Fatten Charlie* Project…..
Were the words that a mum used to describe her child’s feeding journey when we first met in July last year. This amazing mum had spent her life trying to add calories to everything her child ate. She was tearful and worried in our initial appointment and hopeful for some strategies to help her.
When I asked her what her goals were, they were simple:
- Help Charlie eat a range of food
- Decrease his anxiety around new foods
- Help him put on weight
And the reason for this blog post? After 6 months of therapy sessions where Charlie really grew in the range of foods he ate and definitely decreased his anxiety when presented with new foods, they had a break over Christmas.
When they came back last week – dear Charlie had grown! Both in height and weight – he looked like a different child. I was stunned – what happened over Christmas I asked?
She smiled knowingly and said – well I used the December -January period to focus in on what you were telling me all year:
- Structured mealtimes which meant:
- There were set times for main meals and snacks
- No grazing was allowed
- If Charlie said he was hungry, his mum thought about the reasons as to why? Was he…
- He was reaching out to her for some attention and if so – she took the time to do an activity with him to re-establish the love and connection in a busy Christmas time. OR was …
- He was thirsty and then she gave him a chilled glass of water
- And if he truly was hungry, she reminded herself that he wouldn’t starve by waiting until the next mealtime. As we had discussed, she told him when the next meal/snack was (and like we had agreed, she may have brought the meal/snack forward by 30 mins but Charlie had to learn to wait – at least 15-30mins before he would be offered food again).
- Charlie started learning to eat until he was full at every mealtime and snack
- Charlie learned that he couldn’t graze or snack on food all day
And the result?
Charlie put on weight! And no longer did mum need to worry about the “fatten Charlie project” – Charlie started eating well and putting on weight.
I could have written the same story about another family who also did this exact thing over Christmas (remember the feeding holiday plans we all gave our patients that I mentioned last year?)
Well this family also had one other job – to get a supportive chair for their child to sit at the table. And with these 2 changes, this little girl – started eating more (no longer grazing) and sitting at the table for longer periods of time (as opposed to about 1 min). This family love their chair so much – they move it every where around the house – when she is sitting at the computer table, at the kitchen table, at the dining table and most of all – she has learned to “eat until she is full at main meals and snacks” with no more foods offered after mealtimes – the kitchen is definitely closed until the next eating time.
Now neither of these kids were seeing Dietitians, their weight while slim was tracking along a growth chart. Even if they were seeing one, I know that their Dietitians would have supported me in this change.
TEAM APPROACH WITH FEEDING:
- Paediatricians (medical focus),
- Dietitians (growth and nutrition focus),
- Dentist (dental and gum health focus),
- Occupational Therapists (self feeding and positioning focus) and
- Speech Pathologists (chewing and swallowing focus)
If working on feeding goals, I know we all agree on this same feeding strategy. It’s very rare that I hear otherwise….
Grazing on food is what all parents of children with feeding difficulties and fussy eaters do – they do this because they feel that their child will eat more over the day. The real truth is that your child will learn to snack and fill up on “snack like” foods – which means they never really learn to eat their lunch/dinner etc. and nutritionally, they don’t always eat well.
Children thrive under routine and structure and they always eat better with set mealtimes. Both of these parents had other feeding strategies they were using to help broaden their child’s diet and decrease any anxiety around mealtimes but these strategies were individualised to their child. But with one simple change to their routine – their faces beamed in pride and excitement when I saw them in clinic this year.
Please- parents – if you are in the same situation, walk that path with your child – I know it’s not easy especially when your child is used to grazing on foods. BUT I promise you – when you get to the other side, you will beam with pride and confidence – YOU CAN DO THIS, I JUST KNOW IT!
If you’re unsure or worried about starting – make an appointment with your local Feeding Speech Pathologist or book into our clinic. We would love to see you.
Until next time,
Wishing you happy and positive mealtimes
Paediatric Feeding Speech Pathologist @ Let’s Eat! Paediatric Speech Pathology
*CHARLIE – is not his real name, obviously we have de-identified his name and details. The photos above are other kids and none of them are of Charlie.
This website and information on this blog post is provided for educational purposes. It is not meant or intended to replace Speech Pathology assessment and management nor medical or nutritional care for a child. It is recommended that you discuss any concerns or questions you might have with your Speech Pathologist and managing Doctor and develop an individualised team plan specifically for your child.
About the author of this blog post
Valerie Gent is an Australian based Speech Pathologist with 15 years experience in Paediatric Feeding. She has opened a private practice called ‘Let’s Eat! Paediatric Speech Pathology’ in 2013 for Newcastle based babies and children with feeding difficulties. Valerie is passionate about working in the area of paediatric feeding and special needs and has been involved in the teaching and training of Australian Speech Pathology University students and allied health professionals. Prior to starting her private practice, she worked in acute paediatric hospitals in neonatal intensive care units, feeding clinics and clinics for children with special needs for 10 years. You can find out more about Valerie Gent and ‘Let’s Eat! Paediatric Speech Pathology’ via her website www.letseatspeech.com.au and Facebook page www.facebook.com/LetsEatPaediatric SpeechPathology or email her on firstname.lastname@example.org