TOOLS FOR FUSSY EATERS
Ep 5 of incrEDBILBE family health podcast is up!!
Join me as I chat to the creator of Learn Play Eat Nikki Coates..
Hey,Thanks for joining me on incrEDIBLE family health with Cheree Sheldon. I’m a naturopath, nutritionist and chef. But my most important role is Mum, I want to focus on getting your family healthy. I’ll do this by sharing tools and strategies I’ve learned to benefit my family’s well being and pass them on to you. You’ll also gain incredible insights from other professionals and parents who can help you live healthier lives.
Hi, thanks for joining me on incrEDIBLE family health. I’m Cheree Sheldon. I’m joined by a special guest today. So Nikki’s a mom of two kids. She lives in the Northern Beaches of Sydney and moved there from the UK about 15 years ago. She’s got a background in IT product management. And put that to use when she realized there was not much digital help out there for families with kids who are picky eaters like her son. So Nikki’s done extensive research on the topic, and is partnered with feeding therapists and health professionals to help guide her business and other families she supports. The app that Nikki developed is called learn, play, eat. And it’s for kids who are picky eaters and helps families learn ways to make food fun, and take the first step towards being able to eat new foods. I think it’s fantastic. And I’m so excited about speaking with Nikki today.
Nikki, can you tell me when you first noticed that your son was having issues with food? What were the signs that you were like, oh, something’s going on here.
I guess actually from from when he was born, it was tricky, even like breastfeeding him. He wasn’t that interested to be honest. And he was just a couple of weeks premature? No, a lot, maybe maybe three weeks?
The difficulty with a tongue tie. And it’s difficult to latch and all that kind of thing. And we also found that he had funny poos, I guess.
We went to the pediatrician about that. And we found out that he had like food intolerances and went through all this different stuff with them checking what I was eating to pass through onto him in my breast milk.
So there was all that initially that kindness was quite difficult. And then when we moved on to solids, he just really wasn’t interested. He was never really that interested, to be honest. So and I know with some picky eaters, it can kind of come on more in like toddlerhood, but with him it was always difficult really.
When did you start to sort of seek help with these feeding, then?
Well, we tried from when he was like, seven or eight months, and we were trying with a purees, and things like that. And we tried talking to the early childhood nurses and generally felt like I was getting a little bit sort of brushed off was like, Oh, you know, sometimes kids take longer to adjust. And, yeah, he’ll get get used to it, that kind of thing. And I spoke to the GP as well, a few times. And I don’t think they were really kind of taking me seriously with what I was saying. And it did take a long time to work out what was going on. And that it wasn’t just him being a little, just being a little fussy, it was actually more of an issue that we had to deal with.
So what was the next step for you then?
Well, eventually, we found one dietitian locally, who I was able to kind of say, well, maybe this is something you need to do a bit more work on. And she gave us the idea of using the division of responsibility approach.
And that was when he was like, maybe a year and a half or so. And the idea with that, is that it’s a parent’s job to provide the food and the kids job to decide if they’re going to eat it. And you remove all pressure.
Which is actually pretty scary. Because he was a little baby. I was always told by the nurses, you’ve got to feed and feed and feed.
Maybe that was part of the issue as well, to be honest, I was kind of trying to get him to eat all the time. Yeah.
This approach is more about actually take a step back to what he wants to eat. He knows when he’s hungry.
Yeah. My perspective on that is always you look over a three day cycle.
If one day, they’re not that particularly hungry, but the next day, they’ll balance that out, that can sort of take the pressure off that as well. A bit when, oh, they didn’t eat anything today. The next day, they’ll just they’ll be more into it.
Yes, it’s so hard, especially when you’ve spent like, a long time preparing a dinner, anything. Oh, this is gonna be a great one.
But then, I mean, that kind of helped a little bit with me feeling a bit less stressed. But I don’t think it really helped at that point, with getting him eating that much more, eating more of a variety.
And I guess when he was about two ish, he was maybe eating just sort of five different foods, just very plain pasta or plain crackers, some a little bit of fruit, which was good, but that’s kind of about it. And eventually, we found an OT who was specialized in feeding therapy. And that’s kind of when it changed for us. Where we kind of managed to get on the right track with it, I think.
Yeah, that’s great. So tell me how that progressed into this amazing app that you’ve developed.
Yeah. So we saw our feeding therapist for about a year or so and she taught us loads of really amazing ways to make food fun, so that with the division of responsibility, that’s where it really helped us. And these little games that she would play like building towers with carrot sticks or just doing things like squashing baked beans. And if he couldn’t even squash the baked beans, because he was too kind of worried about that and getting his fingers messy, we put the beans in a plastic bag or ziplock bag first, and then squash him through that. And just letting him know that he could play with food and get more interactive with food without the pressure of having to eat it.
yeah. And it was all about really building up those steps towards being able to eat it. So can he sit at the table with a sausage, which he couldn’t at first, he was too even, I guess had too much of a phobia with the food to be able to do that. And then could he once he realized he didn’t have to eat it. Could he sit there? And could he interact with it by playing with it by kind of holding it in a napkin at first and flying it around the room pretending it was a super sausage.
Those kind of things, putting the sausage to bed with a napkin being his cover, chopping the sausage up and just like building up slowly, the steps towards being able to like touch it on your mouth, touch on your nose, eventually hold it in your mouth and spit it out and even that was like an amazing point for me to realize, Oh, he’s allowed to spit out he can he can put it in his mouth and spit it out. And that’s actually an amazing step towards being able to actually swallow.
Totally, totally. Yeah. Often were like are “Don’t spit that food out. That’s a waste”.
But yeah, giving them permission to be like, if you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it, All I want you to do is try.
Yeah, we’re exploring.
We say food exploring at home too.
So from that we were getting on the wrong track, oh sorry, on the right track. Yeah, I knew other families in my local area who had similar issues. So I was trying to kind of like teach them a little bit in our home. When kids came around play-dates, like what we were doing. Yeah, I was just generally trying to kind of spread the word of how this kind of food play worked. And I realized at the time that it took me a long time to find our feeding therapist, there’s not that many of them around.
It’s hard to find someone in the area, it’s expensive as well. So I really wanted to spread the word of this more widely. And because my backgrounds in digital product management, and I thought, well, maybe we can do this through a website or an app to get it out there.
I love that. I’m a naturopath, nutritionist and a chef, and I run school holiday workshops, where we’re introducing fun foods for kids like, right, we talked about, you know, eating a rainbow, and we talk about the colors, I introduced them to all the different fruit and veggies across the rainbow spectrum. And then they’re encouraged to play with them and build things with no pressure to eat. And the feedback from those classes is, oh my god, my kid just literally put 10 new things into their mouth that they haven’t even gone near in two years, because there’s no pressure. And because it was fun. Yeah, yeah. And so that’s what’s led me on to this, like food exposure, fun food. It’s so important. And I love that you’ve got this app now. Because it can expose so many more people to doing this and to teaching kids that it doesn’t have to be just at dinner time that we expose to food,
You’re not really taught how to do this, or how to feed your child.
Oh yeh, it’s learning as you go, isn’t it?
Yeah, and you’re reliant on what you know, from your childhood. And I think the kind of traditional way was like, well, children sit at the table, and they eat the food, and they stay there until the food is finished.
Yep. And you sit still. And I mean, we’ve gone through phases at our house where my daughter couldn’t sit still at the table. So I got a wobble board for to stand on. And my parents and like, you know, come over and we’re like, where’s the chair gone was like, well, Bailey stands at the table now and stands on that thing. And they were like “what??” We’re like, well, if we want her to eat then it’s either her sitting for 30 seconds, doing a lap of the house, bouncing around fidgeting, fidgeting and swinging on the chair annoying everybody and not really eating OR encouraging her to wobble to balance, and she’ll stay there.
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So tell me what are your favorite features of your app?
I think just that we’ve got sort of over 200 different suggestions of food play, and so many different types of foods and we’re adding them like every day, we’re adding different foods that you can look through the app and see which particular food or what type of food you’re kind of struggling with, and look and see which activities might help. It’s kind of like based on a game. So you kind of get little points for progressing is not so much you get a point for eating because we don’t want to put that pressure on it’s more you’re getting a point for progressing and participating. So whatever level the child is at, if they were able to sit there and you know make a picture out of some food, or they’re able even just sit and look and describe the food, they get a little point in the game. And hopefully that kind of makes it even more fun. And they, they see that you’ve got your phone and there’s like cute characters, so it gets them involved. That kind of way as well.
Yeah, That is so cool. And so how’s this helped your family?
For us, it’s.. obviously my son’s eating a lot better now. And we still use the app as well. And my daughter who’s three now, she’s younger than him. And she hasn’t really been picky eater to the same level at all. But we know the methods and the approaches that we use with him. And you can still use those same approaches with kids who are like “regular eaters”, as well. And it just means the whole family atmosphere is much more relaxed at the table. We don’t have those kind of battles about how much food are you eating and that kind of thing.
Yeah, yeah, sometimes, you know, as you said before, toddlers have that sort of age appropriate, fussy phase. And for me, using the F word around a kid is not encouraged at all, because I feel like they own it, how you describe them. And I do recall being around kids when I first graduated, and the parents who come in and say “they are so fussy”, they eat this, and they were proud of their fussiness, and they owned it. Whereas I feel describing it in a different way in front of them of being like, okay, let’s be food explorers, and we’re not going to focus on any negative, and we’re gonna encourage all of the positive, makes a massive difference. And so my three year old is a really different eater to my nine year old when she was three. And I think it’s because we have learned all of those skills along the way. And we’ve introduced the games and the, and the making food fun from day dot with her. Whereas with the other one, it was like, when there was a challenge. It’s like, oh, what do we do about this? And it sounds like you’ve had the same journey and taking you on a different path. That’s awesome.
What’s your favorite favorite food game to play at the table?
I guess it’s different. Because when we try and play the food games to try and do it away from the dinner table.
yeah, yeah, cool. Yep.
But my favorite game would definitely be the one where we either chop up some carrot or or bite it if we can. Yeah. And so then we get the kids to draw a little target, like a kind of shooting target and put that on the table that they’re sitting at. Yeah. And then they have to put the food in their mouths, and they spit it out and see where they can reach on the target. And that’s really cool, because they’re putting in their mouths, and they’re having a game or who can hit the middle of the target. So it’s like a little competitive thing. And it’s nothing to do with actually eating the foods where you get it. They’re both they’ve got they’ve got that amazing step of actually putting it in their mouths.
I can picture my nine year old just adoring this game.
Yeah, yeah, they think it’s a little bit naughty.
Yeah, yeah, totally. So one of the things that we do at the dinner table to I guess, engage the kids is do a game. That’s not got anything to do with food. So when we’re sitting at the table, we’ll say, Okay, let’s play an eating game. And we can play this while everyone’s sitting and eating, but it’s not got anything to do with food. So it’s not doing any pressure. So our favorite one at the moment is, let’s create a new animal. So it’s like, you take two animals, and you splice them together and describe them, you describe what they ate, what their roar is, and their behavior and where they live. And for me, it takes them out of their body out of the, I guess, pressure of different foods on their plates, and into their mind and imagination a little bit. And it’s often they eat more when we are doing those type of games. Then if we’re sitting there and just going, tell me about your day. Yeah, tell me what happened at school. It’s just making that mealtime interesting and fun.
One of the things we do more part of meal time is similar to that. So we have three things that we all will say we call this “our family dinner”. And we say one thing, we’re grateful for one thing that made us smile today, one thing that we’re looking forward to so that’s similar in a way again,
that’s brilliant. Oh, yeah, yep. We go in cycles with that with that remembering gratitude. But I think it’s so important because it’s role modeling that mindfulness and gratitude behaviors. So that’s, that’s awesome. And a different favorite of ours, as well as the, say three things but one’s fake. You sort of make up one thing that may have happened to you today. And everyone’s got to say, guess what really happened and what didn’t? Yeah, that’s always fun, especially when they go off on some completely crazy tangents. And that really happened and sometimes some outrageous things happen that you wouldn’t have learned about had we not played the game yet. It’s fun.
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Before we go. I’m gonna do some quickfire questions with you. So, tell me, what advice would you give to your kids self?
When I was younger and I see this in my kids, I always wanted to be more grown up. I was looking forward to my next birthday. And then my next birthday after that. It’s actually my daughter’s birthday tomorrow. And she’s like, I’m gonna be four. And next year, I’ll be five. And that’s so exciting for that. And but also, it’s a bit of a cliche, but I want them to appreciate being four
Yeah, yep, yep.
Oh, yes. And constantly wanting to be older. And, you know, it’s something that all kids do, of course, and and we do it too.
My nine year old said recently in 10 years, I’ll be 20 Oh, slow down, slow down. Yeah. I get that. Okay. So what is the best parenting tip that you’ve ever been given?
I think I use the tip that my mom gave me, I think when my son was was first born, and she said, just listen to what everyone’s saying, Listen to everybody’s advice, and then use what works for you and for your family. Because everybody’s different. Everyone’s in a different situation. And then you take the bits that work, I think
Our last question is What song is guaranteed to get you in a good mood.
We really like Riptide by Vance Joy. We always have that one in the car. It’s a kid’s favorite. And I like it too. And we’ll sing along and do the oooo
that does got a nice happy vibe, doesn’t it? That’s Yeah, that’s a good one for a car trip.
Awesome. So what I’m gonna do with the songs is at the end of our season is probably compile a little Spotify “incrEDIBLE family health” That’d be great. Because sometimes we do need to get music to get us out of a funk. And
yeah, for sure. Even at dinner time as well. Right. It’s good to have music playing when you’re when you’re having dinner, too. I think.
think Yeah. I’d love to hear that. You know, the dinner soundtracks as well. It’d be cool. It’s good to hear. Yeah.
Maybe we’ll, we’ll talk about that next time. All right. So if people want to find out more about your app, where did they go?
So our website is learn play eat.com. You can go there. And from there, there’s links to download our app. It’s currently on iPhones at the moment, and in a couple of weeks. I’m hoping it will be available on Android as well. Yeah. And we have a Facebook page as well, which is around supporting families and creating a community around parents who want to kind of share advice around helping kids get more familiar and more comfortable with food.
That’s great. Yeah. And I found you on Instagram. So you’re on there as well.
Yeah @learn play eat
Beautiful. Well, thank you so much, Nikki for your time.
Great. Thank you.
Alright, see ya.
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