The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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Pushing for Healthy Food In My Group Home
I wanted salad, not mashed potatoes from a box

I went into care less than a year ago, when I was 17. Before that I bought my own groceries and ate healthy. But in my group home we are not allowed to buy groceries or cook.

Being without my family or other people I love is stressful, which makes eating healthy even more difficult. Without noticing, I turned to food for comfort, in an effort to ease my loneliness.

With all the emotional strain put on foster youth, I think we deserve to eat well. Certain foods actually help mood, concentration, and other mental attributes, and I’d like to see foster care systems make healthy eating a higher priority.

When I got placed in the group home, with five other girls, I expected some fruit and granola bars. But the food laid out in the industrial kitchen for us to eat between meals was Rice Krispies Treats, pastries, and sodas.

Dinner was fried chicken or fried pork chops, and often mashed potatoes from a box. I hated seeing mac and cheese and rice side by side; it seemed unhealthy to have all that starch on one plate. And when vegetables were served it would be the same three: corn, string beans or potatoes, all swimming in four tablespoons of butter (yes, I counted). After one week of eating the food in the house I noticed my jeans getting tighter and I realized I couldn’t eat like this every day.

I felt sluggish and weighed down from all that junk. I was uncomfortable and very unhappy with both my weight and not having control over such an important part of my everyday life. I didn’t like being forced to eat food I didn’t like, and I especially didn’t like not having the choice to cook my own food.

image by YC-Art Dept

I found it ironic that inside the agency medical clinics they have posters of that healthy plate: 50% vegetables, 25% carbs, and 25% protein, but in my group home and the one next door, our plates were more like 2% vegetables, 90% carbs, 150% grease and fat. Something had to change, and fast.

Persistence Pays Off

So I politely approached a staff member and said that I didn’t want to eat the food that was being provided in the house anymore, and I would be much happier if we had more nutritious options, like in the 50-25-25 charts. Her response was “We have a budget, and we have to cater to six girls and what they want to eat. These girls don’t like fruits and vegetables.”

I was not accepting that. So, every morning at breakfast and every night at dinner I would approach the staff doing the cooking and ask, “Do you really think we should be eating this?” and once, “Would you be happy if you ate this food every day?” When I told some of the other girls how I felt, they agreed with me, but they would throw out their food or scream at staff, which didn’t help the situation.

My persistence paid off. Even though it took two months of complaining, they finally incorporated fruits into our snacks and added salads to our dinners. Contrary to what staff said, those were the first things most of the girls ate. When they switched to wheat bread and 2% milk, the residents chose those over white bread and whole milk. I still had to remind the house supervisor and other staff to put fruit out on the table. It took two house meetings for them to add wheat bread and less sugary cereals to our weekly grocery list.

Now we at least have the option to eat something healthy, but there is still work that needs to be done. I would love to have veggies on our plates every day, not just twice a week, and have more in our salad than iceberg lettuce and tomato. Also, instead of only having blue cheese dressing for our salads, I would like to see less fattening options. I’m still working on that. But I’m glad I got the house headed in the right direction.

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