Expert Q and A Helping Your Foster Child with Food InsecurityQ: My foster child only likes junk food and will not eat anything that doesn’t come out of a box. We aren’t fanatics but we try to eat pretty healthily. I don’t want to feed the rest of my family the boxed junk and I don’t want to feed him separate stuff. Help!

A: According to Dr. Katja Rowell, as you work to accommodate your foster child while making him feel part of the family, there is likely to be a transition period as he learns to feel more comfortable and has opportunities to learn about the foods you eat.

Assume that children (even children in bigger bodies) in foster care have experienced food insecurity, meaning that they didn’t have reliable access to enough food. This contributes to anxiety around food and makes them more likely to rely on familiar foods. There may also be sensory challenges that make certain textures more difficult, and emotional associations with different foods.

The way food is approached also matters. These are familiar foods that have nourished him so far and are linked with his family and his past. Try using more neutral descriptors such as “packaged” or “fast” foods versus “junk” or “crap.” There is likely already some shame around those foods, and ironically, when we accept young people as they are and how they eat, there is likely to be far less pushback or resistance for the sake of resistance.

Children and teens will be more likely to learn to like the foods the family eats if they feel respected and invited to explore at their pace. If there is a lot of pressure, nutrition lecturing, and conflict over food, they are likely to eat less well. Good luck on this journey! Family mealtimes are a wonderful opportunity to build relationships. When you’re at the table, try to focus on connection and each other rather than who is eating what.

Katja Rowell, M.D. is known as the Feeding Doctor and is the author of the book Love Me, Feed Me and Helping Your Child with Extreme Picky Eating.  Visit her websites at and

For more information on this topic, listen to the Creating a Family radio show: Food Issues in Adopted Children and visit our blog: Raising a Picky Eater without Resorting to Bribery or Murder.

Image credit: Judy Baxter