Helping Kids Work Through Challenges With Food

Date: March 14, 2022 l Author: Odelaisys Saco, LMHC, Michele Rogan, and Daniela Bolla

It’s not uncommon for children to struggle with picky eating at some point in life. For various reasons, kids may show strong aversions to the taste, color, or texture of certain foods. For example, some kids will complain about how green their broccoli florets are or turn away at the sight of fluffy, scrambled eggs. As parents or caregivers, this can make mealtime incredibly challenging. It’s important to remember, however, that for children who have experienced trauma, their aversion to certain foods can be a symptom of a deeper issue.

With three square meals a day, 7 days a week, eating is obviously an essential part of a child’s daily routine. When creating meals and snacks for kids that have been through trauma, it’s helpful to understand why a Sunday dinner with family, or a snack at the park might cause some disruption or negative behavior. Here are a few things to consider related to why your child may be having a hard time eating:

    • Are all the different foods on their plate touching each other? Children react based on senses, so if the food is mushed together, they can’t separate the orange carrot from the white rice, and they may become overwhelmed. This could be based on developmental delays or color triggers from past life events.
    • Another reason food can be a hurdle is because of the child’s history with food. Was there a struggle to get just one meal each day? Did they eat same food every day? How was the access to health options? It can be hard for children to unlearn their upbringing, even when it comes to food.

It’s our job as parents and caregivers to become “detectives” who use the power of relationship to uncover the root cause of this behavior and help our kids thrive! Whatever the reason might be for why a child is experiencing challenges around meal times, here are 3 ways to help overcome the food fight:

1. Get the children involved in meal planning. Have a family meeting to sit down and talk about likes and dislikes when it comes to meals. Set some base lines for what kinds of nutrient or food groups must go in a meal, and then make a list of meals you could make during the week. Kids love to be involved in processes and help where they can, so let them prep with you! Give them a spoon to stir mashed potatoes, or have them throw the cucumber pieces into the salad bowl. When they become a part in making the dinner, they are more willing to partake in eating it.

2. Following the connection piece, bring in the educational aspect. Teach children that food is more than just a time to consume, but rather a time to gain energy and enhance brain and muscle development. Let them know about the different food groups and use this time to remind them that their body is a temple created by a God who loves them (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

3. Now that you have connection and education, it’s time to communicate! As much as we can try to come up with solutions to these food sensitivity issues, each child is different and has been through different traumas. Getting to the root of the problem will help with not only the main issue, but can also reveal a plate full of other triggers you weren't aware they had. Ask questions and get curious. Unhealthy food habits can be an unhealthy coping skill, so it’s helpful to know if they are under any sort of stress or if there's something in life causing them anxiety.

Food should be fun, so get creative in ways to make it that way for children. Let food and eating become a wholesome healing mechanism and not a stressful, constant battle. Children who come from difficult upbringings are longing for stability and opportunities to have even a small amount of decision-making power in their every day lives, and you have the knowledge and power to make that a reality around meal times.

“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)