Whether you are waiting for a match, waiting to travel, or recently returned home, issues surrounding food is a cornerstone of many international adoption experiences. Through food and meal times we forge attachment. Through food we let our children know they are safe. Through it, we reassure our newest family members that where once there may have been scarcity with us there will always be abundance. Over the past four years, we have completed two international adoptions from two different countries. We had different experiences with both our children, and we have learned a lot about helping international children adapt to a new diet. Here are some of the highlights.
Buy Cups and Plates While in the Country
One of the best tips I ever received was the idea that plastic tastes different in different countries. One way to help ease your child’s transition home is to buy plates, cups, silverware, and bottles while in the country. With both of our adoptions, our children clung to the sippy cups, bottles, and spoons I purchased in China and India. A way to help your child to adapt to a new diet is to introduce new foods, but with the feeding utensils/bottles that are familiar to them.
Buy Familiar Snacks
If you are able to do so, ask the orphanage or your child’s foster family what their favorite snacks and foods are then purchased some while in the country to help feel familiar with the new diet. Already home? Between Amazon, Whole Foods, and local international markets we have been able to find most of our children’s favorite snacks. To introduce new foods, try blending the old with the new. With my son, we started blending Chinese rice puffs with Cheerios then slowly transitioned to just Cheerios.
Mirror What Your Child Likes
When we first adopted our son from China, within days, he had given up congee for Tex-Mex. My daughter, on the other hand, was not so easy. Our first three months home all she would eat was Indian food and only Indian food from a local restaurant. Despite my best efforts at daal and madras lentils, I could never make them taste quite right, and the rest of the family grew weary of Indian food every night for dinner. So I started thinking outside the box. I knew my daughter would only eat rice and lentils, but did they have to be Indian? I tried her on Zatarain’s, which she loved, then fried rice. I swapped out a cheese quesadilla for naan paneer, and she ate it cautiously. Six months later, we still struggle, but her diet is expanding in small ways every day.
Understand Food Is a Form of Power
For children adopted internationally, it’s important to remember that their whole world turned upside down. The sights, sounds, smells, and people they were used to are gone. Depending on the age of your child, he may have little understanding of what has happened, and most likely had little choice in the matter. For the children, food is the one source of power they have. With food, they can decide what they will eat, when they will eat, and how they will eat. A wonderful resource for adoptive parents is a book called “Love Me, Feed Me” by Dr. Katja Rowell. In it, Dr. Rowell explores oral-motor and sensory needs, picky eaters, and day to day feeding challenges. For my family, her book helped transform dinner from a battleground to quality time together.
Understand It Takes Time
Rome was not built overnight, and neither will be your child’s palate. Remember your child is adjusting to more than new foods, he is adjusting to a whole new way of life. Talk to your pediatrician, or better yet an international adoption specialist, to ensure your child is getting the nutrients he needs. Then relax. As a doctor shared if the children get everything they need over the course of a day (protein at breakfast, fruit for a snack, iron at dinner) you’re doing a great job. Feel like you’re in this alone? Another great resource is the DVD “Feeding with Love and Good Sense II,” which looks at different family’s struggles with children at meal times. Remember, each child is her/his person and on his/her journey. While my son ate Tex-Mex within days of leaving his orphanage, nine months later, my daughter still mainly eats Indian food, and that’s okay. Like all things in adoption, the best thing you can do is be patient, give it time, and stress to your new child how very much they are loved.
Jennifer S. Jones is a writer, performer, storyteller and arts educator. She holds an MFA (Playwriting) from NYU Tisch. She has written numerous plays including the internationally renowned, award-winning Appearance of Life. Her amazing transracial transcultural family was created through adoption from China and India. She is passionate about the adoption community and talks about the ins and outs, ups and downs, joys and “is this really us?!” whenever she can. She writes about her experiences at www.letterstojack.com.