It is estimated that Native Hawaiian children make up 45% of the children in foster care. Studies show that foster children tend to be malnourished, resulting in them having more health problems than other children. Malnutrition happens when children do not get sufficient nutrients, usually the result of not getting enough healthy food – or enough food in general.
Nutrient deficiencies can cause delayed or stunted physical or mental development, possibly leading to unpredictable behavior or mood swings. These mental and behavioral effects may be long term, especially if malnourishment occurs during periods of rapid intellectual, psychological, and social development.
People often think malnourished children are those that are “skinny” or underweight. However, overweight children can also be malnourished.
Remember – malnourishment happens when they do not get enough nutrients. Chips, candy, French fries, and soda have a lot of calories but not many nutrients to support growing children. Similarly, a diet heavy on white rice and canned meat is missing many of the vitamins and minerals needed to support proper body functioning, a healthy immune system, and learning.
When placed in foster care, some children can readily adapt to eating foods that are different from those to which they were previously accustomed. However, other children may require weeks, months, and sometimes years to try new foods or get adjusted to a diet with more variety.
Start by planning meals for your keiki that include both a favorite food and a “new” food. For example, if they are used to eating a lot of chips and soda, allow a portion of chips to be served with lunch. For soda, choose one snack time where it will be allowed. At this point, it is not a matter of whether you approve of these foods, it’s about helping make the transition easier for them. Over time you can cut down on portions of less nutritious snack foods.
If your child doesn’t eat the “new” food being offered, don’t give up serving it. It may be an unfamiliar food or served in a way that looks unfamiliar to them. They just might need some time getting used to the look or taste of it. On another day, try offering the “new” food prepared differently. For example, if they didn’t eat the sliced tomatoes in a salad, try serving tomatoes diced and cooked in scrambled eggs or in lomi salmon. Tofu could be served as tofu poke. Vegetables might be more familiar seasoned and served in chili, stew, or as a stir-fry. Be creative and fun.
Infants should be fed on demand, as their bodies require frequent, small feedings. A regular schedule of meals and snacks, with no more than two to three hours between each, works well with children. However, if they do ask for food between these times, that would be okay as well. Be mindful of portions and always try offering different types of foods.
Providing a daily multivitamin to your child is also encouraged. They’ll need the extra help in getting their bodies properly nourished.
Fuel your child’s chances for success by providing them with healthy foods suitable for growing bodies and minds.