Hosting: What Do the Children Eat?


This is an important question to ask when contemplating hosting a child because you want them to have  a good experience while they are visiting with your family. Although most children from other countries do well with a change in their normal diets, some children may sensitive to this, and it may allow them to feel more comfortable in your home.

Important considerations should include sensory issues with foods and the possible appearance of ravenous eating or hoarding food items. These issues are sometimes common with international children who have been residing in an institution. Because institutions often operate in ways which are geared for group service, their foods are sometimes bland in taste, prepared for consumption by children of all ages, constructed frugally, and incorporate food items common to the geographic area in which they are located. Thus, the foods are often the same day in and day out, textured for digestion of all ages of children (soft foods that require very little chewing), seldom or lightly seasoned, and contain very few meats. The children may have access to fruits, but the types of fruit they have had can be very limited.

All children in institutions are generally given the same amounts to eat, so some of them, especially the older or larger ones, may not be having their nutritional needs met. Many institutionalized children have experienced hunger and undernourishment at some time in their lives. Thus, when they are exposed to the amount and large varieties of food available in your home, they may appear ravenous and consume large amounts of food, and even indicate that they want more. Be sure to continue to offer it to them. Some children will hoard food due to fear of not having it readily available, so having a small container available for them to keep some food with them is helpful. You may see children constantly inspect your cupboards or refrigerator to see if food is still there; this is reassurance to them that they will be fed. Smaller children will sometimes try to hide food in their mouths, thus exhibiting “chipmunk cheeks” so you may want to help them understand that you can help them keep some food with them to avoid the potential for choking. Many families will keep a platter of fruits, granola bars or other healthy items on the counter in their kitchens to continually remind their host child that it is okay to eat anytime they are hungry.

If you notice that your host child is having difficult eating the foods you prepare, check the consistency and texture of the item. Your host child may not be used to chewing foods and may have difficulty digesting them. You will want to be sensitive to his potential sensory issues with food. Thus, you may have to begin with foods like soups, mashed potatoes, noodles, bananas, etc.  to test his or her tolerance. It will be important for you to ask your host child about the foods he or she likes and does not like, and incorporate those into your meals. Some children will be very adventurous and delight in trying new foods, despite their taste or texture; be confidence in introducing your host child to new culinary opportunities. Additionally, if you are hosting a younger child, you may need to help him or her cut foods into smaller pieces or properly use a spoon or fork. In some orphanages, the staff to child ratio is high and children do not always receive one-on-one attention to properly learn and develop such skills.

Finally, do your research! Look into the common foods eaten in the country from which your host child is coming. Comb the internet for possible recipes you can use to help him feel comfortable. If the child is older, ask if he wants to help prepare a meal with you. Any efforts you make to help your host child feel comfortable and well cared for will enrich and improve the hosting experience with your family.

Photo Credit: Dan Foy

Karlene Edgemon works as MLJ Adoptions’ Director of Social Services. Throughout her 25 year social services career, Karlene has been able to watch adoption transform the lives of children and she is always brainstorming new ways to support adoptive families before, during and after their adoption.