“Knowing deep within us that someone is going to feed us when we are hungry is how trust and love begin…” – Mister Rogers (as cited by Rowell, 2012, p. 2).
I want you to be very candid with me. When you think about meal time with your children, what words or phrases initially come to mind?
If you had asked us last month or any day the past two years, Bryson and I would’ve said the following if we were being honest —
– “Mommy, I don’t like this.”
– Power struggle
– Picky eaters
– “Slow down…”
– “Just eat two more bites.”
– “You must eat protein.”
– “After you eat your cucumbers, you may have dessert.”
We allowed the anxiety and the fear our kids have around food to be the predominant guest at our dinner table. Meal times were stressful. When meal time was over, to be quite frank, Bryson and I would sometimes sigh a sigh of relief.
Some have told us it is “just a normal kid thing,” but what we have noticed about our dinner time woes is that there is an underlying panic surrounding food. For many kids who have been adopted internationally, there is a real fear that they might starve. One child of mine opens the pantry frequently just to make sure there is still food. According to Drs. Purvis and Cross (2007), “The deprivation they suffered early in life has hardwired their primitive brain to believe that starvation is just around the corner” (p. 64).
A couple weeks after getting home with our second child, I knew we had to do something different at meal time. Suddenly, my husband and I had two children with food insecurity in their history — and what ‘felt’ manageable with one felt more overwhelming with two. Twice the “yucky,” twice the worry over food issues, twice the feeding on demand, and twice the begging for sweets around the clock. We were not in a crisis, but all meals were stressful and were not pleasurable anymore.
We had to do something. We had implemented advice from our adoption training, a post-adoption team, social workers, etc. and nothing helped. We had to try something else because I was about to lose my mind at meal time. What I was doing wasn’t working for me or for the kids.
Even though we were still jet lagged from our recent adoption, I knew I needed to start reading Love Me, Feed Me: The Adoptive Parent’s Guide to Ending the Worry About Weight, Picky Eating, Power Struggles and More by Katja Rowell, MD. During the past three years, I have occasionally heard an adoptive parent praise this book as a “miracle,” but always told myself I did not have time to read it and that my daughter’s food issues were not that bad. To be honest, I was a little worried implementing a new feeding approach so soon after adopting our second child, however as I read the book, I felt comfortable with what the author presented to help attachment and food issues. It is an attachment-based technique.
The technique presented in the book is high structure and high nurture. Although I found myself overwhelmed with being newly home, the book is very user friendly which allowed me to read what I needed and implement it quickly. The author suggests that post-adoptive parents look at the Table of Contents and Index for issues relevant to their situation. After spending just a couple of hours reading and taking notes, I had enough information to begin implementing some of the ideas for both of our children. According to Dr. Rowell, most of the advice we previously received from well-meaning experts (and what we were doing) was wrong. She said it would backfire, and it had.
Often times, after reading books for adoptive parents, I feel like I have such a high standard to reach that is unattainable. This likely has more to do with my own issues, but I have heard friends who are adoptive parents echo these same sentiments. However, after reading Love Me, Feed Me, I was left feeling encouraged and understood, not overwhelmed. I was left wondering, “Why don’t agencies require families to read this book for pre-adoptive training?” After seeing a post I made online, two close friends ordered the book and texted me the same question about why agencies did not require us to read this book because the book resonated with them so much too (and our kids’ food issues all manifest differently).
Though I want to keep it private exactly how food issues manifest in our home, I will say we have one child who will not eat much and one who is the exact opposite. One child has Sensory Processing Disorder. Yet, implementing tactics from this book helped both children quickly. Though the author warns that behavior often gets worse before it gets better, we did not experience worse behavior. However, we did notice big improvements by day two.
One of the most helpful ideas in the book was the Division of Responsibilities. The author suggests that when it comes to feeding, parents and children have different responsibilities. Battles around food often manifest when the responsibilities are blurred.
Some of the changes we made to our meals:
- Served meals and snacks family style at the table
- Did not worry how our children used or did not use their eating utensils
- Made sure that there was a clear “beginning” to our meal time. For our family that meant prayer (we also do this at snack time)
- Everyone eats the meal together
- Made sure there was at least one item on the table that is a favorite of our children during meals (i.e., rice, noodles, oranges)
- Stopped commenting about eating at all and shifted the conversation to how our day went – in fact, we kind of ignore how much or little they eat
- Any item my husband and I were eating for a meal, we also made available to our children on the table (even if we thought they would not eat it)
- Served child-size portions of dessert with our dinner a couple of times per week – and did not comment if our children ate it first
- Added sauces and condiments to our dinner table for kids to eat with their food
- Stopped catering to my children’s food preferences, but instead considered them at each meal time (making sure at least one item was on their favorite list)
- Allowed children to place items on their plates unless they asked for help
To give you an idea, this is what our meals look like:
7:30 AM breakfast – oranges, fried eggs, toast, nutella, apples, ketchup, almond butter
9:30 AM snack – yogurt drink, baby carrots, pretzels
11:30 AM lunch – leftover bacon fried rice, apples, celery sticks, salad, hummus
Play and nap
3:00 PM snack – beef jerky, whole wheat crackers, grapes
5:00 PM dinner – salmon, jasmine rice, cucumbers, asparagus, chicken nuggets
7:30 AM breakfast – apples, hard boiled eggs, Cheerios, bananas, nutella, almond butter
9:30 AM snack – animal crackers, yogurt drink
11:30 AM lunch – leftover salmon, jasmine rice, cucumbers, baby carrot, grapes, hummus, ketchup
Play and nap
3:00 PM snack – hard boiled eggs, pickles
5:00 PM dinner – Pork burrito bowls – homemade pinto beans, pulled pork, salsa, lettuce, plain greek yogurt, tortilla chips, jasmine rice, avocados, queso, cucumbers, baby carrots, and chocolate pudding with sprinkles for dessert
After implementing ideas from Love Me, Feed Me, I noticed the following changes in me:
- The stress level at meal time has gone down significantly. There are more smiles even though I still hear the “yucky” phrase.
- Before, I was the last one to get to sit down and eat because I was taking care of everyone else. The model presented in this book changed the way we do things, and instead of being a short order cook, I enjoyed each meal and snack with my family. I no longer have days where it is 2 PM and I am thinking, “Oh! I haven’t eaten today.”
- At first, it was a lot of stress for me to put all of our food on the table for family style meals. However, I quickly noticed that this relaxed my children and they tried foods they never would have before. When Lydia took a bite of lettuce, it took every ounce of self-control for me to not jump up and down in delight and praise her.
- When my daughter did not eat what I would consider was enough food before pre-school, it was hard for me to allow her to make that choice. But, I kept my mouth shut.
- Before, I stressed about their protein intake. It is nice not to have that burden anymore.
- I was surprised how easy it was to make sure my child had a favorite dish on the table at each meal. Often, their favorite item was a leftover that was previously cooked.
- I was hesitant to add sauces and condiments to meal time. However, it has been successful because my kids are eating food they never would have…with ketchup.
- At first, one child had a really hard time enjoying conversations at meal time. After a week, she relaxed and could enjoy conversation.
- All of our mealtimes and snack times were on a predictable schedule before, but I have noticed that our children now have excitement when it is time to eat.
- There were a couple of mornings when we all did not eat together, and I noticed my kids missed it.
- My husband and I have had to change a lot of our behaviors around mealtimes. It is not about changing our kids.
- The idea of serving meals family style equated with more dishes in my mind, and I am America’s worst cleaner ever. I hate dishes. Instead of adding to my stress-level, I gave myself grace, and we put all items on disposable plates. Hey, I am not Martha Stewart and I own that. We won’t be serving and eating off of paper plates forever, it is just a stage.
- Love Me, Feed Me has been a game-changer for all of us.
I highly recommend Love Me, Feed Me as a resource for your family to make mealtimes more enjoyable and to tackle tough food issues.
Now if someone has a sleep book for adoptive families, you will help us forever. Amen.
“Dear God, thank you for all of ‘dis delicious food. Thank you for loving me, giving me a family, and helping my mommy and daddy. Amen.” – Lydia, 3 years old