Food Issues and Pickiness in Adopted Children
How to help your child deal with issues about food.

I love food. I love to cook. I love to eat. Given my druthers I would seldom repeat a recipe—so few meals in a lifetime and so many different foods to try. A large pot of healthy soup simmering on the stove while my little cherubs played quietly nearby with educational wooden toys featured heavily in my pre-kid dreams.

This dream remained more or less intact with my first child. Her preschool teacher called me one day expressing concern that DD didn’t understand what the word “breakfast” meant because when asked what she had for breakfast that day she replied—cauliflower soufflé. Yep, you guessed it…there was nothing wrong with my little darling’s comprehension. (In my defense, I’d point out that it was leftover from the night before, not freshly made at 6:00 am that morning. I like food, but I like sleep better.)

The little cherubs playing quietly at my feet part bit the dust with child #2, but the gently simmering healthy food part was alive and well until the arrival of child #3. As soon as this child could control his tongue he was rejecting foods. Or more to the point, he was rejecting any new foods. Of course, when you’re two, most foods are new.

The books assured me that he’d outgrow his pickiness if I ignored it and gently encouraged him to experiment. My boy defied the books. Truth be told, I was pretty hit or miss on the ignoring it advice. I’d really try for a while, and then as if controlled images from my distant pre-kid dream, I’d try to encourage him to eat more variety of foods. At times my encouragement looked a lot like pushing. I truly feel sorry for picky adults, and I so didn’t want my son to become one.

By the time he was 10, I was tired of my behavior. Oh, I was plenty tired of his behavior too, but the only behavior I could change was my own, and I didn’t want our relationship to be defined by food. I also became convinced that his pickiness around food was a part of his innate temperament. He is a cautious person and resists all new things. We have had to actively work with him over the years to say “let me think about it” rather than an automatic “no” when presented with any new experience. I had a serious talk with myself and tried to just accept his limited palate. Slowly, I began to succeed more than I failed.

He is older now and although still picky, he eats enough variety to get along in most restaurants. I try to always incorporate something he likes in my dinner menus. I’d like to say that he reciprocates by trying a bite of the other foods being served, but he seldom never does. I keep chicken fillets frozen to grill for him when I serve a main dish that he won’t like, which pretty much includes any dish that involves more than 2 ingredients. I’m more or less OK with that.

Food Issues with Children Adopted from Foster Care or Internationally

Adopted kids who were deprived of food or had stress surrounding food often, not surprisingly, have issues related to food. They might hoard or hide food or inhale their food so quickly that you fear they will choke. They may eat very little or overeat to the extreme. In this week’s Creating a Family show, Dr. Katja Rowell gave concrete suggestions on how to handle these problems. She also talked about some of the more run of the mill issues surrounding parents and kids concerning food—such as pickiness and overeating. She gave me some new ideas on dealing with a picky eater:

  • Drop all pressure to eat or try new things
  • Eat as a family often.
  • Serve food “family style” with each person adding their own food to their plate.
  • Ignore what she does or doesn’t eat.
  • The child does not have to eat it just because he put it on his plate.
  • Give the child a paper napkin. If she takes a bite of something and doesn’t like it, she can discretely spit it into the napkin.
  • Talk about anything other than what he is eating or not eating.

On our own we stumbled upon this basic solution as a family, although I never thought of the paper napkin advice. (Not sure I’d be able to refrain from sighing deeply and rolling my eyes, so probably a good idea that we never tried it.) I wished I had heard Dr. Rowell or read her book, Love Me, Feed Me, years ago. Oh, and by the way, I struck foodie parent gold with child #4. She scarfed down a bowl of butternut squash shrimp bisque for breakfast this morning and practically licked the bowl clean. Unfortunately, she gave up educational wooden toys for an iTouch years ago.

Do you have a picky eater or a child with more serious food issues? What has worked for you? Please share, since we parents are all in this together.

Check out this really informational and practical show with Dr. Katja Rowell, the Feeding Doctor and author of Love Me, Feed Me.


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We talked about the following on this show:

  • What are the most common feeding or food issues parents face with adopted children?
  • What is the best way to handle a child that is hoarding and hiding food?
  • If a child has failed feeding therapy, what should a parent do?
  • What are the signs of food insecurity?
  • What events in the adopted child’s background might lead to food insecurity and anxiety surrounding food.
  • What is the proper role of snacks?
  • What are the best snacks to provide for children?
  • Can catch up growth lead to a child becoming overweight?
  • How can parents handle eating issues when a newly adopted child first comes home?
  • How best for a parent to deal with a child that hides food?
  • What is the division of food responsibilities between a parent and a child?
  • Does the “Three Bite Rule” or “One Bite Before No Thank you Rule” usually work?
  • What are the signs of an oral/motor skill problems that may result in feeding issues?
  • What are normal eating patterns for children?
  • How to find a feeding therapist for  your adopted child?
  • How should parents deal with a picky eater? With an extremely picky eater than is severely limited in what he will eat?
Image credit: asimeone1972