Sally Donovan and Lisa Cherry in conversation.
Sally: So Lisa, you talked on Woman’s Hour recently about the importance of food and taste to children in care, for those who didn’t hear the programme could you just explain?
Lisa: Yes. I explored food in my book The Brightness of Stars as for me, it seemed to define each placement I had during my time in residential units and foster placements. What has emerged is that whenever I write or talk about food in relation to children in care it excites a lot of interest and knowing looks. I know that you, as an adopter of two children, have written about food and had a similar reaction. So when we chatted on twitter it made sense that we had a conversation about it.
Sally: Food has been a major part of our lives since we adopted. I’ve experienced food being eaten out of the bin, it being a constant pre-occupation, consumed at a huge speed and food being taken and consumed in secret.
Lisa: It makes absolute sense of course that when food has been in ‘lack’ and/ or prolonged feelings of hunger have been endured, that the relationship with food is going to be tricky. Food becomes only about survival in those circumstances. For me it was more about it being cultural, socio-economic and filled with an agenda. Having had what I would call ‘loving’ food as a young child (my Gran was French so cooked beautifully) I moved in between daily roast dinners to cabbage and sausages to large canteen style cooking through to locked larders filled with row after row of cheap food. This makes the food a defining feature.
Sally: Anxieties around the availability of food seem to over-ride smell and other sensations in our house. Food is something of great concern and worry. ‘When is tea?’ and ‘What’s for tea?’ are questions I get asked many times a day. Meals are eaten extremely quickly, food disappears and is hoarded and there is a tendency to over eat. The impacts of early experiences of hunger seem to be difficult to shift.
Lisa: What strategies have you tried in terms of shifting early experiences if hunger? What have brought the most success and have any caused more distress?
Sally: The most effective strategy has been regular meal times and simple food. They find a help yourself’ buffet style meal difficult so we manage these carefully. Now that the children are older we try to help them understand why they experience anxiety over food and to reassure them there will always be enough for them. I wonder how long these issues will persist for? It’s been ten years now. Anything that adds emotion and shame to food and mealtimes is detrimental.
Lisa: Do you have any ‘top tips’ for other foster parents or adopters around food?
Sally: I can explain what has worked for us. It has been about trying things out and seeing what works and always testing strategies against a knowledge of early trauma and therapeutic parenting.
- Regular meals as they provide a strong structure to the day
- Not persisting with foods they don’t like – taking away opportunities for failure at the dinner table – taking the emotion and shame out
- Providing foods that they ate and enjoyed in care – even now, ten years in
- Planning meals that don’t take long to prepare so that more time is available for one to one parenting and close supervision – meal prep doesn’t become something that takes away mum’s attention – and the more time between the start of prep and the food arriving, the greater the stress
- Lots of fruit available to satisfy the constant desire for food
- Verbal reassurance – ‘there will always be enough food for you’ ‘ I will not let you go hungry’
- Cooking and baking – preparing food, learning about it, shopping together
- Some choice – would you like x or y for tea
- Being tuned in to what they like and providing these foods frequently
Thanks Sally. For more information it’s worth checking out:
Recipes For Fostering by Andrea Warman