Make sure you have food in
I caught our son out this week.
He was visiting a friend and, when I arrived to collect him, I found him eating broccoli. He never eats broccoli. He hates broccoli.
"Ha! Caught you out eating something green," I said triumphantly.
Friend's Dad added fuel to the fire, "that's not his broccoli, he's taking the fall for Harry, he's already eaten his." So not only had our son eaten one portion of broccoli, but he was also now eating his friend's share too.
That's a long way from the food our son ate when he first arrived to live with us.
"What will he eat? We need to ask his foster mother what to get in?" J and I were talking as we drove home from meeting our son in the foster home at the beginning of our week of transition.
We'd only spent a couple of hours with him and all we'd seen him eat were a few sweets.
We weren't naive enough to think that the little boy would want to eat the sort of foods we generally chose. These included regular hot curries, chills, fish and large amounts of vegetables and salad.
When we broached the subject with our son's foster mother we were still shocked at the narrow range of foods she said he would consider.
"He largely eats ham sandwiches, sometimes a little pasta and otherwise the occasional pizza. He's not used to much variety I'm afraid," she said.
She added, almost apologetically: "It's a fight I've chosen not to have with him I'm afraid. I prioritised his being happy rather than trying to correct his eating habits."
Through the first weeks of our son living with us we therefore adapted to his diet and began to encourage his exploration of other foods.
His experience of food was shockingly limited. There were everyday items he simply hadn't seen before. Alien and served in unfamiliar surroundings he rejected meatballs, spaghetti, even some types of biscuits in his first couple of weeks.
Food had resonance for him. He saw comfort and familiarity in the small range of items he liked. These were largely confined to ham sandwiches (which he would ask for at every meal). Made with processed ham, not the off the bone sort and white sliced bread. Chocolate dippers, processed cheese triangles, sweet iced cakes, especially fondant fancies.
The very poor condition of his teeth attested to his being given sugary fizzy drinks from a very early age. Allegedly their being placed in his bottle post weaning. Indeed he has progressively lost three teeth before time from their being removed given his poor diet whilst with his birth parents.
One saving grace was his like for roast chicken meals. Associating these with the meals out he had shared with his second foster family, he would happily eat most of the food on the plate, only avoiding the vegetables. Recoiling with the instinctive distrust most children have of anything green and healthy.
Slowly we tried to broaden his taste horizon. There were some foods he would not consider, rejecting them out of hand. Others intrigued him. Particularly those we seemed to enjoy the most.
He tried curry and chilli, taking mouthfuls from our plate, ignoring our warning of the heat they contained. Revelling in our enjoyment of his reaction, melodramatically looking for his glass of water as his face turned red. Then running to the bathroom to look at his momentarily scarlet features.
The love of hot foods hasn't left him. Nor has that of tonic water or sushi. Both early discoveries from our plates. Both requested experiments whose successful outcome astounded us.
There were, and remain, foods with a sadder connotation.
Coca Cola remains banned. Not only as a result of the damage it had wreaked with his dental health. But also for the memories it revives of being left alone in his pushchair with a can while his birth parents drank elsewhere.
Similarly he recoils from new potatoes. The consequence of a bad experience in his first foster placement where he clearly recollects being force fed them by a frustrated and angry foster mother. His rejection of new potatoes causing me to speak to his school to request he's not served them at lunchtime after an over zealous dinner lady insisted he 'try some.'
In itself a strange occurrence of history repeating itself. My mother having become a dinner lady at my primary school for a while, after I was forced to sit through lunch time and afternoon break with a plate of cooked tomatoes in front of me. She wanted to ensure no child was ever forced to face foods they disliked in the same way again. (I still detest cooked tomato by the way).
Slowly our son's food horizon broadened. He will now try most things, preferring the staples of any seven year old's diet. Pizza, chicken nuggets, chips, pasta. He will eat most vegetables though and additionally will eat fruit. The day he spontaneously ate an apple for the first time still sticking in my mind.
It took time though. As it's still taking time with our much younger daughter. We didn't expect, and no adopter should expect, an adopted child's palate to be anywhere near normal. But with time, and encouragement and inventiveness that can and will change.
And whilst our son might now eat broccoli at his friend's house, melodramatically holding his nose as he does so. It's still a positive indicator of how far he, and we, have moved beyond those early days of ham sandwiches and fondant fancies.