How To Parent A Child With Food Insecurities

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A common issue that children who have come from past trauma struggle with, are food insecurities. It can be frustrating, and sometimes, exhausting for parents who are ill-equipped. The big question is, how do you successfully parent a child who struggles with this?

It’s an unseasonably cold and windy late May morning in the sleepy little Southern Wisconsin town of Lake Geneva. Like something out of a storybook, the streets are lined with vintage lamps, cobblestone sidewalks, and Victorian homes.  It’s almost too good to be true. The night before we piled all of our children into a rental car and made the 3 and half hour drive north of our hometown for my wife to speak at a foster and adoptive moms retreat all weekend. Our stay at a comfortable hotel on the outskirts of town is made perfect by a hot (and free) breakfast before we start the day.

I can hear the panic in my child’s voice as he wakes me up in the early morning hours. Question after question flows as I fumble to find my phone and shoes in the darkness of the room- “Hey dad, when are we gonna have breakfast?” “Hey dad, will they have waffles, and oatmeal, and toast?” “Hey dad, how long is breakfast open?” “Hey dad, we’re not going to miss breakfast are we?” “Hey dad, what if they run out of food down there?”

Even in the darkness of the room, and in-spite of my weariness, my heart fills with compassion for him. The questions are coming from a distant, dark place, deep within him, that he doesn’t even recall. It’s a voice that continually prompts and pokes at him. As a baby, before he came into our care, he was hungry. And even when he was fed, it wasn’t enough…it wasn’t filling….so it left him insecure in a way that he may never be able to articulate. Even though he has had safety, security and plenty of food for years, the fear of malnourishment remains.

When we arrive to the lobby of the hotel that morning, and find a table in the continental breakfast lounge our entire family can fit around, I begin gently reminding him. With a warm smile, I cheerfully say to him, “Hey buddy, remember, there will always be enough food this morning. Even if they run out of something, there are people in the back who are making more. And remember, you can go back up and get more if you feel hungry.”

He nods and smiles. But the panic is still there. It’s everlasting. It’s a whisper deep within his psyche saying, “There’s not going to be enough.”

Trauma is a panic that lives within our kiddos. It’s a retreat to the brain stem (survival mode) because of an unmet need in the early stages of life. It’s an all-too-common theme amongst children in foster care, or children who have been adopted from trauma. And let’s be honest- it can be frustrating! How do you respond? How do you handle the child who constantly asks or obsesses over food? How do you handle the child who hides food in his or her bedroom, or hoards food at school?

Here are some thoughts…

  1. Remember. Before we talk about your child. let’s talk about you for a moment. You must remember where your child has come from, what they went through before they came into your care, and how that all plays out in their life (and behavior) today. A child who was malnourished, starving, or constantly worried about food source in their younger years, will carry that fear into their older years. It will affect their behavior, the way they eat, and the way they respond to meal times. Simply remember this will give you a compassionate outlook, and will help you respond calmly.
  2. Respond. It’s crucial that you respond with compassion, gentleness, and kindness. I know this can be frustrating to deal with. Your response to their food insecurity can be the difference between a trigger or trust. Remember that and respond with compassion.
    Your response to your child’s food insecurity can be the difference between a trigger or trust.
  3. Permission. We don’t ever tell our children “no” to food. Especially those of our children who went through malnourishment and starvation in their infant years. Instead, we grant permission to get food when they feel worried. We keep healthy snacks on hand (fruit, veggies, etc) that are always accessible. Grant your child permission to get food when he or she feels insecure.
  4. Remind. In the same spirit, when you are getting close to a meal time, remind them that it is almost meal time. Remind them that there will always be enough food. Remind them that if they feel they need more after their first helping, they are welcome to get seconds, or thirds. If you’re away from home, remind them that you will be stopping at _____ time to eat. You may even pull up a map on your phone and show them how far you have to travel until you arrive at the restaurant.
  5. Show. I mentioned a moment ago, that we keep healthy snacks on hand that are always accessible. But we actively show our children who deal with insecurities, where this food is located. The only thing we ask them to do is ask us before opening up the cabinet. This is an important boundary in helping them regulate through this. For the child who hoards food at night, keep a special stash that is designated “their’s only” on hand in your kitchen or pantry for when they feel hungry. Set the boundary that they must have the snack in the kitchen (or you’ll provide plenty of feasting for mice or bugs :-)), but make sure they understand where the food is, and that there is enough. Same is true for school. If your child is hoarding food at school or panicking that lunch is too far away, coordinate special snack time with your child’s teacher or aid.

Food insecurities, and food worries are really a tension to manage, they may not be a problem you can solve. We know adults who were malnourished as children, some 30 to 40 years in the past, and they still live with the affects of food scarcity. Some of them don’t even realize they reacting out of this past trauma. Stay consistent with your child and make sure you respond with compassion and kindness. In time, your child will trust that there is enough, and you will never let go hungry.

Are you parenting a child with food insecurities? Share your story with us in the comment section below.

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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.