Like any modern techno-friendship, I met Nimali Fernando on Facebook. Fernando is a pediatrician who took childhood obesity into her own hands by creating a nonprofit, the Doctor Yum Project, which focuses on nutrition education and hands-on cooking instruction. Her organization successfully taught older school-age children how to cook local seasonal produce. When asked by parents for classes for preschoolers, she decided to create a nutrition curriculum for schools.
She wanted to include the input and expertise of a feeding specialist to make the curriculum really far-reaching, as well as more accessible to children with special needs or sensory challenges, or who are particularly hesitant eaters that she saw as a pediatrician. After following my work through social media, she approached me. In 2013, with practices more than 1,600 miles apart, we took advantage of technology and old-fashioned phone calls to team up and bring to life Doctor Yum’s Preschool Food Adventure.
This serendipitous encounter with “Doctor Yum” opened my eyes to the need for more collaboration among physicians and therapists, including SLPs. She and I discovered that despite our different areas of expertise we share a common goal: inspire kids to find joy in food and ultimately better overall health and well-being. Through three revisions of our curriculum, and expansion into Head Start and now two dozen schools, the power of our partnership continues.
As an SLP, I find it encouraging to join forces in the nonprofit world and see how our combined expertise reaches a broader group of children who need it the most. In September, for example, Nancy Zucker, associate professor in psychology and neuroscience at Duke University and lead researcher in a recent study on selective eating (which made national news), began discussions with Fernando to study our curriculum in depth. It interests Zucker because it engages young kids in structured yet entertaining lessons about healthy eating, both in the classroom and at home.
Recently, another collaborative adventure began for Fernando and me. Our new book, “Raising a Healthy, Happy Eater: A Stage-by-Stage Guide to Setting Your Child on the Path to Adventurous Eating,” came out in October. We again found numerous commonalities through writing together.
I see many children with failure to thrive, while Fernando sees families trying to overcome childhood obesity. On both sides, however, we see kids stuck in the chicken-nugget rut. Often taking the stress out and infusing the joy back into mealtimes helps families of patients for both of us. Teaching patients/clients parenting principles around feeding is another common thread.
Can you share a collaboration story? Occupational therapists, physical therapists, SLPs, pediatricians, dentists and many other specialists who work together can bring a shared perspective to treating patients. I foresee collaborating to make a difference for the populations we serve becoming a larger trend, especially with technology making communication easier and faster. I look forward to hearing of many more professionals teaming up!
Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP, treats children, birth to teens, who have difficulty eating. She is the co-author of “Raising a Healthy, Happy Eater: A Parent’s Handbook—A Stage by Stage Guide to Setting Your Child on the Path to Adventurous Eating,” the author of “Happy Mealtimes with Happy Kids,” and the producer of the award-winning kids’ CD: “Dancing in the Kitchen: Songs That Celebrate the Joy of Food!” Melanie@mymunchbug.com