How To Parent Children With Food Issues.

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

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A common issue among children adopted or in foster care from traumatic places, is food hoarding or food issues. While it can be frustrating to deal with as a parent, there are some keys to handling it successfully.

A few years ago Oprah Winfrey interviewed Academy Award winning actor Sidney Poitier about his career and his life growing up. In a gripping moment, Oprah asked Mr. Poitier about being poor as a youngster. Often his family didn’t have food and he would go hungry. “How did you work to overcome this as you became an adult?” she asked.

He opened his suit coat and pulled out a Snickers candy bar. “Oprah,” he said, holding the candy before her. “This is a thousand dollar suit. I have 10 more just like it. I have enough money to never go hungry again. Yet I always have this in my pocket because deep inside of me I still worry I’ll be hungry.” The trauma of an experience, decades in the past, will always live with him, and haunt him. I began to think about my own children, and the places they’ve come from. As I wiped tears from my eyes, I realized the food issues that some of them dealt with back then, were not their fault.

It was trauma speaking. I was a deep-seeded belief they were going to starve. And that belief propelled them to grasp for an extra cracker, or a fist full of candy. It caused a desperate fight for survival.

To be frank with you, I was frustrated with their food issues. They frustrated me. Scratch that, they burned me up. I would lecture, argue, give ultimatums, or demand this nonsense end. Every time I walked into my son’s room and found a plate with crusted spaghetti sauce and moldy orange peels under his bed, I wanted to cuss. Sometimes I did. But then my heart was awakened to the reality of their situation. The desperation of their past life. Through personal refinement and realization, I’ve learned a few key responses that equal much healthier results…

  1. Compassion. Remember the place they’ve come from. Fact is, I can’t begin to imagine what it was like to be starving as an infant, toddler, or youngster. I grew up never needing a thing. My parents always provided food, clothing, shelter, vitamins, and a comfortable place to sleep. I didn’t miss a meal….ever. The biggest lesson I’ve had to learn on this journey, and parenting children with food issues, is compassion. I have to take a step back, before I react, and remember where they’ve come from, what their brain is whispering to them, and what they live with. For some of my children, they live with the constant fear that they’ll starve. When I consider this reality, my heart breaks.
    I have to take a step back, before I react, and remember where they’ve come from.
  2. Reassurance. Let them know it’s going to be okay. We often say to our children, “Moms and dads never let their children go hungry. They always take care of them. It’s going to be okay. You’re going to get enough to eat.” Even though my son has lived with us his entire life, we reassure him of this. It’s reassurance that builds up walls of self-confidence and belief that they actually will be okay. It’s reassurance that plants seeds of trust deep within our children’s souls. While the trauma of not getting enough food to eat will always live with them, we can bring about a sense of peace in the middle of it, by the reassuring words we speak to their hearts.
  3. Allowance. Set aside portions. If you have a child like mine, they are up all hours of the night, often rooting through your cabinets and consuming anything from cocoa powder to frozen pizza, chips, or ice creme. We used to deal with this a lot and, as I mentioned earlier, would become frustrated. Until we received some valuable advice- “Give them a portion and let them know this is there specifically for them if they wake up and feel hungry.” We tried that, and it worked, most of the time. Each night, before bed, we placed a specially wrapped container food, with our child’s name on it, in the fridge. Then we would show our child the container. We walk them through the process: “This is for you, for if you get hungry. There is plenty of food in the container and it’s just for you. It didn’t work 100% of the time, but upwards of 80-85% on most occasions. This allowance added to reassurance.

This may take some time to implement. Remember, food issues and food hoarding come from a place you and I will never really understand. It’s a deep-seeded belief there won’t be enough, they’ll be left out, or have to go without getting food. That’s something no human being should ever have to go through. For our children, we can do much to help ease their worries, and find comfort.

Are you parenting a child with food issues? What is your biggest struggle? Share 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.