Almost every parent will admit that meal times with children can be difficult. With picky eaters, the pressure from advertising and the increased need for special dietary requirements, preparing food for the family can be seen as a challenge rather than an opportunity to spend quality time together.
Despite this, it shouldn’t be forgotten that eating habits are learned behaviours which develop in early life, so being a good role model with your food choices can be influential in the long run to your foster child’s wellbeing.
Undoubtedly you will want to give your foster child the very best, but healthy eating is a potentially a part of life which your child may not have become accustomed to. Children may have been faced with a variety of cultures, practices and erratic meal times meaning that they could be anxious at meal times. Perhaps they weren’t provided with the nutritional stability they required at all.
Consider these tips to make meal times an all-round healthier and enjoyable experience.
1. Don’t Make Meals Feel Like a Punishment
If a child doesn’t feel like eating what you have given them, avoid conflict and don’t force them. Although you know that finishing a nutritious plate of food will only be of benefit to them, children may not enjoy the attention and it could add to an existing problem. Rejecting foods may be due to a foster child being accustomed to high fat, high salt foods so healthy choices may not be familiar to them. Introduce new healthier choices gradually, and stay positive that palates will eventually change.
2. Avoid Hunger Pangs
It is important that foster children know that food is constantly available to them. Have easy and free access to healthy snacks such as fruit, raisins, carrot sticks and other nutritious choices so they know that they will never go hungry. It is also a great way to establish positive snacking habits by letting the child be in control of their own choices. Don’t forget that everything is fine in moderation, so you can offer them small portions of their favourite comfort food every so often as an alternative to an entirely healthy menu.
3. Ask For a Helping Hand
Integrating your foster child into every part of family life is important, so why would meal times be any different? If age appropriate, allow your foster child to accompany you to the supermarket so they feel part of the process, and encourage them to make their own sandwiches or snacks; anxiety levels may be reduced knowing what exactly has gone into their meals. Teaching them about cooking will provide them with life skills and a sense of accomplishment if they have been part of the meal making process.
4. Presentation is Key
Children are visual creatures so think about fun and exciting ways to present everyday foods which they otherwise might find unappealing. Colour is very important to presentation, and lucky for you, fruits and vegetables can create a whole rainbow of options. For younger kids make meal times an activity by letting them dip fruits and veggies in a sauce. Food shouldn’t be eaten whilst walking around- try your best to get the family together and sit down and enjoy meals together.
Food is key to nurturing a child, so provide them with the happy and healthy choices they deserve and above all, serve with affection.