End Mealtime Battles With Happy Eating Club

Happy Eating Club

Today I had the pleasure of connecting with a wonderful mom, Kirsten, who participated in Happy Eating Club last year and still uses what she learned with her family. Kirsten and I discussed her experience in the program and where her family is now, almost a year later, in their feeding journey as they consistently utilize the information, strategies and resources she gained in Happy Eating Club.

Happy Eating Club is a flexible 14-day program available online with access around the clock and around the globe to meet the needs of today’s busy parents. Happy Eating Club pairs access to a nationally certified pediatric feeding therapist with educational resources and support. Happy Eating Club redefines mealtimes and for Kirsten and her sweet family, it has done just that.

Why did you join the program?
I joined the program primarily because of my son who was three at the time. Meal times were becoming increasingly challenging as he would refuse most foods and eat only a handful of items consistently (cereal, fig bars, bunny crackers, smoothies, etc.). My oldest son was five and would eat most things, but usually would refuse any new food. My daughter was one and was a pretty good eater, but I wanted to learn strategies to help her continue to eat a variety of foods.

How soon did you start to implement Happy Eating Club strategies and see changes?
I implemented some of the strategies immediately! I was able to change my language at meal times right away- I no longer say “just take a bite.” It became less of a power struggle at meals by implementing the new strategies and changing the phrases I used with my three-year-old. I loved how practical the recommendations were and easy to try out.

With my oldest son I saw changes more quickly (after the learning the sensory strategy he ate an entire bowl of chili – something he had always refused before!) My three-year-old son took a few weeks to adjust to some of the strategies we implemented (and we continue working on these strategies with him), but eventually became used to the new meal time expectations.

Did you find flexibility of Happy Eating Club to be valuable to you?
I loved the flexibility of the program! I was able to listen to the podcasts while putting away laundry or cleaning. I could go through the supplemental materials on my own time, and I still go back and reference notes and program materials. Being able to post on the discussion board to ask follow up questions after listening to the podcasts was invaluable.

Are program materials helpful to you?
They have been very helpful! It was great to have on-going, unlimited access to them and be able to print them off or go back to reference them. The materials covered a variety of topics and offered practical advice that has been easy to implement.

Did Happy Eating Club provide opportunities to get individualized answers to questions that you had specifically about your children?
Cindy was incredibly helpful in answering specific questions about my children. All three of my children have had speech services, and she was able to further explain how there can be a correlation between speech delays and sensory processing. She offered to watch a video clip of my youngest chewing and gave me specific tips to help further develop her chewing muscles. Almost a year later, I still have been able to contact her with questions and she has provided education for next steps.

Would you recommend the program to other families?
I would absolutely recommend this program to other families! I never knew how much more there was to picky eating and how it can be such a sensory experience. This program has been incredibly valuable for my family and for my own sanity at meal times!

Kirsten is a stay-at-home mom to three kids (Colton-6, Deacon-4, and Emme-2). She recently moved from Southern California to Minnesota for a new job opportunity for her husband Phil. While we miss our family and friends in California, we’re enjoying exploring our new community and training our new puppy Hank.

Are you ready for better mealtimes?

The next round of Happy Eating Club is enrolling now! Register now and use promo code: “back2school” to save 75%.


Are newborn reflexes causing your baby’s bottle refusal?

sucking reflex

Cindy Hooks, M.S., CCC-SLP, CLC

Your baby was born with eight, innate, oral motor reflexes to help facilitate successful mealtimes. All of these reflexes have important roles, but two reflexes, rooting and sucking, are specifically helping you with every feeding during the first four months of your baby’s life.

The root reflex is activated when an infant’s lips and mouth are lightly touched. This causes your baby’s mouth to open. Rooting helps the baby prepare for a bottle or pacifier to enter their oral cavity. Next, the roof of the baby’s mouth is touched, by pacifier or bottle and activates the suck/swallow reflex. During the first four months of your baby’s life, every time you place a bottle into your baby’s mouth, they will begin sucking reflexively.

As liquid moves into the mouth, the tongue immediately moves it to the back of the mouth for swallowing. When babies begin oral feeding they may be uncoordinated as they learn how to suck, swallow and breath. Over time, sucking becomes coordinated with swallowing and breathing, and these synched feeding behaviors will improve allowing your baby to grow and accept more volume. The sucking reflex is important to survival because an infant who can’t suck and coordinate sucking with swallowing and breathing will have difficulty with feeding and gaining weight.

Sucking is not something that disappears, instead it does something neat: it changes. By the time your baby has reached four months of age, his or her sucking reflex will have faded and sucking will transform into a voluntary act rather than a newborn reflex. During this time, your baby is going through a significant, developmental feeding milestone. This means that your baby will no longer automatically suck on objects (i.e. hands, fingers, pacifiers or bottles) unless he or she wants to do so.

Parents often mistake a sudden increase in bottle refusals as a sign that baby’s no longer want the bottle or are ready to begin solid foods. This is not the case. Instead, your baby is growing and developing into a little person that already wants to be busy. In addition to this feeding milestone, your baby has reached new social and emotional milestones and wants to interact with you and play. Your baby has reached communication milestones and wants to babble with you. Your baby’s cognitive development is creating your baby’s desire to watch faces and respond to the environment and physically, your baby can hold their head steady, possibly even roll
over, hold and shake toys. All of these milestones are distracting your baby from successful feedings.

You can sail through this developmental feeding milestone by remaining consistent in your feeding routine. Keep your baby on a reliable feeding schedule and keep your environment calm around mealtimes to help your baby stay focused. You can use your baby’s natural desire to watch your face to reward your baby with lots of smiles and silly faces for good feeding.

Newborn instincts are innately designed with the main goal to help them transition from the womb into the world and survive. Once you’ve reached this milestone, you can be proud that your baby’s newborn reflexes helped them do just that during those first crucial months.

Join my global community for our next round of information sharing, expert advice, researched-based tools and tips and the support of a fully licensed and credentialed pediatric feeding therapist! You have the power to build a community of true experts in the field of feeding and swallow who understand clinically-based pediatric feeding! Choose wisely! Registration for May starts now! Click here to claim your spot in Happy Eating Club – May 5th!



6 Questions To Ask Before Choosing A Picky Eating Course

6 Questions To Ask Before Choosing A Picky Eating CourseSince the launch of Happy Eating Club in 2014, a variety of picky eating course pop-ups have emerged on-line.  Some are being offered by licensed and credentialed health care professionals and some are being offered by popular, non-clinically experienced food bloggers selling meal plans. As new moms navigate through the marketing, it’s becoming a bit more confusing to determine which course to choose. Here are six top questions to ask when choosing a picky eating course.  These questions will empower you to learn not only about the philosophy of the teacher, but also give you a solid understanding of their advanced education, clinical experience, licensing and credentialing.

1. As a Speech Language Pathologist, what is the difference between mainstream responses to eating challenges to those you counsel during pediatric feeding therapy?

I’ve seen so many different mainstream responses to eating challenges in blogs and mom chat rooms, and that includes everything from sneaking in foods, “magic” fixes, all the way to sending children to bed hungry if they don’t eat. While research is clear that none of these methods work for children in the long term, that last one, as a pediatric feeding therapist and as a mother, breaks my heart.

I work with such a giant range of children struggling with eating that I offer a completely different vantage point from my experience. I understand that when children use behavioral refusals it is absolutely an indication that something else is going on at a deeper level, so my response is to look for the underlying problems and to clear them out of the way. Refusals can have a sensory component, a behavioral component, an environmental component OR a combination of all three. I talk about each of these areas in my program to empower families to make a real change!

When children qualify to see me one-on-one for feeding therapy it means that they have an exceptional need. Many times these children are struggling with mealtimes because of an additional diagnosis, musculature weakness or an extreme sensory sensitivity. For these children, their feeding therapy plans are always unique to their individual needs, however, all parents that see me one- on-one gain the bonus of a greater understanding of the complexity of pediatric feeding.

One important component that is always the same is the education provided for parents about feeding milestones, the complicated science of eating, common sabotages to mealtimes and strategies for guiding their child successfully through all of it. Happy Eating Club members get this education too.

2. A lot of parents struggle with children that refuse to eat healthy foods, in your experience, what is a common reason why this occurs?

There can be many causes behind feeding refusals and that makes figuring out what’s happening so cumbersome for parents. Our society places a great amount of attention and focus on the physical or gross motor milestones, like when a child rolls over, crawls or begins to walk, but unfortunately we give much less attention to natural feeding milestones that occur for children as well.

An important feeding milestone that all children experience is called Neophobia, meaning a fear of new foods. Children meet this milestone between the ages of 18 months to 3 years. Some children sail through this milestone easily, but for other children this milestone can be the beginning of long term refusals occurring at the table and plenty of frustration for their parents.

During this stage, children previously judged as “good eaters” begin to reject new food and may even refuse familiar foods they once enjoyed. Some evidence suggests that this is a combination of evolutionary protection paired with a psychological or behavioral component. In any case, it’s real and normal for your child to be experiencing this to some degree.

Neophobia is a developmental stage and really should not last a lifetime, but the way that parents react to these refusals will have either a positive or negative effect on their child’s relationship with food and how they move forward.

3. How does understanding feeding milestones affect a child’s eating habits?

Knowledge of feeding milestones and how to proactively meet them in a positive way is a complete game changer for families. When informed parents expect feeding milestones, like Neophobia, they are prepared when their child begins refusing foods. Since many parents believe that these natural developmental refusals are strictly behavioral, they handle these refusals with frustration and punishment. This creates negative experiences at the table and changes the parent-child relationship into one that is working against each other instead of one that’s working together.

Parents can avoid all of this by being prepared, expecting this behavior and understanding that their child has reached an important normal stage. Instead of offering punishment, they can instead offer their child more patience, temporarily lower their volume expectations of refused foods, involve their child in food activities across settings and continue to provide multiple exposures to a healthy variety of foods with a slower, more gradual approach.

4. We believe in positive parenting and don’t label our kids as picky eaters because such negative labeling can be more self-fulfilling than helpful. What are your thoughts on our philosophy?

I love your philosophy on labeling, because I couldn’t agree with you more. When a child has been labeled as a “picky” eater, you’ve defined their behavior and though not intentional, you’ve given them a verbal reason or excuse to refuse new or healthy foods moving forward. As a licensed Speech Language Pathologist, I can say without question that language is powerful. In fact, once parents gain a deeper understanding of how to use language to market food to their children, they can actually begin to transform refusals into new positive food trials or exposures.

Let me explain what I mean. When I have conversations with parents about healthy foods I often hear, “my daughter would never eat that” or “he’s so picky that I stopped trying new foods.” Where do parents go from there? They’ve closed the door on themselves.

For this reason, it is so rewarding to coach parents on changing the language they use about food with their kids. When parents tell me, “it’s not her favorite,” I immediately teach them to add “yet” to the end of that sentence. “It’s not her favorite, yet.”

One of the greatest things that I guide parents to teach their children is that the taste of food changes over time. This happens as we acquire a taste through multiple exposures, but it also happens for children as their taste buds continue to change and evolve as they grow. Instead of dreading offering multiple exposures, I teach parents to use them as a fun way of discovering if their child has gotten “big enough” to enjoy them. When a child tries a food and tells us that they “don’t like it,” our response should always be, “you don’t like it yet and that’s ok for now, but you are going to love it when you get bigger.”

They may not exactly love a food the first or second time, but maybe, just maybe the next time, they just might be “big enough.” Using this strategy dials into a child’s natural desire to be a “big” kid and keeps the door open to try foods again.

5. In Happy Eating Club, you talk about a sensory, behavioral approach to feeding. Can you give some real life context in what that might mean?

Absolutely. Many people believe that eating is easy and it’s really not. Eating is actually the most complex, physical task that human beings engage in and is the only human task which requires each of our organ systems and every muscle in our body to work in simultaneous coordination with all 8 of our sensory systems. As if that wasn’t already enough, additionally, external environmental sources influence how your child grows into eating.

Let’s talk a little deeper about just one of the eight senses – tactile or touch. Children need to explore their foods on the outside of their bodies to gain the tactile feedback needed to feel comfortable enough to place food into their mouths. They need permission to touch food, push it around a little, pick it up with their hands, feel the weight of it and the texture of it.

Touch is giving the body a message about what to expect when food is on it’s way to the mouth. Think about how much information we can gather about a food beforehand: Is the food…cold, crispy, crunchy, damp, dry, firm, fuzzy, gritty, hard, hot, icy, warm, moist, pulpy, rough, slimy, smooth, soft, steamy, sticky, tender, textured, thick, thin, tough, warm, waxy, wet, etc. This tactile information sends messages to our brains and helps prepare our bodies for the texture and temperature that we are about to experience.

Food experiences can feel different for children with every meal. If the first time you offered a food choice was right after it was steamed, stir fried or pureed versus the next time when you’ve prepared it differently (say chicken in a new sauce or paired with different vegetables) — from your child’s developmental perspective, that food is new again. Your children are learning NEW tastes all the time and this includes every time you offer a new combination of foods. Does this mean you can’t mix up your meal planning? Absolutely not! It just means that members of the Happy Eating Club are going to have a greater amount of tools and strategies to guide their child through each new combination, each change, each mealtime, each day.

6. What’s one tip you can give to parents to improve one of their children’s eating habits?

If I could reach every parent out there, I would want them to know that just like it takes time and support for a child to learn to ride a bike or learn read, children also need time and support to grow into loving healthy food. Building a happy, healthy eater is a continuous process. So much research supports that staying positive and avoiding struggles at the table in the early years is fundamental for building a child that makes good food choices for their entire lifetime.

Here is a quick tip that you can try tonight at dinner! If you notice your child has slowed down or isn’t focused on eating, instead of telling them to “eat,” try offering them a controlled choice. (i.e. Are you going to choose broccoli or chicken next? I can’t wait to see!”) When parents offer a controlled choice, it’s a win-win for everyone. Their child gets to feel empowered by making independent decisions about eating and the parents can relax knowing that since the controlled choice offered two healthy options, no matter what choice is made their child’s body is getting the nourishment it needs.

Lastly, I want parents to know that I recognize that since my launch of Happy Eating Club there are now several more options to consider at all different price points. I’m proud that Happy Eating Club offers families the support of a licensed and nationally certified pediatric feeding expert.  Feeding therapy is not about the food or the menu or one mom’s journey. It’s about your child’s body and mind’s response to the act of eating.

It’s about picking an expert that will know what to do for each unique child. There are well-educated, licensed and credentialed health care professionals that work exclusively in pediatric feeding. Parents that are really struggling with mealtimes should always seek out a feeding program ran by a licensed and credentialed expert in the field.  Parents of children who are not meeting milestones should reach out to their pediatrician to ask for a referral to see a Speech Language Pathologist for a pediatric feeding evaluation that will help them get local expert support.

If you are looking for a program that offers the support of a licensed and highly credentialed pediatric feeding specialist with over 10 years of experience helping thousands of children in the health care setting, consider joining Happy Eating Club.

Join my global community for our next round of information sharing, expert advice, researched-based tools and tips and the support of a fully licensed and credentialed pediatric feeding therapist!  You have the power to build a community of true experts in the field of feeding and swallow who understand clinically-based pediatric feeding!  Choose wisely!  Registration for May starts now!  Click here to claim your spot in Happy Eating Club – May 5th!


Ready, Set, Read – Learn The Skills Required For Reading

Learn The Skills Required For ReadingWe make reading a ritual in our home.  To me, reading is… evening book clubs with friends, foggy mornings with a newspaper (albeit digitally) and a cup of joe, cold nights cozied up with my Kindle, and an entertaining, People magazine at the hair salon. But, for many, reading is not the above; it is not an enjoyable experience to cherish. According to the Department of Education, 32 million adults in the U.S. cannot read. That is 14 percent of the population. Initially, I was shell-shocked at that number. Then, I donned my speech language pathologist hat and recognized – with clarity- that becoming literate is a rigorous, laborious process. In this article, I will discuss the components of literacy, how literacy and language are connected, and how to foster literacy in your home.

Reading, the ability to translate print into meaning, results from two skill sets: decoding (sounding out letters) and comprehension (understanding text).3 Fluent decoding involves a mastery of phonemic awareness skills, such as sound blending (b–a–t = bat), sound manipulation (p-a-t can become t-a-p, by switching initial and final phonemes), sound segmenting (bash = b–a–sh), and rhyming (i.e. cat/mat).

In a perfect world, English would be an alphabetic language with a one-to-one correspondence between the phonemes (sounds) and the graphemes (letters). This would make decoding a breeze.  However, English contains 26 letters and approximately 40 sound units that connect to it. Ever wonder why the word “was” does not rhyme with the word “pass?” Because of English’s complexity, beginner readers must use both phonics and context for decoding accuracy. Decoding provides a bridge between word recognition and reading comprehension, but it is not the “end all, be all.”

Research notes that those who decode rapidly, accurately, and efficiently do not spend a ton of cognitive energy doing so. Because of this, they can focus readily on comprehension. Furthermore, individuals with efficient decoding skills are motivated to read widely; reading is seen as fun. This wide reading enhances their reading skills through practice.

Less fluent readers, however, must focus their attention on decoding, leaving little cognitive energy for comprehension. Reading is not deemed fun, rather more of a chore. These individuals become motivated to avoid reading. This avoidance, in turn, limits the development of their reading skills. As a result, the gap between achieving and non-achieving readers widens throughout school and into adulthood.

Tools To Expand Language Skills

Speech language pathologists view reading as a powerful tool to enhance and expand language skills. Reading exposes children to new words, which leads to increased vocabulary and refined grammatical skills. In therapy sessions, I often use books as pre-learning activities. For example, when facilitating the expression of the spatial term “around,” I first read the book, Whoosh around the Mulberry Bush with my client (receptive learning). Then, I act out the book with the child using props (gross motor). I follow up with a painting activity, having the child illustrate the concept on paper (fine motor). Lastly, I tempt the child into using the new spatial word in a prompted conversation (expression).

This type of activity is suitable for many concepts: color words (i.e. red, peach, aqua), number words (i.e. three, seven, fifty), positional words (i.e. first, third, last), and descriptive words (i.e. wet, dry, smooth). Research reiterates, that a child’s first encounter with an unfamiliar word only leads to partial word knowledge, but each additional encounter is an opportunity for a more complete understanding.

Reading Should Begin From Birth

When should you begin reading to your child? From birth, children benefit from hearing your voice, listening to sounds and rhymes in books, and bonding intimately with you. When reading with your child, the most important thing to do is follow his (or her) lead. Let your child pick the book. Observe him while you read. Is he looking at the book, or is he looking at the toy in the corner? If your child is not attending, change your delivery method.

You may decide to start pointing to the pictures in the book and talking about them instead or decide to make your voice sound silly. You could choose to read in the dark with a flashlight. Or, you might choose reading time is over. With shared reading, you are also teaching your child basic, book-knowledge: reading occurs from left to right, how to hold a book correctly, and that printed words correlate to spoken words. So much valuable learning, yet unintentional, occurs during shared reading time. Don’t give up if your child seems unmotivated by books.

For my son, only books with trains, cars, or construction vehicles sustained his attention (and, I mean for very, very, short intervals). He would literally throw any other books across the room. From 18 months of age to 24 months, I had to use visual prompts such as play dough stuck on the pictures for him to remove, a magnifying glass circling the pictures, or a flashlight pointing at the pictures to keep his attention. Books with flaps and sensory tabs also helped gain his attention. However, by age 3, he was on his way to loving all books, without all the visual prompts too.

Reading is a learned skill

Reading is a skill that must be learned, like swimming. It is not innate; we must help our children develop mastery over time. We must be their best cheerleader. We must be their facilitator. That said I believe that reading, most importantly, is a time to bond with your child, a time to listen to your child, and a time to enjoy your child’s company. As we all know to well, time flies – soon enough our children will not need nor want our help. Currently, at our house, reading is a nightly ritual. One we all anticipate and enjoy. It marks the end of our day, winds us down from the stressors in our lives, and gives us time to snuggle and chat.

I encourage you to make reading a ritual in your home.

Aimee Brigham, MCD, CCC-SLP

1. US Department of Education, Statistic Brain, August 22, 2016.
2. “Literate.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 19 Aug. 2014.
3. Chard, D., Pikulski, J., Templeton, S., (2000). From Phonemic Awareness to Fluency: Effective Decoding Instruction in a research Based Reading Program. Houghton Mifflin Reading.
4. Harris, T.L., Hodges, R.E. (1995). The literacy dictionary: The vocabulary of reading and writing.
5. Anglin, J.M. (1993). Vocabulary development: A morphological analysis. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development. 58(10, Serial no. 238.).
6. Cunningham, A.E. & Stanovich, Kieth (1986). What reading does for the mind. American Educator, 22, 8-17.