’re working.
I know, I do 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, it all helps.
5. We don’t eat out as much
Eating out at restaurants is a big cause of anxiety. If the food doesn’t come out exactly as the children expect, the reaction is: “Yuk!”, “Disgusting”, “I’m not eating this”.
Less eating out means we save a 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, when we’ve hit bribery I know I have lost.
7. Get a slow cooker
My slow cooker is my saviour. The slow cooker is my cooking mediator.
It cooks, not me. The slow cooker produces superbly succulent feasts.
The kids have been far more receptive to chilli-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.
Do you suffer from meal-time woes? What are your tactics to help peace reign at the dinner table?