Do your kids have food issues? I know mine do! Across the special needs, foster care, and adoption communities I am involved in I am constantly seeing parents lamenting about what to do with their children when it comes to meals. Some of the common issues talked about are:
Refusing to Eat
Holding Food in Cheeks
Holding Food in Cheeks
Before you can address the food issues you have to understand where they come from, this is different for each child. For us, my children had food withheld from them. They didn't know where there next meal would come from and were punished when trying to "steal" food. The food they did receive was mostly junk food without real substance. They had never sat down at a table for a meal. Matthew was exposed to this the longest. When he first arrived sitting at a table and eating caused him so much anxiety that coupled with non-junk food being served would often lead to him purposely vomiting to get out of sitting at the table and eating. He would "sneak" around and "steal" food, especially in the middle of the night. He would refuse to eat food that was prepared and given to them and prefer to eat any food that he had taken without permission, regardless of if it was the same exact thing that had been offered. James struggles with some of this but his main issues stem more from his "spectrum" like behaviors, he doesn't like change, textures, smells and colors bother him. He gets stuck on liking certain foods and only those foods, he doesn't like meat (unless its chicken nuggets or pepperoni). Joel does not exhibit any ongoing behaviors but he was failure to thrive when he came and took awhile to adjust to taking a bottle and eating. Now he has some copycat behaviors from watching his brothers but doesn't appear to struggle with food issues.
If you can identify what the underlying issue is you will have more success in coming up with some solutions to ease the daily struggle.
Here are some of the things we do to try and ease the battles and anxiety surrounding eating-
- Plan meals together: Each week we sit down as a family and talk about what meals each of us would like to have. That way everyone is guaranteed at least a meal or two that they will eat and enjoy.
- Post your schedule: Once the schedule has been made for the week, breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snack options are posted for everyone to see. I also include the times for the meals. This has reduced anxiety over meals. I have taken pictures of food to put next to the schedule, so my younger kids and kids who are more visual can anticipate what is coming. Even if they don't like the meal coming up they can see on the schedule where their favorite meal is and when its coming.
- Involve kids in the cooking: I try and pick a "meal helper" when preparing meals. I've found when the child has made the meal they are more apt to try it! This also goes for siblings, we will make it a competition of who is the best cooker this week so they need to try it to vote!
- Let them pack their lunch: My kids are responsible for packing their own lunches. See Lunch for how we handle this. I have found this to greatly reduce stress at lunch or uneaten food coming home from school.
- Box of non perishable snacks: One of the suggestions you often hear from caseworkers or in trainings is to provide the child with a box of non perishable snacks they can keep in their room. This is supposed to reduce anxiety that they will not receive more food and help with hoarding/stealing. We tried this for awhile and it did help somewhat, however my son would eat everything in the box within the hour. So we would pick 5 things for the box each Sunday. When they were gone they were gone till next Sunday. It helped him portion things out a little better.
- Explaining the Behavior: As my son got a little older and was better able to understand past events and what had happened one of the biggest game changers for us was talking about why he had food issues. Discussing his early neglect and trauma and how this has tricked his brain into thinking he wont have enough food. Understanding it has been key for him!
- Get Creative: One of the great things about the internet is all the wonderful tips and tricks you can find to be creative with food! Cut your food into fun shapes, put food coloring in mashed potatoes/milk, hide veggies in the spaghetti sauce. Start browsing around and see what you can find.
- Rename the food: Its funny how giving a food a new name suddenly makes it edible! Cowboy Casserole, Ninjago Carrots, the sillier the better. I like to come up with whole stories to go with the names.
- Incentives: Im totally cool with bribing my kids, lol. In our house we don't do dessert every night. However, if the kids eat everything on there plate they do get dessert! Set up an incentive that will work for your child. If stealing food is an issue maybe set up a variation of The Stealing Box.
- Routine/Rules: Developing a routine around mealtime can be very important. Kids need to know what to expect. Our routine is posted near the table: 1. Prayer 2. Go over Rules 3. Eat ____ bites of everything 4. Ask to be excused 5. Clean your area 6. Thank the cook. We use dinner time to focus on manners (and my kids still totally suck at manners, so take this for what its worth, lol). I try and focus on one "manner" at a time and post this as well. We add the manners to our Dinner Rules after we have worked on them for awhile. We go over the rules before dinner.
- Let it Go: Sometimes the bigger a deal you make of it the bigger the issue gets. Prioritize what is most important to you when it comes to food and meal times and focus on that. If the food issues don't bother you that much and their is no real safety issues, just let it go, eating chicken nuggets every day for a week isn't going to kill your kid.
- Sensory Alternatives: You can also try things like Sensory necklaces made for chewing or allowing gum. Sometimes for the overeating bunch, they crave the chewing sensation.
Here is a great video by Dr. Karen Purvis on handling food issues. CLICK HERE
What ideas do you have for dealing with your kids food issues? Share with us in the comments or join the discussion on facebook!