Food, glorious food – there’s nothing quite like it to bring a family together. Eating healthily and nutritiously is an essential part of life. As Virginia Woolf said: “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” At Orchard Fostering, we recognise the importance of ensuring your foster child is eating well – and we also acknowledge how difficult it can be to make this happen.

While food may seem a simple pleasure, the conversation around nutrition and healthy eating can sometimes become overwhelming. If you’re feeling a little lost in the realm of food science, have no fear – we’re here to help. Read on to find out our top tips for eating healthily with your foster child.

Eat up to seven portions of fruit and vegetables per day

This is an increase on the old five-a-day rule you probably remember from school, and can often be viewed as an unattainable goal for some people. However, there are a couple of ways you can quickly increase your fruit and veg intake.

First, make fruit a regular part of breakfast time – slice a banana into your foster child’s cereal. If your foster child is in school, pack a piece of fruit for each breaktime. Initiate a fruit bowl into the house, replacing afternoon snacks with plums, pears, or pomegranates. Try and incorporate two vegetables into your dinner, and have some fruit for an after-dinner treat. Before you know it, you and your foster child are meeting your seven-a-day goal.

Reduce levels of high fat, sugar, and salt food and drink in your foster child’s diet

People love sugar, fat, and salt – it’s a fact of life. Crisps, chocolate, soft drinks – they’re comfort food for lots of people. According to the food pyramid, however, this love is misguided. Your foster child should only rarely be consuming foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt – once or twice a week at a maximum.

We all love a treat, and your foster child will be no exception. However, you have a chance to help them here – you can reframe what a “treat” is in your home. Instead of a chocolate bar, it can be apple slices with sugar-free peanut butter. Instead of a can of Coke, it can be a glass of fresh orange juice. It’s not the taste we’re after when it comes to treats – it’s the comfort of something familiar, and the feeling of a reward. If you can recalibrate your foster child to consider fruit etc. a treat, you’ll be well on your way to ensuring their nutritional needs are met.

Follow portion sizes

Portion size is one of the more difficult-to-follow aspects of nutrition. Our instinct can sometimes be to load a child’s plate with food – some theories suggest this is a sociological holdover related to the Famine, where food was scarce.

As such, portion size is extremely important. By feeding your foster child the correct amount, you are ensuring they are getting the relevant volume of nutrients from their food. HSE has great guidelines around portion size for everyone and specific guidelines for toddlers, too.

Teach your foster child the importance of meal preparation and planning

One of the great joys in life is to cook. If you can instil a love of cooking in your foster child, you’ll be doing them a great service. You’ll be giving them access to a world that many people find daunting and unapproachable – and allowing them the independence to take care of their own nutritional needs in the future.

A simple way to build their love of cooking is to let them into the kitchen with you as you prepare meals. Ask them their opinion on recipes, and show them how to put meals together. You can even try cooking together – there are plenty of family-focused cookbooks out there, designed specifically to include children.

Bringing your foster child into the kitchen will show them the joys of cooking, giving them the confidence to manage their own diet as they grow older. You’ll be gifting them a life skill, and forging a connection with them, too.

Manage their relationship with food and meal times

We all have memories associated with food – and most of them are good. We’re reminded of warm bowls of stew on cold autumn evenings, or cool slices of rhubarb tart on a summer afternoon. Food is incredibly evocative, incorporating all the senses, and thus our memories associated with it are more vivid.

As such, some foster children may have a tumultuous relationship with food. Meal times may be triggering for them – with particular recipes or food types bringing up difficult emotions. You can help alleviate these memories by discussing them with your foster child, and trying to understand their issue.

Managing your foster child’s relationship with food and meal times can be difficult at times, but it can also be rewarding – you can help alleviate their stress around certain foods, and you have the chance to build positive, loving memories around food with them.

These basic ideas are a great framework upon which to build your foster child’s diet. If you adhere to these guidelines outlined above you’ll be well on your way to meeting your foster child’s nutritional needs. If you’re interested in finding out more about healthy eating, the HSE has great guidelines in place under their Healthy Food for Life programme.

Are you interested in becoming a foster carer? Contact Orchard Fostering today and help us build brighter futures.