It’s a statement often made by concerned parents when they turn to Mighty Munchers for help. For children with developmental delays, it’s not uncommon to have feeding difficulties due to sensory issues or impaired oral movements. Ensuring they receive a balanced diet is a daunting challenge for parents.
The Mighty Munchers program is designed to address a range of such feeding difficulties in children aged 5-8 and delivers a structured and gradual approach to help families tackle these challenges effectively. Key worker and Occupational Therapist Ricky Weightman and dietitian Emma Jettner, who run Mighty Munchers, are trained in the SOS Approach to Feeding and are well-versed in the strategies and methods that can help. “What is a second nature task for most people can be a complex task for these children, and that’s okay,” says Ricky. “We always emphasise that this is a very gradual process, and that’s how the program is set up.”
Over a period of eight weekly 45-minute sessions, the group follows a stepped approach starting with five different baseline foods that children typically eat. This approach includes working on posture to keep the airways protected and fine motor skills to help with using cutlery. Consistency and repetition are important aspects for progress and the program maintains the same menu for three weeks.
“The science behind this is that the brain has to be exposed to one particular food ten times before it can decide to accept it or not, and this increases to 20 repetitions as you grow older,” says Ricky, who cautions against setting expectations as progress is never linear.
Play-based learning is very much a part of this gradual process of developing tolerance. Using toy cars and trucks to load carrots is one of many ways to encourage children to first touch the food and gradually work their way up to their mouths.
In this way, children are encouraged to first touch a food item and allow it on the table. They explore colour, texture and shape while drawing on similarities across the food items to find consistency. As they progress through each food, they are introduced to different versions, such as wraps and then crackers to replace bread. “We try to tick off the nutritional groups and give parents options for the school lunchbox.”
The program aims to build up a balanced diet for children, as a poor diet can impact mood, behaviour, toileting, and growth and lead to other developmental issues. “Sometimes, parents come to us to address behavioural issues in their children, but when we get to the bottom of it, we find that they don’t have a good diet, and this has a flow-on effect,” explains Ricky.
The social aspect of the Mighty Munchers is another benefit for children. Each session consists of up to six children and creates an environment for developing lasting friendships and learning from one another. Seeing one child play or experiment with a food item may encourage another to follow suit.
The program is not just for children. At the start of the program, a one-hour info session gives parents some understanding of feeding development and their role in the program. Parent coaching is very much a part of the program, and their involvement is vital to the success of a child’s development. The practice of consistency and repetition must continue at home, the child’s natural environment.
Parents also learn the impact of their own words and responses.
At the end of the eight-weeks parents receive a progress report of their child’s journey through the program.
“Mighty Munchers certainly opened my eyes to strategies I would never have thought of to address my son’s eating habits. At the start of the program, he wouldn’t even touch a carrot. After the first two weeks, he started making faces on the carrot and then wearing carrot ribbons as moustaches on his face. He now eats steamed carrot strips for dinner, whereas before the program, he wouldn’t even tolerate it on his plate. It’s the same with beans, he now eats the whole bean instead of pulling it apart to remove the seeds before eating the shells.
Not having any expectations, being more joyful about eating food and taking the pressure away have helped so much, and he has done a full 180 with certain foods. It’s educational for me as well, and I now have the tools and know-how to introduce new foods to him. He looks forward to his sessions and is keen to continue the steps with different foods.”