Each child that you foster will come with their own needs, tastes, and challenges. Some will join in with your family mealtimes without issue, enjoying meals and conversation around the table. Others might have strict preferences, challenging nutritional needs, and an aversion to family meals. Some might have negative experiences with food and mealtimes, which mean that they’ve formed an unhealthy relationship with food, and dinner times. This can be challenging for foster families, but in time, you can create positive mealtimes for your family.
If you need support with any element of fostering, you can get it from a Fostering People office. But the key is often patience. A new child might be fussy simply because they need time to settle in. Don’t worry, give them space and time, and hopefully, mealtimes will become less stressful as they adjust to your home. You should also make sure you are patient at mealtimes. Don’t rush or put pressure on the child, and if you feel yourself getting annoyed, step away for a minute.
Pick Your Battles
Very few children love all foods. Sometimes it’s hard to know whether a child is simply being fussy, or if they genuinely don’t like a flavour. Trying to force a child to eat something that they don’t like won’t make mealtimes any easier. So, pick your battles. If they don’t like something, stop giving it to them, and perhaps try again down the line when their palette has evolved.
Encourage an Interest in Food and Cooking
Children that enjoy cooking are more likely to eat well and build a healthy relationship with food that lasts a lifetime. Even things like baking cookies together can help them to develop an interest in food. You can also help them to develop this interest with interesting and social meals. Take them out for dinner, enjoy picnics outdoors, and eat fun meals like tacos where everyone gets to build their own, picking their own fillings.
Create Mealtime Routines
Having mealtime routines can make things less stressful. Try to eat at the same time every day, and stick to the same rules, such as eating at the table, turning the TV off, and leaving phones in another room.
Use Positive Language
Don’t use words like “fussy” in front of the child. Give them a label, and they’ll try to fit it. Instead, use positive language and speak enthusiastically about trying new things. Give them plenty of praise and avoid any negativity.
Give Them Plenty of Time
Make sure meals aren’t rushed by eating earlier and keeping the time around them free. This can reduce pressure and make children more comfortable.
Instead of telling your foster child what they are eating, give them as many options as possible. Simple choices like “would you like peas or corn?” and “shall we try cucumber or tomato?” gives them control and helps them to enjoy meals.
Mealtimes are a fantastic opportunity to bond with your foster child. Get into great family habits and routines and take the pressure off the food itself with a conversation, asking about their day and sharing news from your own.