SLP Jennifer Hatfield shares her wealth of experience in this month’s ‘picky eating expert’ interview

Jennifer is a speech language pathologist from the USA, whose goal is to guide parents, professionals and kids to strategies that help them celebrate their uniqueness while improving their lives & situations in the areas of: communication, picky eating and executive function. She is a parent to two teens who allow her to hone her skills on them.J Hatfield headshot

Here’s her answers to my questions – I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I did.




1) You’re a speech and language therapist. ­ Can you explain for my readers why SLPs are so often the professional of choice who parents turn to when they are concerned about their child’s eating, especially in the USA. 

~As speech language pathologists {our true title}, we are extensively trained in the oral mechanism {both for speech / language and feeding / swallowing}, neurology of the head / neck and respiration. These are each an integral part of the eating process. As clinicians, we traditionally have dealt with adults who have difficulty swallowing {Dysphagia} due to a myriad of reasons: stroke, Traumatic Brain Injury {TBI}, neurological diseases etc…as a result, over time, we have also then became adept with children’s issues.

2) What made you especially interested in helping families deal with picky eating?

~While I was an early intervention speech language pathologist, I was beginning my family and I had not one, but two children, who had mild feeding issues. It became my passion to learn more not just for myself  but also for my clients who were also struggling. There wasn’t anyone in my area that had the knowledge so I saw the need and ran with it.

3) If you had to generalise, what do you think is at the heart of the majority of childhood feeding problems?

~Oh wow. I would say, very generally, that it boils down to lack of education on what is typical, what is not and the basics on HOW children learn to eat vs the reasons that there may be issues. A continuing frustration for me as a clinician is that our healthcare professionals {pediatrician} are on the front line helping parents with feeding but they don’t have the knowledge on how to adequately do this. Many families are given very inappropriate advice from their healthcare team because they simply haven’t been educated. Sadly, this poor advice can and does make the issue worse.

4) What is your top picky eating tip for my readers?

~Educate yourself on what is typical for children of different ages and know the signs to look for that signal it isn’t “typical” picky eating.

5) You often refer to Ellyn Satter and her Division of Responsibility model. Could you tell me what appeals to you about Satter’s work?

~Her straight forward approach and the premise that we allow children to learn how to intrinsically monitor their food. Often what we do as parents/clinicians is to take away all of the child’s say/control with food. Ellyn’s strategies allow the child to be a partner and they help families get back to the joy of a meal instead of a constant fight.

6) Alongside picky eating, you also help children and young people with executive function. Can you tell us a bit about what this means?

~Executive functions are those cognitive skills that allow us to: organize, plan, make decisions, pay attention and regulate behavior. They are basically the skill set that allows us to succeed in school and life outside of our intellectual ability. Many believe that these skills actually determine our success more than our intellectual ability. I found that many typically developing teens are struggling more and more with these tasks causing them to underachieve. Often it’s simply a matter of “tweaking” a few things and/or providing them with systems they can replicate to manage throughout their lives.

7) Is your work on EF completely stand­-alone or are there cross ­overs into your picky eating work?

~There are cross ­overs. Many of my picky eaters also have EF difficulties. It boils down to the cognitive processes simply not being mature and/or needing to provide them with strategies because they do not innately pick up on them.

6) What does the future hold for you? Do you have anything exciting planned professionally?

~I always have projects waiting in the wings. Currently, I’ll be designing more products for my Brainycrafts line {crafts that help build executive functioning skills} as well as creating more online learning opportunities with regard to executive functioning and picky eating.


If you’d like to learn more about Jennifer and her work, you can visit her website and follow her on Twitter (@TherapyLearnSvc)

Why I say ‘no thank-you’ to the no thank-you bite…

The no thank-you bite is everywhere.  The concept is this: your child can leave whatever they wish, but they must try a bite of everything. If they don’t like something they have tried, they can politely refuse to eat any more.   This resembles EAF in that  children are encouraged to be polite and respectful about disliking something on their plates. Equally, for the most part, it is up to them how much of their meal they consume.  However, once you insist on a no thank-you bite, you cannot truly end the entanglement of food and feelings that is to blame for so many cases of picky eating. I would even go so far as to say that I believe that using this technique will make picky eating worse. Continue reading

Does your parenting style affect your child’s eating?

I read an article from the US news channel CBS the other day, about Canadian research that explores the influence of parenting style on childhood obesity. The findings were stark:

“Kids with demanding parents who are rigid about rules, stingy with affection and won’t discuss limits are far more likely to be obese than children whose parents practice a more balanced parenting style…”

Photo from Daily Mail

Photo from Daily Mail

This called to mind similar research I had read  into how parenting style can impact upon picky eating.  One study* found that, put simply, the nicer the atmosphere at the table, the less picky the child is likely to be. Another looked at how families interact and concluded that the levels of conflict at the table and how controlling parents were influenced how much children consumed, with higher levels of control leading to an increase in fussiness and food rejection**.

I think it’s really interesting that the Canadian research pointed to the fact that children who are not used to having the freedom to discuss and question things (and are therefore unlikely to be in the habit of being empowered to make their own decisions) are more likely to be obese.  And this is where I would speculate that these different findings converge –  when children are not able to eat in a relaxed environment  and when parents are trying to control children’s eating choices, food starts to get used dysfunctionally. Continue reading

Become a Snack-tivist!

sally K American writer Sally Kuzemchak is a mother of two and a registered dietitian. She is based in Columbus, Ohio.  I connected with  her on twitter ( you can follow her @RMNutrition) and the way she writes about  nutrition with such sanity and humour really appealed to me. I am especially interested in her thoughts on snacking and so I invited  her to write a guest post on the subject. I hope you enjoy reading about ‘snacktivism’ as much as I did.

Guest post by Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD

I can pinpoint the exact moment when the snacks put me over the edge. It was after a soccer game, and my 6-year-old son had just half-heartedly jogged around the field for 30 minutes. I don’t remember if we won or lost, but regardless, the occasion was treated like a celebration—with frosted cupcakes, Oreos, and punch. I watched as the kids snatched up the goodies, some of them clutching multiple Oreos in each hand. I was overcome by one thought: What are we doing to our kids?

When I was growing up, we (maybe) had orange slices at halftime during our soccer games. Then we all went home afterwards and ate a proper lunch or dinner. We didn’t celebrate each game with cupcakes. And treats weren’t trotted out at every single gathering as they seem to be today. Treats were for parties, for special celebrations. Not because we met as a group or participated in a sporting event.
According to research, kids are getting about 500 calories a day from snacks—and most of that is coming from chips, cookies, crackers, and other processed foods. “Snack” has become synonymous with “treat”, instead of simply a way to tide kids over from meal to meal or as we dietitians like to suggest, to “fill in the gaps” from meals. Continue reading

Snack week!

Earlier this month I wrote about hunger and how it’s become culturally normal to [over] protect our children from feeling hungry.  How do we do this? Snacks, snacks and more snacks. I’m looking forward to publishing my first guest post on the blog  later this week. It is by Sally Kuzemchak  of ‘Real Mom Nutrition’-she’ll be explaining ‘snacktivism‘ –  her challenge to US snack culture.

Raisins-everyone's favourite toddler snack..

Raisins-everyone’s favourite toddler snack..

It’s been really lovely to hear from readers of War & Peas – I always appreciate feed-back, positive or negative. The thing that my readers have overwhelmingly told me has brought about the greatest change in their families is my stance on snacking.  It’s this simple:  If you practice EAF, if your child doesn’t want the food you have served him, he can leave it, but there are no snacks or alternatives. Equally, if your child is not eating main meals and you are offering snacks, try cutting the snacks out.

Happy grazers…

Some parents are happy giving their child many small meals over the course of a day – they find that grazing works for them and their families. That’s fine. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. What I am saying is that if you are concerned about your child’s fussy eating and you want him to be eating three main meals a day, look closely at the snacks you offer. Continue reading

Mindful Eating – my interview with Megrette Fletcher, RD.

Author, speaker and registered dietitian, Megrette Fletcher is a co-founder of The Center for Mindful Eating. She lives and works in New Hampshire, USA

megrette1) I’d love to know a bit more about your background Megrette – what made you decide to become a registered dietitian ?

Long story short. I wanted to be a physiological psychology and I was one of eight students in this PhD track during my undergraduate university.  Then junior year came and I was #7 out of 8.  My major professor said, “We will take the top 2 students – you won’t make the cut. Do you have another option?” I mentioned how interested I was in nutrition and he said, “Great! switch majors.” So…I did. The funny thing is, mindfulness and awareness of our direct experience is all about the brain, which has always been my first love.  A big part of what I do as a nutritionist is talking about what we like, dislike, and our reaction to food.  This is all about behavior and perception which again is about the brain.

Mindfulness and mindful eating begins by observe your direct experiences with food and eating.  For example,  with mindful eating, you might be asked to observe (no action or judgement) if you like something, neutral or dislike. To see this information as information and if you are able, become a bit curious.  Why and I reacting to food? What is going on?

2) Many of my readers may not have heard of mindful eating – can you give us a brief explanation of what mindful eating is and what it has to offer?

Mindful eating is mindfulness applied to food and eating.  The Center for Mindful Eating developed the Principles of mindful eating which are very helpful.Mindfulness is about becoming aware.  Awareness of your direct experience.   This might include noticing things, situations, feelings, thoughts, like and dislikes.  Awareness or mindfulness is a teachable skill.  I heard a lecture that offered this sobering statement about attention. One hundred years ago, our attention span was 22 minutes.  Today it is 8 seconds! (By the way this is the same attention span of a gold fish!).  It is clear to me that awareness is a ‘muscle’ that you can exercise.  If you don’t exercise this ability, you lose it over time. There is so much data and research coming out that our inability to focus, become engaged in our direct experience leads directly to how a person perceives quality of life.  In short, distraction makes us unhappy and we don’t feel like life has much quality!    Continue reading

Picky eating and the H-word…

Here in the UK, our toddlers are the proud winners of the prize for the highest levels of picky eating in whole of whole of Europe. I’m interested in how we achieved that accolade – I’ve yet to explore eating patterns in other European countries (it’s on my bucket list) but I have a sneaking suspicion it might have something to do with hunger.

As parents, we  feel that it is part of our job to make sure that our children never get hungry. We never leave the house without a snack,  no car journey can get under way until raisins  have been distributed and every playgroup in the land is punctuated by snack-time.

toddler snacksChildren should experience hunger – they should sit down to meals hungry and get up from them full. It’s part of the natural rhythm of the day. I’m not talking about the kind of hunger that is born of deprivation, I’m thinking of hunger in the context of appropriate meals being offered at appropriate times.

Many health professionals advocate  two snacks a day for young children and that’s fine, IF they are also hungry at mealtimes. My message is simple – if your child is refusing food at breakfast, lunch or dinner, cut out the snacks. In fact,  I’ve had dramatically more feedback from readers of War & Peas about my stance on snacking than on any other aspect of my approach. It really does work.  So much so, that I’m going to be having a dedicated snack week on the blog, featuring a guest post about ‘snacktivism’ – one US mother’s fight against American snack culture. Continue reading