Defeating the dinner wars. 7 tactics for dealing with food-related anxiety

Defeating the dinner wars. 7 tactics for dealing with food-related anxiety

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.

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.

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.

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, 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?



    • Tooting Mama
      March 10, 2017 / 6:22 pm

      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. March 10, 2017 / 7:22 am

    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

    • Tooting Mama
      March 10, 2017 / 6:22 pm

      That is so cute! Well done you!

  2. March 9, 2017 / 10:59 pm

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

    • Tooting Mama
      March 10, 2017 / 6:22 pm

      Thank you!

    • Tooting Mama
      March 10, 2017 / 6:23 pm

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

  3. Claire
    March 9, 2017 / 9:19 pm

    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

    • Tooting Mama
      March 10, 2017 / 6:24 pm

      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!

    • Tooting Mama
      March 10, 2017 / 6:25 pm

      Thank you! It’s all trial, error and making up as you go along!

  4. March 9, 2017 / 7:09 am

    Loving the vegetable narrow zone, and well done for getting another one added to the list, I’m still working on that! Great post with great advice. We like to sit down at tea time and talk about our day, it is a battle to do it every day but when we do you can feel and see us. I ding a little bit more. #sharingthebloglove
    Jo from Organised Jo recently posted…Meet the Working Mum – Katy Stevens – Katykicker.comMy Profile

    • Tooting Mama
      March 9, 2017 / 11:50 am

      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!

  5. March 8, 2017 / 4:43 pm

    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

    • Tooting Mama
      March 9, 2017 / 11:56 am

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

  6. March 7, 2017 / 4:49 pm

    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

  7. March 6, 2017 / 10:32 pm

    Oh my daughter is a fussy eater and it is so frustrating so this really resonated. I try not to make it a battle ground either, though sometimes that is so hard & eating together seems to work well x #marvmondays
    Bridie By The Sea recently posted…You’re A Parenting Expert Too?!My Profile

    • Tooting Mama
      March 7, 2017 / 8:50 am

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

  8. Kat
    March 6, 2017 / 9:41 pm

    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

    • Tooting Mama
      March 7, 2017 / 8:51 am

      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!

    • Tooting Mama
      March 7, 2017 / 8:52 am

      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.

  9. March 6, 2017 / 9:02 pm

    #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!

    • Tooting Mama
      March 7, 2017 / 8:54 am

      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!

    • Tooting Mama
      March 7, 2017 / 12:14 pm

      Yes, and got to just hang on in there!

  10. March 6, 2017 / 3:20 pm

    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.

    • Tooting Mama
      March 7, 2017 / 12:12 pm

      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!

  11. March 6, 2017 / 2:52 pm

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

    • Tooting Mama
      March 7, 2017 / 12:13 pm

      Thank you – hope they work out!

  12. March 6, 2017 / 2:37 pm

    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

    • Tooting Mama
      March 7, 2017 / 12:14 pm

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

  13. March 5, 2017 / 10:52 pm

    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

  14. March 5, 2017 / 11:19 am

    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
    Helen @Talking_Mums recently posted…Parents’ Evening. The first of many judgements.My Profile

    • Tooting Mama
      March 5, 2017 / 1:03 pm

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

  15. March 5, 2017 / 9:45 am

    I love reading your blog. I never would have thought about issues like this!

    • Tooting Mama
      March 5, 2017 / 1:08 pm

      Thank you so much, hope you and Erin are doing well. x

  16. March 4, 2017 / 9:12 pm

    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

    • Tooting Mama
      March 5, 2017 / 1:07 pm

      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.

  17. March 4, 2017 / 9:36 am

    Really useful tips for all parents here and it makes me so sad they had such a hard time at the start of their lives. You are such a loving mum, hope you know that x
    Honest Mum recently posted…My Top Charlotte Tilbury PicksMy Profile

    • Tooting Mama
      March 5, 2017 / 1:10 pm

      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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