Am I Making My Child’s Food Insecurity Worse With My Rules?

Author of 5 books, podcaster, parent trainer, husband and father.

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Food insecurity is one of the deepest, and complex forms of trauma. Even years after a human being faces this type of trauma, their body keeps the score.

Don’t I know it. 

Now, on the other side of 2 decades+ of parenting children with a trauma history, I see this clearer than ever. I understand why the child who was deprived of nutrition as an infant, starts nearly every day out with the question, “What’s for dinner?”

I understand why, at times, a simple fast-food meal is treated like it’s their last.

That wasn’t always the case for me, though. I was blinded by rules, budgets, and the way I was raised. I came from a home where breakfast, lunch, and dinner were what they were, and maybe we could have a snack in between, but that was rare. A special occasion at best. You ate breakfast, went to school (or out to play if it were summer break), ate lunch, back to school or play, and then mom yelled out “Dinner!” and rang a bell when it was time to come in and wash up. And if you didn’t clean up that plate, you’d sit there ’til sundown!

Rules. Rules. Rules.

They worked for me and my sister. Mostly. I honestly don’t believe it was the most effective way to parent and basically turned us into kids who worked hard to not get caught scraping the food off our plates to the floor for the dog to take care of things!

So, are you making things worse with your child by enforcing and upholding rules around food? Maybe. If anything, you may be causing added triggers around their insecurity. It’s like trying to put out a campfire with a can of gasoline. The more you pour, the brighter it burns.

But, dear caregiver, I don’t want you to feel guilty or ashamed. That doesn’t help at all and is not the point of this post. If you are feeling this way, there is hope.

Let’s shift the question: How do you lead your child who has a food insecurity, if not with rules? And how do you keep from making their insecurity worse? 

Here are some ideas…

  1. Rules must transform into guidelines. Rules are rigid, guidelines are flexible. In our household there is breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but snacks are available in between. The guideline may be 1 snack in between but if we notice our child struggling there may be an exception. Every situation, and day, can be different. We’re working to meet a need, not enforce a rule, or make a point.
  2. Yes, with permission. Food is always available. You can always have a snack in our home. It’s always a yes, but with permission. Why? Not only do we not want to cultivate an idea of scarcity for a child who has a lingering food insecurity, but we’re also working on a bigger picture. That picture? We’re raising future adults. And those adults, we hope, will recognize boundaries, learn a level of patience, and function within the confines of asking and gaining permission, with food, but also in life.
  3. Constant access. As I mentioned in Point 2, food should always be available. In some capacity. This doesn’t mean that you’re handing out snacks 10 minutes before dinner is ready and placed on the table. You simply point to the fact that you’re about to eat. They can wait. You may need to reassure them and point to the food that’s being prepared. Perhaps even give them a sample tasting ahead of dinner being served. My advice has always been to have healthy snacks readily available for those in-between times.
  4. Ownership with food. Speaking of constant access, one of the most important things we have done with our children, over the years, is give them ownership with the type of snacks we make readily available. There are boundaries with this of course. We may allow them to choose one not-so-healthy snack and make it clear that this can be a once-a-day type snack, while the others are healthy and nutritious. But allowing them to pick out food with us, in the grocery, or online if we’re ordering through InstantCart has helped reduce insecurities around food.

At the end of the day, the best advice we can give to you is this: Identify and meet the need first above all. Yes it is food, but on a larger scale, it’s connection. It’s validation that you see they are wrestling with a big insecurity, one they may not even understand. You can bridge that gap for them.

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Mike and Kristin Berry are the Co-Founders of The Honestly Adoption Company and have been parents for nearly two decades. They are the authors of six books, and the host of The Honestly Adoption Podcast.

Sarah Gray

Sarah Gray is the executive assistant to Mike and Kristin Berry. And she is the best in the land. In addition to providing a warm and friendly response to the many emails our company receives on a weekly basis, she also manages Mike and Kristin’s speaking and meeting schedules, and makes sure that team events go off without a hitch.

Nicole Goerges

Nicole Goerges is a Content Contributor & Special Consultant for The Honestly Adoption Company. She works with Mike and Kristin as a recurring co-host for the Honestly Adoption Podcast, and co-host of Kitchen Table Talks, exclusive video content for Oasis Community, along with Kristin. She is a fellow adoptive mom, and former foster parent.

Matt McCarrick

Matt McCarrick is the Content Production Specialist for The Honestly Adoption Company. If you’ve loved listening to our podcast, or enjoyed any of the videos trainings we’ve published, you have Matt to thank. He oversees all of our content production, from video edits, to making sure the tags are correct on YouTube, to uploading new videos to Oasis, to hitting publish on a podcast episode, he’s a content wonder!

Karen Anderson

Karen Anderson is the Community Engagement Specialist for The Honestly Adoption Company. She spends the bulk of her time interacting with, and helping, people through our various social media channels, as well as providing support for Oasis Community members through chat support or Zoom calls. In the same spirit as Beaver, Karen is also passionate about connecting with parents and making them feel loved and supported. Karen is also an FASD trainer and travels often, equipping and encouraging parents.

Beaver Trumble

Beaver Trumble is the Customer Care Specialist for The Honestly Adoption Company. Chances are, if you have been in need of technical support, or forgotten your password to one of our courses, you have interacted with Beaver. He is an absolute pro at customer care. In fact, he single-handedly revolutionized our customer care department last year. Beaver is passionate about connecting with parents and making them feel loved and encouraged.

Kristin Berry

Kristin Berry is the co-founder of, and Chief Content Specialist for, The Honestly Adoption Company. She spends most of her time researching and connecting with guests for our podcast, as well as direction, designing and publishing a lot of the content for our social media channels, blog and podcast. She loves to connect with fellow parents around the world, and share the message of hope with them.

Mike Berry

Mike Berry is the co-founder of, and Chief Marketing Specialist for, The Honestly Adoption Company. He spends the bulk of his time and energy designing and building many of the resources you see within our company, as well as social media and email campaigns. His goal is to use media as a means to encourage and equip parents around the world. He is also the co-host of The Honestly Adoption Podcast.