According to one study, a fifth of all children who have been moved to foster care are shorter than average for their age. This is often an indication that they have suffered from malnutrition in the primary home. Ten percent of this group of children match the criteria for a condition called ‘failure to thrive’. Along with these undernourished children, another 15% (and this figure is growing) meet obesity criteria.
Foster parents will have to exercise patience and design strategies to ensure that their foster children receive regular, high-quality meals and snacks and maintain a healthy level of activity. These tips will help you to get it right.
After settling your new foster children into their rooms, ask them when last they ate and if they are hungry. If it is close to lunchtime (half an hour or less) tell them when the meal will be ready. However, have some ready-made snacks and encourage them to eat while they get to meet the family. A good first meal is macaroni and cheese with milk and 100% fresh fruit juice. Most children (and even adults) enjoy this.
General Rules for Healthy Eating
Always dish up small portions. But inform your foster child that there is plenty of food if they want seconds. If you feel they have eaten too much but they still complain of being hungry, offer them some fruit and let them know that there will be a snack time before the next meal. Some children have suffered hunger so often that they are afraid every meal will be their last. Some foster children may hide food in their clothing to ensure that they have something to eat later.
The majority of meals must be healthy and balanced but also allow for the occasional treat or chance to eat at a family restaurant. Here are some healthy snack ideas.
Visit the FCA for further advice on how to foster a child, and find out about the benefits you will receive to enable you to take care of all your foster child’s needs.
Involving Foster Children in Meal Preparation and Food Shopping
Ask your foster child what their favourite meals are and suggest that you make a list together and go shopping for food. If possible, go alone with them so that they feel less shy and interact more during the trip.
Watch the child closely for signs that they are examining food items that they didn’t mention when the shopping list was prepared. It is likely that they have never done this before and don’t know ‘the rules’. This might make them feel too awkward to ask for their preferred items. Gently ask, “Do you eat this?” and add the item to your trolley.
Allow your foster child to pack the groceries away when you get home. Don’t rush them as they may not have seen much food in their biological homes. Seeing that there is ample food will reduce feelings of fear over not getting enough to eat.
Before starting to prepare the meal, teach your foster child that the first step is always to wash one’s hands. You don’t know what habits they have been exposed to so use the opportunities you get to reinforce hygiene.
It is possible to overcome eating problems with patience and persistence.