Nutrition is one of the most important factors for adopted children! Most families will face some difficulty with eating and nutrition, whether managing a malnourished child or coping with food hoarding. Adopted children often come with a history of poor nourishment, diets low in nutrition, quick group feedings, limited variety of foods, and limited opportunities to develop healthy eating skills. The abrupt change to a forever family that offers such large amounts of food can be overwhelming to children, causing difficulties for both parents and children.
As with most subjects in adoption, education and patience are key! Find out all you can about your child’s eating habits before they come to you, including what they have been exposed to, which can make a huge difference for younger children who may have only had rice cereal-fortified formula. Learn what your older child’s favorite foods and snacks were before being adopted, as well. Try your best to provide these familiar and favorite foods as often as possible, especially in the first few months of being home (even if you don’t approve of them!). The transition to a new family is difficult, and a familiar food can help provide comfort. Slowly introduce new foods based on your child’s ability and preferences, and keep in mind it can take 10-15 tries before a new food is accepted.
Here are some tips for managing and coping with eating and nutrition:
• Overeating is common in newly adopted children. Usually this behavior subsides after a short time of being home, once the child realizes food is plentiful. To help, make sure food is always available, and allow your child a snack whenever they ask. To prevent overeating during meals, give your child a normal portion of food, and offer reasonable amounts of ‘seconds’ if they are still hungry.
• Hoarding is also very common, especially for orphanage children who have never had easy access to food. Don’t punish this behavior, but provide acceptable alternatives. Always have snacks for the backpack, provide a special cabinet or basket with snacks for your child to access, and have food visually available at all times. Once your child realizes food is always available, hoarding should lessen. However, this behavior can persist in some form for many years past adoption.
• Picky eating. Some kids have a difficult time adjusting to American cuisine, and for some the change in food is an added trauma to the already difficult transition. Start by serving foods you know your child likes and will eat, and slowly introduce new foods. Also, eating as a family (especially if there are other children involved) can help encourage trying new foods.
• Difficulty eating can occur for younger kids, usually because they have not been exposed to many foods yet. Start slow as if you are just starting a baby on solid foods, and encourage development of the motor skills needed to eat. If problems continue, consider an evaluation by your pediatrician or an occupational therapist to see if feeding therapy is needed.
• Nutrition is a big factor that is often overlooked. Did you know that developmental and behavioral problems can be caused by nutritional deficiencies? ADHD, sleep problems, difficulty with movement, and lack of growth despite getting enough calories can all be a signal that something is off. Consider having your child tested for nutritional deficiencies. A chubby child is not necessarily a well-nourished child!
CCAI is a licensed, non-profit, Hague-accredited agency serving families in the US and around the world, and we have placed more than 13,000 children since 1992. Adoption is our passion; families benefit from our specialized and personal service, and our adoption costs are among the lowest in the field of international adoption. We wish to find caring parents and loving homes for as many abandoned healthy and special needs children as possible from China, Colombia, Bulgaria, Ukraine, and Taiwan.