Monday, July 15, 2013

School Dinners and Fostering

Every so often the business of school dinners comes up.

Sometimes it's TV chefs banging on about them, sometimes it's an official pronouncement of some sort. Recently there have been calls to ban packed lunches because too many parents make rubbish ones.

Foster carers have to be massively tuned in to their children's food needs, and I suspect I speak for every one of us in stating that the more options the better.

We only have to summon up memories of our own school dinners to take the view the child should be able to eat what they prefer in the middle of the day, it's our job to guide them towards a good diet, not private  caterers and the dinner ladies (or dinner persons if that's correct).


What, they don't know it? They don't know that many young children get nervous, scared, terrified of meal times not knowing what horrors are in store?

Blue Sky often throw gatherings for carers and their looked-after children. The first thing you notice about the children is that most are underweight, underdeveloped. A high proportion of them wear spectacles.

They've often not been fed enough, and the things they were given to eat were a narrow range of cheap convenience food.

Foster carers work hard to understand and develop the eating habits of looked after children. Our school packed lunches are a bond between us and the child. I don't always enjoy the daily task of coming up with an attractive, balanced box of snacky food, but each afternoon when I check the box to see what went down well, I get a kick from knowing that they ate all the cherry tomatoes, and the quartered apple (cored and wrapped in clingfilm) as well as the Hula Hoops and the mini-sausage roll.

I get a kick from knowing that in the middle of the school day, I played a part in helping them, that maybe they were reminded that somebody cares enough to know they are currently off prawn cocktail flavour.

That somebody cared enough to wash out the little tupperware tub that smelled mildly of yesterday's strawberries, and is going to have cucumber today. That somebody didn't bang on that they didn't eat the cheese thing in a plastic tube, but instead made a mental note they don't like the cheese thing in a plastic tube.

There is a lot of love in a packed lunch, even if there isn't always 100% nutritional needs. 

One child we look after had to be taken to Contact with her mother once a week. The woman had been advised by Social Services to bring some food for the child to eat during Contact, it's a standard suggestion. A bonding exercise. So what did the woman do? She racked her brains to remember what the child's favourite food was, then on the morning of Contact she would lovingly prepare it in her kitchen, assembling and arranging a mouthwatering package of tasty, nutritious, attractive fare which would gladden the child's heart.

No she did not.

She called into the cheapo off licence-come-corner-shop en route to Contact and bought a £1 sandwich consisting of bargain white bread, a smear of fish paste and a couple of thin bits of cucumber, sealed in plastic. And a stick of bubble gum. She gave it to the child in the shop's flimsy carrier bag. 

It was her way of reminding the child how worthless the mother thought the child was. How little she cared. 

If that's the best the woman could do under scrutiny, when her actions are being examined, when she's on her best behaviour, is it any surprise you could see the child's blue veins criss-crossing her pencil-thin legs beneath her translucent skin?

You'll be pleased to know the mother is not getting the child back, though not because of  her starving the child. There was other stuff that would make you feel faint.

The child now enjoys her packed lunch so much she doesn't eat it. 

Yes, she prefers to nibble a few bits of it at lunchtime, then spend the rest of the day knowing food is available to her, food she owns and likes. Her private stash. She eats a good breakfast so she's fine to do this, I've been through this with Blue Sky and her school; she's free to use her food to satisfy something that runs deeper than feeling peckish. I sometimes wonder if she is subconsciously resisting destroying something that symbolises her new found security and freedom, because the minute she gets in the car to come home, she opens her lunch and finishes it. And the minute we get home, she asks for something to eat.

So let's keep options open please, let parents be free to meet their children's needs.

Above all, let children be free to use food to meet needs that the well-meaning Jamie Oliver and the nutritionists can't get their heads round. 

The Secret Foster Carer


  1. Such resonance - little lad I have will eat anything I was told - well of course he would he didn't have any choice if he didn't want to be hungry - now he is picky, tries hard to resist food that he used to love - makes menu planning fun - oh and his sister starting to go the same way - not food issues - but security knowing that there will be more food soon - and at last we don't have to sit at the table explaining what the next meal will be - just so they know that there will be more than one meal a day - packed lunch - comes back empty, just hoping it doesn't go in the bin - as I don't get to monitor that time!!

  2. The Secret Foster CarerSunday, July 28, 2013

    Hi Rubbles, sorry it took a couple of days to respond, I find time is very tight during the school holidays. Yes that all sounds very familiar. One of ours won't eat almost every single food there is; meat,fish,fruit and vegeatables. "Urgh!" is the usual response. But a couple of nights ago we had a barbecue and at the end I piled all the leftover bits onto one plate; spare rib bones, chewed chicken wings, pizza crusts, bits of cauliflower covered in sweet and sour sauce, and put it to one side. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the child repeatedly swipe handfulls of leftovers and scoff them. Go figure, as the Americans say.