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Five ways to encourage healthy eating habits in children and young people

Olive Branch Healthy Eating

When fostering, you may find that some children in your care have complicated relationships with food. Experiences such as neglect, instability and trauma can lead to unusual eating habits, anxiety, or feelings of overwhelm during mealtimes.

With the British Nutrition Foundation encouraging everyone to “give it a go” this Healthy Eating Week, it’s the perfect time to talk about how foster carers can gently introduce children to a varied and nutritious diet. Let’s dive into our top five tips…


1. Encourage food security

Some children in foster care won’t have had experiences of a healthy and balanced diet, or even regular meals. This can lead to malnutrition, as well as behaviours such as hoarding, overeating, or anxiety around mealtimes. 

Before introducing new foods, start by consistently offering options your foster child enjoys. Show them where food is kept and offer reassurance that it will be topped up regularly. In the short term, you might want to allow your foster child to have their own stash of snacks until they feel confident enough not to hoard.

2. Involve your foster child in meal planning

Involving children in meal planning, cooking and shopping lets them have a say in what they eat while learning about different foods. When they’re included in the planning and preparation, they might be more willing to sample what’s on their plate.

3. Model good habits

When fostering, it’s important to show children how to live healthily – even if they’re not quite there yet themselves. Eating together, staying active, and making good food choices sets a great example. It may take some time for your foster child to start making any changes, but take it steady and give them space to try new things when they’re ready. 

4. Keep it positive

Talking about food in a positive way helps make mealtimes enjoyable for everyone – especially for foster children who may have had tough experiences.

Instead of focusing on what they shouldn’t eat or using negative language such as “junk food”, celebrate their wins, pay attention to the foods they like, and encourage interest in all the healthy options available. Avoid pressuring behaviours like forcing children to finish everything on their plate. To keep things light and playful, you could create a cookbook filled with their favourite recipes or keep a scorecard together as you try different foods.

5. Take things slowly

When a foster child joins your family, don’t worry about rushing into a healthy diet. If you’re worried about their eating habits, remember that certain foods might feel familiar or comforting to them, and it can take time before they feel ready for more change. 

As your foster child becomes more comfortable, you can gradually introduce healthier options for them to try.


24/7 foster carer support

At Olive Branch Fostering, we prioritise the well-being of our carers and the children in their care. If you have any questions or concerns about your foster child’s eating habits, we offer training, advice and round-the-clock support

If you’d like to find out more about fostering in the North West and how you can become a vital source of stability and support for a child in need, get in touch with our friendly fostering advisors today.


Fostering insights


  • Foster Carer

Date published

07 June 2024

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