Verse of the Day

Friday, April 2, 2010

Food Issues: Too Much, Too Little

The one question I am asked time after time after time is "How can I get my adopted son or daughter to eat (more or less)?"  At first glance, it's a simple question; yet, the answer is not so simple... and can be very frustrating.

First, not all adoptive kids have "fussy food syndrome."  My daughter from Guatemala did not have any trouble adjusting to an American cuisine.  For her, a hamburger was a special treat, not a loathsome item on a plate!  With her, we had more concerns about the sheer quantity of food she wanted to eat.  Blanca would overindulge to the point of vomiting.  Although this extreme overeating quickly stopped, the overeating continues to this day.

In regards to overeating, I had to really let go of my preconceived notions of appropriate behavior.  My main concern with Miss B. was to make sure she felt safe and protected.  What that meant to her, a once starving child, was to allow her to eat whenever she felt the need.  I had fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, kid-sized protein bars available to her at all times--- something she could just reach and grab whenever she felt hungry.  If she asked for more, I would offer her a choice of healthy items (of two items--- more than that is just too frustrating).  When she wanted food right before a meal, I did still give her food--- albeit a smaller portion.

With Miss B., having her help in food preparation or food serving helped her.  She learned that her big father needed more food; she also learned to serve others.  She still enjoys helping me in the kitchen; she also consistently serves the entire family beverages at dinner time.

I did not attempt to reduce my daughter's food intake until she was home for one year.  At that point, she was conversant in English; she also felt loved and safe.  Only then did I restrict her constant demand for snacks.  The main question I asked her was, "Are you really hungry?"  I educated her about how to recognize true, physical hunger.  At first, when I asked her if she was hungry, the answer was always "yes."  But over time, the answer was, "not really," or "just a little."  Or perhaps she'd recognize she was only thirsty.  She learned through her own experience to recognize true hunger versus spiritual emptiness.

Miss B.'s weigh and height are still out of proportion.  She has been home for two years now.  Yet, she has actually come down a clothing size over the past year, and she has fewer and fewer episodes of overeating.  As an American woman who has had past struggles with under and overeating, I can say this was a real challenge to simply do what was best for this child--- not what I felt was right or wrong.  Eating is not a black and white issue to many adoptive kids.  You have to allow for the gray areas, and work through the tough times.

On the flip-side, our new Ethiopian children.

First, if you travelled to Ethiopia:  remember how your stomach felt!  I don't think I've talked to anyone who didn't experience some G.I. distress!  The food was just so completely unique to our palates; even if your mouth said it was tasty, your gut didn't necessarily agree!

All you need to do is put yourself in your child's place.  That ought to make you feel a whole lot more compassion regarding food.

If you were all of a sudden picked up from your comfortable American life and plopped down in the middle of Ethiopia, you'd be fussing about food, too!  And I would also bet that you would be extremely grateful to anyone who made a little effort to make something "American."

In our household, we've had lots of children.  If I think way back to when I was first married, one of the ways I tried to make my new step children feel comfortable with me was to make them food they enjoyed.  Regardless of how exhausting it was--- when I had babies crawling all over the floor --- I ALWAYS made it a point to make at least one thing that I knew the older kids would love.  Over the course of years, it went from cookies and macaroni and cheese, to vegetarian menus and baked rigatoni.  Nonetheless, I believe the older kids felt more welcomed and accepted when I made a significant effort to cater to their own particular likes.  Set your sights on the desired long term outcome.  You can still made wholesome food that also fills a spiritual need.

That being said, I would encourage you to see your adopted-from-another-culture kids in a completely different light.  This is not your typical American fussy eater.  If you simply say "Eat it or go without," they WILL choose to go without.  I've seen it in action.  American food is simply so repulsive to their senses that they will simply not eat... period.  Remember, you job is to help them feel loved and safe.  You can work on good food habits later.

When G., A., and B. first came home, all they wanted was fruit.  Mandarin "Cuties" and green bananas were about the only foods these kids wanted.  I went to the store every day for 2 weeks; I simply could not keep enough fruit in the house.  Every time they wanted more fruit, I allowed them to enjoy it.

The fruit pica stage lasted only two weeks.  (And by the way, they never got the runs from too much fruit... I think their little bodies simply needed it.)  They finally realized that fruit wasn't just a temporarily available item.

Initially (months 1 and 2), the kids would only eat the following:

Mandarin "Cuties"
Green bananas
Brown rice
Garbanzo beans
Hard boiled eggs
Rolls with honey or berbere (mix olive oil, spoon of berbere, and a bit of water)
Plain pasta
Popcorn or Kettle Corn
... and of course, injera with berbere or any other Ethiopian dish

At three months, we could add:

Milk (two kids only)
Apple Juice
Orange Juice
Red Grapes
Fruited yogurt (two kids only)
Chicken soup with rice or barley
Roasted chicken with salt and pepper
Spaghetti with very, very little sauce
Organic toaster pastries
Organic Z Bars for Kids or Clif Bars
Hamburger (two kids only)
Pasta with small amount of chicken or meat (no cheese)
Boiled potatoes (small red or white)
Roast Beef (put in oven bag with olive oil and spices)
Pita Bread (sometimes)
Flour tortillas (with berbere mixture)

Every weekend, I make a huge vat or two of some sort of Ethiopian food.  (I will post recipes soon.) That way, for at least the next four days, the kids always have a "fall back."  I do require the kids to try whatever the rest of the family is eating--- even if it's just one bite.

We also use popsicles or fruit as an incentive to eat dinner.

I do buy injera every week.  Now, only one child consistently requests injera.

The only vitamin we can get any of the kids to eat is Nordic Naturals Nordic Berries.  We tried MANY different supplements--- this was the only one that passed!

Bottom line with food issues:  this too, shall pass!  Just remember that bonding and attachment are more critical now than anything else can do right now.  Just say "no" to the power struggles associated with food.  Working on proper nutrition and good eating habits are something that you can work on gradually and over time.  Be encouraged!


  1. Kristen-

    just wanted to introduce myself. . Su Soutter. We are in process of adopting a boy/boys (4-8 yr old) from Ethiopia. . using YWAM as well. That is how I found your blog. I am LOVING your blog. I feel like it is such a resource for me. REcipes. . wow!! And the posts about the kids and the transition home. . a realistic picture you have painted yet one filled with hope. I think I check in every other day. . .so I had to leave a comment and say hey. We have 3 bio, 1 adopted from Guatemala too, and long to bring home our boys from Ethiopia. Thanks for the time and energy you give this blog.

    I have just started an adoption blog:

    Su Soutter
    Raleigh, NC

  2. Kristen -this is SO helpful. Thank you for taking the time to post this.

  3. Great suggestions,I cannot wait to try your recipes!