It is not unusual for foster children to have issues around food.
At the time of placement, they might not be used to regular mealtimes; they might have had a limited diet before they come to you. Their anxiety at being separated from their family might cause a distinct lack of appetite.
I wonder just how terrifying mealtimes must have been for children coming to live in our home. With a family of six already sat around the table, the addition of a minimum of three foster children made it quite a sight. Add to that a variety of neighbours, friends and other children, and the social worker whose visits would always end at the start of our dinner time. It was a huge affair. So, when people comment they have 12 for Christmas dinner this year, I smile thinking my mum cooked for that most days.
There were a number of areas that were confusing for new comers. We didn’t eat in front of the television. We all helped to lay the table and to clear it away. Spaghetti bolognaise didn’t come out of a tin. There was enough to go around.
And the daunting social etiquette of eating in front of a huge number of people is just one aspect.
The packed lunch routine was a wondrous spectacle. All of us at school age would, like some well-oiled production line, move along the kitchen side taking things as we went, a carefully labelled sandwich or roll (there was usually a choice of two or three varieties and some with or without butter, mayonnaise, salad,) we would all help ourselves to fruit, crisps, homemade buns or biscuits, yoghurts or cheese. I would devour mine at school at lunchtime as intended but others might sneak theirs away. Or try to take too much or not a lot at all. I am sure my mum was aware what we were eating or not. You couldn’t get much past her. She took it all in her stride.
And evening meals were just as organised. A homemade dinner and pudding would always appear at 5 on the table. Plates for those children at after school clubs (or detentions) would be left warming in the oven.
Food was not an issue in our house for those of us who had always had it. Food, however was sometimes an issue for those who had not. It wasn’t uncommon for a child in our care to hoard food. The hoarding was never judged and it never phased my parents. They would uncover packets of sweets and crisps and even tins of beans under the bed or behind a wardrobe. And eventually as the children became reassured that the food would not run out, it would stop. The mealtimes might have been frantic at times but they weren’t stressful. They were regular and consistent and varied. Nobody was expected to eat something they didn’t like but they were expected to try it to make sure they didn’t like it. One young boy spent 7 years eating mint sauce with every single meal put in front of him. But he ate every single meal put in front of him. We all had the chance to contribute our favourite meal or pudding to the weekly planner and whilst there were grumblings at some of the choices. It was largely accepted.
The strange relationship with food is more than not wanting to eat broccoli, it is about control and fear and survival. It is just one part of an immense task of making children feel secure. And food and mealtimes are just another part of fostering you must be an expert in.