‘I love fostering, I truly do, but when my foster child asked for chips for dinner every night, I did get exasperated’, says Trudy, 32, from South London.
‘I knew he needed to start eating healthily but it has been a real struggle to get him to – it did make me feel like I was failing him.’
Trudy is certainly not alone. Children can enter foster care for a wide variety of reasons but have often experienced chaotic home lives and a lack of guidance. When kids are not used to eating healthy food or being told to do so, foster parents can often feel at a loss as to what to do.
So how can you help? Firstly recognise that meal times can be a time of anxiety for foster children so don’t make food feel like punishment. Introduce new healthy foods gradually but never force them to eat it all or fall into arguments over dinner – increased tensions will only result in the child having negative emotions about meal times.
Get them involved in all the fun stuff to do with food, too. Take them food shopping and let them choose a few healthy items they fancy the look of. Encourage them to make their own snacks and sandwiches and ask them to help you make dinner occasionally. Not only are you giving them valuable life skills, but by letting them feel part of the process they can feel a bit more in control and also start to appreciate that a rigid diet of high-fat and high-salt food can be quite boring.
At GLF we also remind foster carers that children must know that food is easily available to them. Don’t feel guilt tripped into stocking your cupboards full of packets of crisps but children should be able to easily help themselves to healthy snacks. Occasionally we hear horror stories through the national media of foster carers padlocking their kitchen cupboards – that is certainly not a supportive home environment right for any child, let alone one that needs that extra care and support.
Trudy says that by letting her child get more involved in choosing and cooking food she is slowly making progress. ‘Don’t get me wrong,’ she said, ‘he won’t be begging me for big bowls of salad any time soon but he now really likes peas, tomatoes and fresh potatoes. Small steps, but we are getting there.’