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Food Issues With Adopted Children: Food Insecurity

January 28, 2016

food insecurity, adopted childrenImagine for a moment that you are a young child. You are completely dependent on those around you to care for you and to ensure that you are being fed. But what if they don’t meet your needs? What if you don’t know where your next meal is coming from or if there will even be a next meal? It’s pretty scary to imagine isn’t it? For some adopted children, this was their reality prior to their adoption.

Many adopted children, especially internationally adopted children, did not receive regular meals or proper nutrition in the first years of their lives. Their first feeding experiences weren’t positive, and they might have a history of food deprivation. That’s why many of these children suffer with eating problems once they arrive home.

These children may hoard food by hiding it in their room. They might gobble their food or keep eating long after they are full. This is because food represents a source of anxiety. They are focused on getting that next meal because they are in survival mode, and food may represent security.

For many parents, these initial hoarding behaviors don’t make sense. They think, “He’s going to throw up! I’ve got to stop him!” or “The doctor says she’s will become obese. I have to restrict her eating for her health’s sake!”

Unfortunately, restricting food for a child who has suffered from food deprivation only makes the anxiety worse. It makes the child become even more obsessed with food because now they don’t know if their new parents are going to feed them or not.

The good news is that this anxiety typically subsides once the child begins to trust his new parents and realizes that there will be food there at the next meal. Adoptive parents can take a few steps to ease this anxiety.

  • Feed your child every 2-3 hours for younger children, every 3-4 for older children. You may need to offer food more often initially.
  • Let your child decide how much and what to eat from what you provide.
  • Sit and enjoy meals together. Avoid distractions such as electronic devices or arguing. Under stress, food-insecure children often eat more.
  • Reassure them that there will always be enough.
  • A food stash may be reassuring (his own drawer in the fridge, pantry shelf, or a basket of healthy snacks that do not require refrigeration to be kept in the child’s room that they can access at any time) but is not an out from providing regular meals and snacks. Providing and sharing meals deepens attachment.
  • Offer a variety of tasty foods, including fat, protein and carbohydrates—even if she prefers the high fat and high carbohydrate foods initially. This preference is a natural response to food insecurity.
  • Remain calm.
  • Be patient.
  • Model and allow enjoyment of all foods to avoid the lure of the “forbidden.”
  • Work on routines, getting enough sleep, and opportunities to be active in fun ways.

These tips are taken directly from the Creating a Family website. Creating a Family is a wonderful website for pre and post adoptive families with the most extensive and diverse collection of resources about adoption and infertility.

If you would like to learn more about feeding issues and adopted children, click the link here. If you have questions about adoption or are considering adoption give us a call at 1.662.842.6752 in Mississippi and 1.615.378.7099 in Tennessee.