When foster children enter your home they need your family’s love and acceptance while they are with you. These children have experienced some kind of trauma and depend on you to help them deal with their future.

They need nurturing, limits, rules, warmth, respect, and understanding. They also need your guidance in making healthy food choices. Many of these children struggle with eating issues, and food is often overlooked as a means for providing healing and growth.

Taking on extra children can put a strain on how well a family eats. Hectic schedules can interfere with establishing healthy eating patterns in the home. Although fast food, boxed and pre-made food may simplify mealtime preparation, their nutritional content can contribute to behavioral problems in your children.

The types of foods your family eats on a routine basis will determine each member’s moods and behaviors. When blood sugars are low, your brain is not being supported and you are more likely to be moody and overeat. Most of us know that food increases blood sugar levels and that gives us energy, but more importantly it increases hormones and neurotransmitters in our brain to maintain good mood.

Serotonin is a “feel good” chemical that keeps us from being down and contributes to better behavior in our children. Sugar and protein are both foods that increase serotonin. While sugar, or simple carbohydrates, cause serotonin to increase quickly, it also runs out quickly and can cause tantrums and misbehavior.

Protein is a better nutritional choice that sustains serotonin for a longer period of time, thus contributing to better moods and behavior.

Sadly, we don’t eat enough protein and most people don’t choose it for snacks.

Providing protein at every meal, and for snacks, is a great way to set your children up for success. Your children will behave better, pay more attention and be able to perform better in school and you will all be happier. The small amount of time it takes to prepare protein-rich meals and snacks will be worth the effort.

Children need to have a predictable routine for meals and snacks and should eat every few hours. They might hoard food because they don’t know when they can eat next. Putting a bowl of fruit on the counter and letting them know it’s always available, and keeping other snacks in a drawer that they can have access to without permission will help keep them from eating things they shouldn’t.

Fill a drawer in the fridge with cheese, meat, boiled eggs and veggies, and another in the cabinet with baggies full of nuts, dried fruit, whole grain or gluten free crackers, and protein or granola bars. Put protein snacks in your children’s backpacks so they have access to food when they need it. Remember, children who are restricted from eating tend to consume more and are more likely to hoard.

In addition to stocking your fridge and pantry with healthy food, creating a safe and fun environment at the dinner table will help children enjoy their time with food and develop trust with the family. Traumatized children need to know they are in a safe place and can eat until they are full. They may not eat at the table until they feel safe, so make a minimum amount of food they need to eat so they do not leave hungry.

Taking three bites for “no-thank-you” works well. If your children feel full and satisfied at the dinner table, they will be less likely to hoard food later.

Understanding the connection between food and mood will not only change how your family eats, it will decrease the meltdowns and tantrums. Children seem to know when you are tired and stressed and that’s when they will try to push your buttons. Parents should follow these same principles: never skip a meal and eat at least every four hours so you can stay emotionally strong. Eating right will help you deal better with the daily stressors of life.

Develop a good food plan and remember good food equals good mood.