Foster mom concerned about a 12-year-old's eating

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  April 29, 2012 08:37 PM

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I am a foster parent who recently had a 12yr old girl come into care. She will only eat junk/processed foods such as hotdogs or Kraft Dinner. There are no meats she will try and the only vegetable she will eat are potatoes (mashed only). We have tried many techniques, rewards, etc but she still refuses to even try anything we put in front of her. I have spoken to her mother about this and her mother said she is more of a vegetarian, although her mother couldn't tell me any vegetables she eats. Any advice would be grateful. I am planning on taking her to a pediatrician to discuss her habits as I am concerned about her health.

From: Fishlovindog, Toronto

Dear Fishlovindog,

The best advice I can give you is this: Don't hope for too much change. At 12, what children do and don't eat is laden with emotional and developmental issues; for a child whose life has been topsy-turvey, that is probably even more true. Having her in your home and exposing her to new food opportunities is a gift you're giving but one she may not be able to appreciate just now. Take this slowly. Don't lecture her about food, don't pass judgment on food she's eaten up to now, and make sure when you put food in front of her that there is always something you know she'll eat. (Depriving her of what she likes is not the way to go!) Try to engage her in the process of thinking about food -- planning meals, making choices at the grocery, preparing and cooking. My guess is that the more low-key you keep it, the more receptive she's likely to be. Most of all, hope to influence her by the role model you present as an eater and a cook.

The pediatrician is a good idea, a nutritionist may be an even better one, but probably not until you gain her trust, or if the pediatrician is concerned about her health.

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7 comments so far...
  1. I'm assuming that this child is in foster care because her mother wasn't taking care of her, hence, bad diet, junk food. that's all this kid has eaten in 12 years, she will need time to adjust to good food.

    Posted by Ellie April 30, 12 08:17 AM
  1. Just an idea...can you get her onto some fruits for starters? You don't mention fruit, which while admittedly doesn't cover all the nutrients as vegetables is still a major step up from starch, fake cheese and processed meats. There are some beautiful fresh berries out there already, bananas, and clementines are super sweet and very appealing. Prices at Costcto for berries right now are quite good right now. I don't disagree with the advice offered, but if you can babystep her into maybe supplementing her bland, junky diet with some fruit, it is a step in the right direction.

    Also, does she take a multivitamin? If not, maybe get some of those gummy vitamins. They taste like candy but have the same nutrients as the pill form that you swallow whole. Again, is this ideal food? Maybe not, but it would be a tremendous step up from no multi!

    Posted by Meri April 30, 12 10:21 AM
  1. First of all, God bless you for being a foster mom. My admiration is huge.

    That said, please don't push her to change her eating habits at this time. If hotdogs and Kraft mac are comforting and familiar foods to her, let her eat them for now.

    You need to establish a good relationship with her and then SLOWLY work WITH her to make better choices and changes. Right now, she will interpret your criticism of her diet as "You're not good enough the way you are." (Even though you certainly don't mean it that way.)

    Very best wishes to you!!!

    Posted by just cause April 30, 12 10:34 AM
  1. I agree with all the post so far. My only addition would be to introduce to her to homemade fruit smoothies - equal parts vanilla ice-cream, low fat yogurt and milk and any combination of blueberries, strawberries and bananas, plus a sprinkle of wheat germ. Not exactly health food, but a sure way to include some fruit, fiber and vitamins in her diet. And, she will probably have fun making it.

    Posted by homegrownmamma April 30, 12 05:54 PM
  1. Ask her to help in the kitchen, start by having her help make the foods she likes or something fun like the smoothies. Then branch off slowly to others, this way she has some claim in the food she eats. She'll also learn valuable cooking tools and have pride in something.

    Posted by Lim April 30, 12 07:27 PM
  1. This is a tween in foster care. Her world has been clearly out of control for some time and I remember well that the only way I ever felt I had power over myself when I was this age was through food. I could refuse to eat and you couldn't force me. I could eat what or when I wanted and you couldn't stop me. Power at this age is a huge thing, especially when it's power over yourself. It's the root of most eating disorders in young girls and women and it's not surprising that this child is refusing certain foods from you.

    Don't push her. Earn her trust first.

    Posted by anon May 3, 12 12:40 PM
  1. I love the advice - Ellyn Satter's, I think - of the division of responsibility. You decide what, when and where, and she gets to decide if and how much. No judgement, yelling, threatening or bribing necessary. Allow her the control over what she likes and what she consumes, after you've put a good healthy meal in front of her. Should it include foods that are familiar and comforting to her? Absolutely! The kid's in foster care! Should it also include things that are new and unfamiliar? Yes - otherwise how will she encounter them? Then sit back and let her choose. As Barbara said, offering new foods - whether she accepts them now or not - is a great gift.

    Posted by Blondmaggie May 15, 12 03:37 PM
 
7 comments so far...
  1. I'm assuming that this child is in foster care because her mother wasn't taking care of her, hence, bad diet, junk food. that's all this kid has eaten in 12 years, she will need time to adjust to good food.

    Posted by Ellie April 30, 12 08:17 AM
  1. Just an idea...can you get her onto some fruits for starters? You don't mention fruit, which while admittedly doesn't cover all the nutrients as vegetables is still a major step up from starch, fake cheese and processed meats. There are some beautiful fresh berries out there already, bananas, and clementines are super sweet and very appealing. Prices at Costcto for berries right now are quite good right now. I don't disagree with the advice offered, but if you can babystep her into maybe supplementing her bland, junky diet with some fruit, it is a step in the right direction.

    Also, does she take a multivitamin? If not, maybe get some of those gummy vitamins. They taste like candy but have the same nutrients as the pill form that you swallow whole. Again, is this ideal food? Maybe not, but it would be a tremendous step up from no multi!

    Posted by Meri April 30, 12 10:21 AM
  1. First of all, God bless you for being a foster mom. My admiration is huge.

    That said, please don't push her to change her eating habits at this time. If hotdogs and Kraft mac are comforting and familiar foods to her, let her eat them for now.

    You need to establish a good relationship with her and then SLOWLY work WITH her to make better choices and changes. Right now, she will interpret your criticism of her diet as "You're not good enough the way you are." (Even though you certainly don't mean it that way.)

    Very best wishes to you!!!

    Posted by just cause April 30, 12 10:34 AM
  1. I agree with all the post so far. My only addition would be to introduce to her to homemade fruit smoothies - equal parts vanilla ice-cream, low fat yogurt and milk and any combination of blueberries, strawberries and bananas, plus a sprinkle of wheat germ. Not exactly health food, but a sure way to include some fruit, fiber and vitamins in her diet. And, she will probably have fun making it.

    Posted by homegrownmamma April 30, 12 05:54 PM
  1. Ask her to help in the kitchen, start by having her help make the foods she likes or something fun like the smoothies. Then branch off slowly to others, this way she has some claim in the food she eats. She'll also learn valuable cooking tools and have pride in something.

    Posted by Lim April 30, 12 07:27 PM
  1. This is a tween in foster care. Her world has been clearly out of control for some time and I remember well that the only way I ever felt I had power over myself when I was this age was through food. I could refuse to eat and you couldn't force me. I could eat what or when I wanted and you couldn't stop me. Power at this age is a huge thing, especially when it's power over yourself. It's the root of most eating disorders in young girls and women and it's not surprising that this child is refusing certain foods from you.

    Don't push her. Earn her trust first.

    Posted by anon May 3, 12 12:40 PM
  1. I love the advice - Ellyn Satter's, I think - of the division of responsibility. You decide what, when and where, and she gets to decide if and how much. No judgement, yelling, threatening or bribing necessary. Allow her the control over what she likes and what she consumes, after you've put a good healthy meal in front of her. Should it include foods that are familiar and comforting to her? Absolutely! The kid's in foster care! Should it also include things that are new and unfamiliar? Yes - otherwise how will she encounter them? Then sit back and let her choose. As Barbara said, offering new foods - whether she accepts them now or not - is a great gift.

    Posted by Blondmaggie May 15, 12 03:37 PM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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