What I learned working with a pediatric dietitian

Published by Jalenna Francois on Mar 29, 2023

March is National Nutrition Month! Read along to meet Feeding Matters staff member Jalenna Francois and her experience working with a pediatric dietitian.

Hi! My name is Jalenna Francois. I am the Communications and Awareness Specialist at Feeding Matters. My daughter Sophie was born two years ago (this Friday is her birthday — happy birthday, Soph!). We struggled with feeding pretty immediately after she was born. With the help of a tongue and lip tie revision, lactation consultant, osteopathic manipulation, and the removal of milk from Sophie’s diet, we made huge improvements. I am forever grateful for the early intervention Sophie received, which occurred in part because I’ve worked for Feeding Matters for nearly ten years and know the early signs of a potential pediatric feeding disorder.

As she grew, we discovered she had IgE-Mediated food allergies (what you think of when you hear about food allergies, for Sophie they typically present as hives and wheezing) and FPIES (Food Protein Induced Enterocolitis Syndrome, which presents as vomiting several hours after ingestion of a trigger food). Both of these are comorbid conditions for pediatric feeding disorder.

Sophie's first allergy challenge
Sophie’s first allergy challenge

Our family has been on a long feeding journey over the past two years, and it was changed forever because of our work with a pediatric dietitian. I have learned many lessons from these regular visits with Sophie’s dietitian:

  • Nutrition is a lot more than what’s on our plates.
    While I did learn about nutrients, how to pair foods, and substitutions to get Sophie what she needed from her limited diet, I also learned that there is a lot more that goes into feeding my family than how many servings of vegetables we get. I learned to acknowledge and set aside the cultural expectations, personal expectations, and the fear and anxiety which wasn’t helping us meet our needs. I learned to meet Sophie where she was with eating.
  • Meals carry a lot of emotion!
    It is so easy to get overwhelmed, anxious, and stressed about feeding my family. Can (or will) Sophie safely eat this? Did she eat enough? Are we eating enough variety? Wow, allergic reactions are scary! As I began to recognize the power this anxiety held over me, I could see it trickling down to my kids as well. At the suggestion of our dietitian, we now check in on emotions before we sit down at the table. There are nights where we can jump right in to eating, but other nights, we need a family story time to connect, take off the pressure, and enjoy just being together before we eat. Creating this feeling of connection and safety before we get to the table has helped to reduce the immediate ‘YUCK’ my 4-year old likes to react with when she sees the foods being offered.
  • Lead by example.
    For me, this has looked like taking intentional time to feed myself food that is nourishing and enjoyable. I don’t let my kids skip meals, and I am trying to treat myself the same way. I have learned to incorporate all foods I enjoy without guilt, in a balanced way. Caring for myself will only benefit my children as well.
  • Give yourself grace. Feeding is a journey, and progress is more important than perfection.
    Not every meal is going to go perfectly, not every food is going to be accepted, even after 100 exposures. Having patience with myself and my children as we learn together is building the trust we all need to make progress.
  • The power of having someone in your corner.
    Having someone to talk over meal plans and strategies for food introductions and substitutions was huge. But what I remember from the beginning of our journey with our dietitian was having someone to help me see hope when our feeding experiences felt overwhelming, never-ending, or unfair. Having someone who gets it and is able to help you see the possibilities ahead is a game changer. (Pro tip: Looking for someone to be in your corner? Check out the Feeding Matters Power of Two program.)

By now, I’m sure you can tell that my dietitian is awesome! Not only is she a great dietitian, she shares her extensive knowledge on her Instagram and blog so that everyone can learn like I have. She also recently became a Feeding Matters board member, which is just one way she is as a champion for children with PFD.

As we celebrate Sophie’s second birthday this week, I am so proud of the progress our family has made together. I never imagined we would make it to where we are today, and I look forward to seeing where the rest of our journey takes us, with our dietitian by our side.