Children, food and care

Iriss Insight 22, By Ruth Emond, Ian McIntosh, Samantha Punch and Claire Lightowler Published on 6 Nov 2013

13 min read (3458 words)

This Iriss Insight reviews the evidence about how food practices affect children in different care settings, drawing heavily from the experience of children in foster and residential care. However, many of the issues explored here have similarities to the experience of adults supported by social services and carers, so the Insight may also be of interest beyond those working with children.

Key points

  • Food and routines and rituals that surround it – shopping, preparing, cooking, serving, cleaning up – are important parts of our lives, yet often we fail to recognise the symbolic or hidden meanings of these activities.
  • What, where, when and with whom we eat may send all sorts of messages. Food may be used to show we care or to exercise control. This is what we mean by the symbolic meaning of food.
  • Food is a powerful medium through which caring and trust can be achieved and reinforced and a sense of belonging created.
  • People, particularly children, often use food as a means of exerting power and control, particularly where they feel powerless and when power is being exercised by adults outside the immediate family.
  • Establishing routines such as fixed mealtimes may be seen as important elements for the creation of a ‘family-like home’.
  • Tension may arise between the use of food to control children on the one hand and recognition of their growing autonomy on the other.
  • Children may have to learn and adjust to new rules about food when moving from home to residential accommodation: what may be seen as playful at home may be considered as deviant or challenging in residential care, or vice versa.

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