Fostering for Fussy Eaters

Thursday 24 March 2016

It’s fairly common for foster children to have issues around food. When children come to you they may not be used to having regular mealtimes, they might not have encountered certain foods before or they could simply feel anxious about being separated from their biological family, which might impact on their appetite.

As a foster parent you want to nurture children in your care by providing them with nourishing meals and snacks, so it can alarming when they refuse the food you offer. Today we’re sharing a little advice for dealing with what can be construed as fussy eating behaviours and how to encourage healthy eating for kids.

Reasons for fussy eating


While some foster children eat everything put in front of them and can even over eat or display hoarding behaviours because of past experiences with hunger, others do resist certain foods and may not eat regularly. If you speak to your contact team they will usually highlight any past problems with food but issues can sometimes be unanticipated.

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Every child is unique but factors that can contribute to unwillingness to eat foods can include being unfamiliar with certain meals or types of foods – children may for example not have encountered some foods in raw forms before.

Kids can also have sensory issues with textures of foods or could have other problems relating to feeding themselves. It’s not unusual for children to feel overwhelmed if they are not used to eating large portions or they may be used to consuming food in a different way.

Many kids might not yet feel comfortable using cutlery or sitting at the table for meals. Often with small children, maintaining concentration during meals can also be an issue. Then of course, there is the possibility that children may feel unwell after eating foods that they are allergic to. All in all, fussy eating can seem a bit of a minefield, but with patience and understanding you and your foster child can make progress together.

Ways to handle food refusals


There are lots of practical ways to encourage kids to eat without turning mealtimes into a battleground and it’s advisable not to turn food into a power struggle issue where possible.

Firstly, offer small meals regularly and try not to take it personally if they don’t eat the food you have offered. Asking kids about what they like to eat and observing their eating habits can help you understand any potential obstacles and how you might overcome them. Foster children may look to you for eating cues, so try eating together and eat the food first in front of them.

If they ask for foods that are familiar to them, try offering a small amount of them along with other items. For example, giving a few squares of chocolate along with slices of apple and Satsuma segments rather than a whole chocolate bar. Involving children in food shopping and preparation can get them more interested in what they are eating, could it be time for a group baking session?

If children take time over eating their food, try not to rush them or make them feel self-conscious and if they struggle with cutlery, why not present them with plates of healthy foods they can grab with their hands and dip? Once they’re feeling more confident they can work up to eating more interesting food selections. For health meal ideas for fussy eaters, check out our five a day for fussy eaters post.

If you have any concerns about the eating habits of children in your care or you’d like some help or ideas about planning healthy, fun food for all of the family, get in touch with our team who will be happy to help.